Boiling frogs and business travel

by Steve Brock on June 21, 2012

Business travel is a rather odd sort of business, especially when it comes to hotels.

If you ever look closely at the pricing and services offered at various hotels, you’ll realize that the typical rules of economics don’t seem to apply. Or rather, they do but in ways that raise an eyebrow or two. Or at least mine. The left one to be precise.

Here’s my question: Why is it that I can stay at a budget or mid-priced hotel for under $100 in many markets (more in big cities) and get a free newspaper, free hot breakfast, free Internet access, free parking and oftentimes free local (and with some, even long distance) calls?

Yet if I pay twice that amount or more at a “nicer” hotel, I am charged at least $15/day for parking or use of their wifi. Local calls can cost $5 and that same anachronistic newspaper I can get for $.50 outside costs me anywhere from $2 to $5 to have it laid out in front of my room door.

In other words, with hotels catering to business travelers, the more you pay for your room, the less you get.

I understand the why of this: business travelers are usually on expense accounts and will pay these additional charges because they can. I’m in marketing, so I get issues of price discrimination, market segmentation and the whole psychology and make-up of the business travel culture. But the whole system seems a bit suspect to me.

The funny thing about it is that I usually don’t notice it. I’ve become like the proverbial frog in the pot of water. You know, the urban legend-like story that if you want to boil a frog (which itself begs the question of why you would want to do that), you need to place the amphibian into cool water and heat it slowly. If you just drop it in already boiling water, it will just jump out.

Turns out that none of that is true. But let’s not let reality get in the way of a good metaphor. The point is that I’m so accustomed to the way business travel works that I just buy into it.

Or I used to.

Lately, I find I don’t like playing this game any more. Recently, I’ve become aware of how many “games” I play, from hotels to airline’s mileage programs to the way rental cars try to scare you into buying insurance you likely don’t need (since your regular car insurance may already cover you in a rental).

All these little cross-sells, up-sells, surcharges (let’s not even start on airlines’ added fees) and special taxes not only add up, but they take away from the meaningful aspects of travel.

How about you? Ever notice how many things you pay for, especially on a trip, that don’t add value to your experience but are just ways for companies to make more money at your expense?

Hop out of that pot.

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