A FLOOR OF ONE'S OWN

Business travel may have suffered since 9/11, but those exclusive, limited-access floors at many upscale hotels are flourishing. "Club level" provides the weary road warrior with executive services like VIP check-in, private elevator, meeting room with coffee for clients and a floor concierge. Plus there's some pampering with fancy bedroom furniture and evening hors d'oeuvres. It sure isn't Motel 6, but it comes at a price--typically between 25 and 35 percent above the regular room rate, and as high as 45 percent.

When luxury hotels suffered the brunt of the business-travel slowdown, upscale chains like Loews and Ritz-Carlton began courting families by offering discounts and making club floors kid friendly. "It surprised a lot of hoteliers that it was the leisure segment that kept those companies in business," says Robert Kwortnik of the Cornell Hotel School. Now that business travelers are using hotels at a rate approaching pre-9/11 levels, they're paying top dollar for club floors, according to a new study by PFK Consulting. But before you whip out that corporate card, a few caveats.

Economy chains, like the Sheraton and Marriott, offer little more than a cozier bed for 15 percent above the room rate. True, on a hectic trip, a good night's sleep can make all the difference. High-end hotels like the Ritz-Carlton, though, will treat you like royalty--for as much as 45 percent more a night.

Is it worth it? "Dollar for dollar, maybe not," says Scott Smith of PFK's Hospitality Research Group. "But it's giving me something someone else doesn't have." Status, not value, may be the grail. The Ritz-Carltons love to boast of their club levels. Four Seasons hotels don't have them, says a spokeswoman, because "the size of our hotels allows us to offer the kind of experience normally associated with club floors to all our guests." Nice sentiment, but where's the fun in being pampered if everyone else is too? Take-home Bulgari soap is great--until you realize everybody's getting it.