Thursday, November 18, 2010

The cost of connecting

Taxi1Business travel is expensive.  My goals are to be on scene, on time, and not to inconvenience my clients. As a result,  there’s often little choice of dates, my hotel must be convenient to the site, and meals tend to be either very fast or very expensive.

So I’m always looking for ways to better anticipate and control my expenses.

I can generally keep airfares down by getting a general fix on dates and times with a big travel site, then call the airline to see what an agent can find.  For my present trip (LON-CHI-SEA-LON) Orbitz showed a $1200 fare, rising towards $1500 if I jiggled dates a day either way.: Delta’s agent got the cost down to $900 (via LHR-DTI-ORD-SLC-SEA-MSP-LHR…that’s my life in a nutshell).

A similar approach often works for hotels, checking the big sites for value priced rooms, then calling the hotel directly for deals.  If it’s not a chain, then I make a further check of Tripadvisor to make sure that there aren’t any terrible negatives.

Taxi2So far, so good, but I discovered a tradeoff between hotel costs and transport costs that really hit home this week.

The St. Giles Hotel is dramatically lower priced than others near Heathrow, and has reasonable traveller reviews.  It is six miles from the airport, close enough.  The problem I didn’t anticipate  is that Heathrow is gigantic, so the hotel is actually around the far end of the airport, 12 miles from the terminals.  The Hotel Hoppa doesn’t run out there, so it was a £25 fare to catch a taxi, almost exactly erasing the savings on the hotel.

I asked the clerk how to get back to Heathrow more cheaply, and she suggested the bus, stopping just across the street and running every 15 minute.  It worked great: just slap the Oyster card and go.

OHareA similar thing happened in Chicago.  O’Hare is also gigantic, and the Marriott Courtyard Wood Dale, while a dozen miles from the airport, is a long drive around the perimeter, adding up to a $37 taxi fare. (Irritatingly, that was half again as much as the $22 metered fare because Wood Dale is considered a ‘suburban’ destination).  The clerk suggested a cab with a fixed $23 fare at to get back to the airport, but it still cost $65 (each way!) to get into the city for my meetings.

These are astronomic cab fares, approaching $150 per round-trip. And, no, thee were no trains or alternatives: the airport is a huge object object cutting  me off from Chicago.

And when I added things up, the excess fares almost exactly balanced my $150 savings on the hotel.  I think that owners must take this into account, pricing the rooms to take account of the location .

In this case, the only sensible alternative would be to rent a car, although the savings are probably minimal.since the car+gas is probably also just over $100.

Overall, the cost of connecting is probably the biggest hidden cost in travel,, and one of the least predictable or controllable. It crops up when going from airports to cruise-ship docks, from convention hall to dinner spot, and from the RyanAir’s budget airfield to the city center.

So my suggestion is to realize that (particularly with airport hotels), overall cost is likely the same no matter where you stay: room cost is balanced by transport costs.  ‘Best idea may be to call the clerk and ask for the best connecting alternatives.

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