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Frills make a return trip

By JAMES THORNER

If you rate healthof the economy based on how well businesspeople travel, you would have to conclude the nation's sitting pretty flush right now.

A survey of 794 business travelers in July and August showed waning interest in flying budget airlines in favor of major carriers. Hello United, goodbye JetBlue.

And when travelers reach their destinations, they're more apt to splurge on mid-range hotels as opposed to bargain-rate beds. Think Hilton vs. Red Roof Inn.

Budget airline use declined among business travelers from 23 percent in 2004 to 14 percent this year. Eighteen percent of travelers reported booking at budget hotels in 2004. By this year that number was cut in half.

"In 2004, budget chain hotels were a fad for business and personal travel. But there has been a noticeable shift back to mid-range hotels over the past two years," said survey authors from Accenture Research.

The survey also unearthed other business trip trends:

* Challenging the view that business travelers reserve airline seats and rooms at the last minute, the survey learned that nearly half book travel more than 14 days ahead.

* Chicago is the city most business travelers (28 percent) plan to visit in the next six months. New York City ranked second, at 22 percent. Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles tied for third place.

* Fifty-six percent of business travelers experienced one or more maintenance-related travel delays or cancellations in the past six months.

* A like number of frequent travelers say their customer preferences are not recognized by their preferred hotel. Similarly, about half of travelers complained it took too many points to redeem airline and hotel rewards.

The trend toward higher-priced flights and lodging applied mostly when the company was paying.

When businessespeople were polled on personal travel, they were much more likely to take the budget route.

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