Budget Travel's 2007 Extra Mile Awards
Presenting our third annual look at the companies that are going out of their way to improve travelers' quality of life.
Some areas use transponders that attach to the windshield. Drivers can request a car with a transponder when they make a reservation; the cost is $1.50 a day, up to a max of $7.50 per week. Tolls are billed directly to drivers' credit cards. Other areas don't use transponders, but instead run images of license tags through a database of registered vehicles; Avis signed up all of its vehicles in the country. (Passes for these systems--in Houston, Florida, and Colorado--cost $2 for each day the service is used, plus tolls.) "Our aim is make your experience more convenient," says Caron. "We used to make change for customers arriving at airports, and then we sold them toll tokens, so this is a natural progression."
Homewood Suites by Hilton: Choose a room like you would an airplane seat.
Booking a hotel room has generally required a little blind faith. Once you've made the doubles-or-king, smoking-or-non decisions, the rest of the details (including the exact location of the room) are out of your hands. Homewood Suites by Hilton is out to change that with its new Suite Selection program, available at all of the brand's properties.
When you check in online, you'll be shown a floor plan of the hotel, and you can choose from the available rooms. "It's the same concept as picking your seat when you check in for a flight," says Bill Duncan, Homewood Suites' vice president of sales and marketing.
Homewood Suites is an extended-stay brand, which explains why guests would have strong feelings about the location of their suites. Each floor plan also marks amenities, so you can decide exactly how near you'll be to the elevators, laundry room, vending machines, ice machine, and pool. There's also a compass image (for those who want to avoid the morning sun in an east-facing room, for example) and a map of the surrounding area that shows the parking lot, neighboring streets, gas stations, and food options. As with some airlines' kiosks, guests are also given the option to upgrade.
Launched in the spring, Suite Selection has boosted electronic check-in at Homewood Suites by 20 percent. It's currently available to Hilton HHonors Gold and Diamond members, but the company hopes to make it available to all of its loyalty-club members by the end of the year. "Suite Selection is all about empowering guests--putting them in control of an out-of-control travel world," says Duncan. "And we knew that the more control we gave customers, the happier they'd ultimately be."