Business travel is back, perks are not

Charisse Jones, USA TODAY

Businesses have opened the spigot when it comes to corporate travel, boosting the number of trips their staffers take. But employees say they still have to pinch pennies on the road.

Coach is still king when it comes to flying. Expense accounts remain tight. And the choice of hotels tends to fall in the middle of the pack.

“At a company level … things are in a lot of ways getting better,” says Phil Bush, a member of USA TODAY’s panel of Road Warriors who does sales consulting and lives in Atlanta. “But there’s no loosening up of anything, because they’re trying to make more money, and all we are is expenses. I’m not saying that negatively. It’s just a fact.”

After plunging during the depths of the recession, corporate trekking and spending is on the rise. The Global Business Travel Association’s (GBTA) most recent business travel forecast for the USA predicted spending on business travel will rise 6.2% to $310.2 billion in 2015. Trips are predicted to inch up 1.7% to 490.4 million corporate treks.

“It comes back to that overall feeling of corporate confidence,” says Mike McCormick, GBTA’s executive director.”They see the return of putting people on the road. … Business travel drives business growth.”

Two-thirds of that increased spending is fueled by inflation. The rest “is a result of increasingly productive business travelers,” McCormick says. “They are getting more done per trip than ever before, resulting in a longer average trip than 15 years ago.”

The days when business trekkers could regularly spend hundreds of dollars on a dinner tab or fly business class are probably over, he says. “I don’t think we’re ever going back to those times,” he says, noting that companies have bolstered their management of expenses with a variety of policies and tools.”Companies see that there is value at times in using a premium class of service. There is value at times at spending more to entertain your clients. But you do that with a specific business purpose in mind.”

USA TODAY Road Warrior Clarissa Cervantes, a researcher and photographer who lives in Los Angeles, says she has seen the belt tightening firsthand.

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