Americans seem to be traveling again — at least if you go by the increasing demand for airline tickets and improved occupancy at hotels.
But with higher demand come higher prices.
Business travelers who hit the road next year can expect airfares and hotel rates to increase by an average of 10%, according to an annual forecast released last week by American Express Business Travel, the corporate travel division of American Express Co.
The only bit of good news in the forecast is that rental-car rates should stay about the same because of heavy competition and a huge inventory of rental cars.
The forecast is based on price predictions for airline tickets, hotels and car-rental rates for more than 500 cities worldwide.
And although more businesses are expected to dispatch employees to business meetings next year, meeting planners will make it cheaper to attend by hosting less-expensive conferences with fewer amenities, said Christa Degnan Manning, a director of insights and research for American Express Business Travel.
That translates into more business meetings held at smaller, lower-cost destinations such as Austin, Texas, and Phoenix, instead of expensive metropolitan cities such as New York and San Francisco.
Instead of opening a conference with a golf tournament and ending it with a filet mignon dinner, meeting planners will most likely nix the golf and serve a strip steak meal.
"That is really how people are buckling down and questioning, do we really need this?" Manning said.
• Dual-purpose trips are more common
In the 1990s, the often-repeated business term was "synergy."
In the post-recession era, the hot new business term may be "bleisure travel."
The expression describes what happens when business travelers combine work with leisure, either by bringing along family or by taking extra time after a conference to relax on the beach or a fishing boat.
That trend is on the rise, according to a recent survey from the Homewood Suites by Hilton hotel chain. It found that 67% of its guests say they either "frequently" or "sometimes" combined a vacation with a business trip. That is an increase of 16 percentage points compared with a similar survey in 2000.
The survey of 549 business travelers taken in May didn't ask why they are blurring the lines between work and relaxation, but the survey authors suggest it is a response to the tough economic times over the last few years.
"Given the current state of the economy, business travelers are being asked to do more, taking less time off," said Carla Raynor, vice president of marketing for Homewood Suites.
The survey also found that more people are letting work seep into their home life, with 83% of respondents saying they "frequently" or "sometimes" bring work home at night and on weekends, compared with 72% in 2000.
When asked what one item they cannot live without on the road, 89% of the respondents chose a cellphone. Only 10% said family photos were a top necessity.
• Hotel chain is offering a deal
As the recession deepened last year, desperate hotel owners offered some zany deals to fill empty rooms.
One downtown Los Angeles hotel offered daily room rates that were tied to the high temperature for the day. If the high was 85 degrees, you paid $85 that night.
As demand for hotel rooms began to improve in the last few months, most of those deals ended.
But not all of them.
Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc., the New York company with about 1,000 properties in nearly 100 countries, is offering a nightly room rate equal to the last two digits of your birth year for the second and third nights of your stay. If you were born in 1965, you pay $65 each for the second and third nights. The first night's rate varies by property.
To get the special prices, you must book and use the rooms before Dec. 31.