More business travelers booking upscale rooms and airline seats

More business travelers booking upscale rooms and airline seats
Americans are expected to spend more on business travel in 2014 than last year, according to a forecast by a travel trade group. Above, the first-class cabin on an American Airlines jetliner in March 2006. (Los Angeles Times)

With the lingering effects of the Great Recession slowly disappearing, more business travelers are reserving high-priced hotel rooms and booking roomier seats in the front of the plane.

But the luxury spending may be benefiting executives, not middle managers and lower-level workers.


At the depth of the recession, most major companies restricted workers to flying in the economy section and booking budget hotel rooms. But some businesses now seem to be loosening the purse strings on the travel budget.

A study released last week by a major travel company found a 3.5% increase over last year in the number of business travelers reserving upscale hotel rooms. The study also found a 4.6% increase in the number of agents who said at least 11% of their clients are booking first or business-class seats.

"We're seeing a notable increase overall in the number of business travelers flying first and business class," said Steve Loucks, a spokesman for Travel Leaders Group, the company that conducted the survey of 946 travel agents. "This is a positive indicator that businesses are feeling better about the economy."

But some local travel managers say the luxury spending does not extend to all business travelers.

"My perception is that, no, companies are still cracking down on travel spending," said Sean Paraham, travel director for Corinthian Colleges Inc., a for-profit company that operates 111 campuses in the U.S. and Canada.

The only exception to the crackdown, he said, are executives.

"Sometimes executives are given bandwidth to fly in first class but I don't see that in the general population," said Paraham, the incoming president of the Los Angeles Business Travel Assn.

For those business travelers who get to spend more, several airlines are adding new luxury services.

United Airlines is expanding its "Premium Service" from Los Angeles International Airport to John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York and from San Francisco International Airport to JFK. Eight of the 13 planes that offer the service include 28 lay-flat seats with 15.4-inch entertainment screens and all-natural scones and cookies made from scratch, plus access to the United lounge with complimentary drinks.

United plans to configure a total of 15 planes with the lay-flat seats and other extras by the end of the year.

Food truck chefs to operate at LAX

The food truck craze that has swept the nation will soon roll up to Los Angeles International Airport.

No, airport security won't allow food trucks to pull to the curb of the terminal. Instead, an airport concession operator plans to install the shell of a food truck inside Terminal 4. The fake truck will be outfitted inside with grills, pots, pans and other equipment to serve food.

Starting Nov. 1, the food truck will be operated by food truck chefs based in Los Angeles who will rotate in once a year or so.


"This is our way to help bring people with local talent to offer their food at the airport," said Rich Bennett, senior director of operations for HMSHost, a concession operator at LAX.

Meanwhile, Long Beach Airport is one of a handful of airports across the country that have allowed food trucks to park at cellphone parking lots to dish out chow to drivers waiting to pick up friends and family members.

The food truck program, called "Truck'n Tuesdays," was originally a summer event held the third Tuesday of each month. But it has become so popular that the airport plans to continue it indefinitely.

"Passengers, employees and those waiting in the area are enjoying it," airport spokeswoman Kerry Gerot said.