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Two trips to Paris for the cost of one round-trip fare from Jackson to Atlanta?

Flying high

The biggest issue with business travel in Mississippi right now is the cost of flying from Jackson to Atlanta without staying over on a Saturday.

“This time of year I can send two people to Paris roundtrip for the cost of sending one businessman to Atlanta if he doesn’t stay over on a Saturday night,” says William C. Bryan, Bryan Tours, Jackson. “And the flight to Paris goes right through Atlanta. The airlines charge much higher fares for flying in and out during the same work week. Businessmen feel they are being overcharged, and the deals are going to leisure travelers who usually have no problem staying over on Saturday nights.”

Why do airlines charge so much more for travel in the same work week? Bryan believes it is a matter of supply and demand. As long as businesses will pay nearly $900 for a roundtrip ticket from Jackson to Atlanta during the same work week, then airlines have no incentive to charge more reasonable rates.

“The whole idea is to punish business travelers because they want to get home,” said Bryan, who says efforts need to be made to attract another airline to Jackson in order to see more competitive fares to Atlanta and other destinations.

Some companies are actually redesigning corporate travel policy to determine if travel is necessary. Bryan said that with the age of e-mail and teleconferencing, it may be possible to avoid many trips.

“Even though we are in business of selling tickets, I’m not convinced so many of the business trips taken are actually necessary,” Bryan said. “If companies want to ask advice on forming corporate travel policies, we’re happy to do that. Some policies may include a better rationale of why you need to make the trip.”

Often business travel, particularly for conventions, is more a good excuse to travel to an interesting destination than absolutely necessity for business purposes.

“Everyone likes a meeting in New Orleans,” Bryan said. “They don’t like the meeting, but they love New Orleans. Even within our industry many of the meetings I go to are basically useless. To me it is almost better to say we are going to have fun. If you really want to learn, you can learn by reading a book. You have to decide how much value you place to the entertainment aspect of a meeting.”

Bryan also recommends that a corporate travel policy consider issues such as frequent flyer miles. Some businessmen will pay premium air fares to go on a preferred airline that benefits them personally with frequent flyer miles. Obviously, the business would do better to require use of the most economical airline.

Another factor that could be considered in a corporate travel policy is getting around the higher airline ticket prices by allowing an employee to stay over Saturday, and paying the extra hotel costs. It can be cheaper in the long run, and also provide an incentive to reward employees.

Yolanda Davis, manager, Super Travel and Tours, Jackson, believes the airlines are losing business overall because of uncompetitive rates for business travelers who don’t want to stay over for a weekend. She said it is currently cheaper to fly from Jackson to Los Angeles than from Jackson to Atlanta. Roundtrip tickets to Los Angeles can be purchased for $226 traveling in the same business week while roundtrip tickets to Atlanta during the same week cost $849.

“Unless you have a no-frills airline like ValueJet and Southwest going into one of cities you want to go into, the fare is going to be outrageous,” Davis said. “The fares are so high, I’m hearing a lot of people question whether it is worth going to the meeting.”

Davis said the high fares are also encouraging people to hold meetings in areas like Raleigh-Durham, N.C., that have reasonable air fares.

Curtiss Brown, president and manager of Avanti Travel, Jackson, agrees that corporate travel costs are of increasing concern to businesses in Mississippi.

“The airlines have raised corporate travel rates four times in the past year,” Brown said. “Hotel prices keep creeping up. If you are careful about airfare, you can find hotels that cost more than the airline ticket.”

Brown said that although airlines are making record profits, they have added a $20 roundtrip fuel surcharge to the cost of tickets.

“They want the traveler to go to them direct,” Brown said. “The airlines basically want you to go directly to them or to the Internet, cutting out cost of their distribution system even though we still write 85% of all airline tickets.”

Travelers surfing the net to buy airline tickets aren’t always getting the best deal. If just one airline is called, you get quoted only their rates and routes. If you call five airlines, you eat up a lot of time especially since getting put on hold, sometimes for long periods of time, is more the rule than the exception.

And Internet purchases of tickets aren’t without hazards. People who have accidentally clicked on the wrong flight and bought a ticket only to later find a much cheaper fare may find it very difficult to make flight changes and cancel the ticket purchase. Brown said that most business travelers are better off going with a travel agent who has access too all carriers and routes.

Also, many primary Web sites for purchasing airline tickets are not unbiased. Travelocity.com, for example, is owned by American Airlines. That means someone visiting a site may not have access to the lowest fares.

“The savings that can be gained from a travel agency far outweighs what the agency charges,” Brown said. “You also have to consider that time spent shopping on the Internet for a plane ticket is time taken away from business.”

Contact MBJ staff writer Becky Gillette at mullein@datasync.com.

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