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2008 Extra Mile Awards

Our annual look at companies going out of their way to make travel easier and more affordable during an especially trying time for trip-goers.

Cathay Pacific: Redesigning economy-class seats so they're fit for a king
"When a passenger flies economy, there shouldn't be a sacrifice of comfort or luxury," says Dennis Owen, vice president of marketing in the U.S. for Cathay Pacific Airways. While other airlines have spent millions in recent years revamping their first- and business-class cabins by adding amenities such as flat-bed seats, Cathay Pacific has focused on making flying more comfortable for all of its passengers—including those in coach. Late last year, the Hong Kong¿based airline rolled out a significant redesign of the economy-class cabins on most of its flights serving New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. One of the most noticeable changes is in the seats, which don't recline into the space of the person sitting behind you. Instead, the new seats have a hard-shell back and slide forward as they recline. To give your knees more room, the seat-back pocket has been moved to the space beneath the seat cushion—you can access it by reaching between your knees. Tray tables are a little longer than they used to be, and they've been tricked out with a cup holder on the back. A hook has also been added to the seat back so you can hang a jacket or a purse. Another plus: The nine-inch TV screens are nearly a third larger than their predecessors, and the entertainment library for passengers in coach has been expanded to include more than 100 movies, 350 TV shows, and 900 music CDs. "We aimed to have enough entertainment options for our passengers, no matter what cabin class they're in or which language they speak," says Owen. Taken together, the improvements make coach feel almost like first class, minus (of course) the caviar and flutes of champagne. —Sean O'Neill

Hotels.com: Launching a hotel reward program that actually pays offand is easy to use
Hotel loyalty programs are sometimes not worth the hassle. You may need years to rack up the points required to earn a free room, and when you try to redeem them, many of the most popular dates are off-limits. In July, Hotels.com introduced a blissfully straightforward reward program, designed like a punch card: After booking 10 nights at hotels with a price-match guarantee (there are more than 35,000 of them), you get a night for free. And there are no blackout dates. "The key to the whole program is that it's easy to use and the free rooms are attainable," says Scott Booker, the company's chief hotel expert and guest advocate. "We know that every traveler has different needs and that every trip is different. People are no longer limited to a single brand's properties in any given place." To underscore that point, Hotels.com does not restrict you to a handful of options when it comes to claiming your free stay—as long as you spent at least $40 a night on each booking, you can choose any hotel from the price-match-guarantee pool that costs up to $400 a night. What could be more satisfying than scoring a night at a Bali resort after a few stays at a motel in Buffalo? —Brooke Kosofsky Glassberg

Hertz Rent A Car
While the airline check-in process has become much more efficient thanks to online check-in and self-service kiosks, the lines at rental-car desks can still be painfully long. In an effort to speed up the process, Hertz has instituted a new system it promises will get you on the road in 10 minutes, or you'll receive $50 off your rental. The program, which is in effect at about 50 airports nationwide, combines online check-in with new self-service kiosks and express desks at airport locations. "Our customers had asked us to make the check-in process simpler," says Frank Camacho, Hertz's staff vice president of marketing. "And customer response was incredible—about 2,000 people checked in online the day the system launched." Plus, he says, check-in times at airports are now averaging an eye-popping three minutes per person. —Amy Westervelt

Southwest: Holding firm against fees
Air travelers are learning all too well that with most carriers these days, the listed fare is not the bottom line—it's just the starting point. Then come the fees for everything from checking a bag to reserving a seat on the aisle or window. Not true with Southwest Airlines, which has resisted joining other carriers in nickel-and-diming passengers to offset skyrocketing fuel costs. "People want to know what they're paying for," says Dave Ridley, Southwest's senior vice president for marketing, revenue management, and pricing. "What sets us apart is that what you see is what you pay. No tricks. No games. No gimmicks." One reason the airline can avoid levying extra fees on customers is that it hedged against possible rises in oil prices way back in the 1990s by locking in some of its fuel costs at a low fixed price through 2012. Only time will tell whether Southwest stands by its no-fees policy. In 2006, rising fuel prices did force the airline to ditch its $299 cap on one-way airfares. Ridley promises, though, that fees are not coming anytime soon: "We are committed [to the policy] through this period of intense oil-price increases." —Berit Thorkelson

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Note:This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.
 

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