IF ONLY THE TRAVEL ITSELF WERE EASY

Online travel agents are wooing corporate managers with improvements that go way beyond what the typical vacation-planning consumers see on the Web. That's because travel management has become big business, as companies realize they waste too many resources letting their executive road warriors make their own reservations. Last month the National Business Travel Association had its biggest conference to date, with more than 400 exhibitors peddling solutions to business customers. It's a long way from the days when "online booking" just meant "click here for an e-ticket." Among the new services:

* Starting this month, Travelocity Business customers can automatically receive online ticket exchanges if they find cheaper trips or change their plans.

* American Express is going after small-business customers, with a "we'll beat any price" guarantee, and a promise to refund any unused e-tickets.

* Big companies can have their complicated travel policies (who's allowed to fly first class, which hotels give discounts ) integrated in their reservations when they book through Travelport, a Seattle management company.

* Worldspan, a behind-the-scenes travel technology company that distributes to Orbitz, Expedia, and others, is adding interactive hotel maps to its reservations screens, as well as rail rates for short trips. It's all part of what Worldspan's Ninan Chacko calls "a trend to remove as much human interaction as possible and to make as much of the travel process as automated as possible."

Now if only they could remove the human interaction known as that talkative stranger sitting beside you on the 14-hour flight to Tokyo.

IF ONLY THE TRAVEL ITSELF WERE EASY | News