If you’re a road warrior who left the corporate world to run your own show, you know what a comedown business travel on your own dime is. No more relying on the company travel agent to book you into a classy place at the corporate rate. Now you’re comparison shopping hotel deals online, torn between slumming it at a cheap airport motel or blowing upwards of $300 a night on a room downtown to make it to your meeting well rested and fed.
Wouldn’t it be nice to have a real live travel agent you could trust to get you the best deal on a business-class hotel? Even better, wouldn’t it be great to get those corporate rates your big employer used to get?
That’s the idea behind JetLuxInc, a one-year-old Santa Monica, Calif., dotcom that promises “the corporate rate for the small business.” JetLux cofounder and CEO Steve Aylsworth says employees of small companies represent more than 65 percent of business travelers. Individually they don’t have the clout to negotiate corporate rates. But united, he says, they’re a powerful economic force.
Already, JetLux has enrolled 6,500 members from 5,500 small businesses and negotiated special rates for them at more than 80 luxury and boutique hotels in the U.S., Canada, and the U.K. Aylsworth plans to expand into South America and Asia this year. Customer testimonials on the JetLux website rave about 3-star rates at 5-star hotels including The Luxe Beverly Hills, The Dana Hotel and Spa Chicago, The Quin Hotel New York, and Hotel Vitale in San Francisco.
Though Aylsworth says members can find rates as low as $150 through the service, the real draw is luxury accommodations for mid-level prices. "Our whole vision is to get that hard-working small business CEO or VP of sales who has never gotten corporate perks into a hotel suite, getting what they deserve, while saving a tremendous amount of money." The one-time JetLux membership fee of $19.99 for an individual or $199 for a company can be recouped in the first reservation booked, he says. “We have members who book 10-50 nights per year and we’re saving them thousands of dollars per month."
After two profitable quarters—most revenues come not from memberships but from hotel commissions—he is now seeking investment capital to grow faster.
Aylsworth says the strategy has been a win-win for the hotels and members. “Sole proprietors are where we really win big. They have zero options by themselves, and we provide them anywhere from 20-60 percent off the best available rate. Meanwhile, hotels appreciate that we aggregate all the little guys that they can’t find,” he says. “They want that business traveler to replace the traffic they get through Expedia—the one-time-a-year traveler with a 12-pack in the suitcase.”
Aylsworth claims JetLux can always beat the prices offered by online travel agents like Orbitz and Travelocity. Plus, JetLux-partnered hotels offer perks including free breakfast, free wi-fi, and free upgrades upon arrival, based on availability. Aylsworth says that means that at a hotel like the Trump SoHo in New York City, where JetLux offers negotiated rates, a member can get a 40 percent discount on a $500 room and then be upgraded to a $900 suite.
Like any startup, however, the company has some kinks to work out. I took advantage of the free membership code that JetLux is offering to Yahoo readers—enter “yahoo” in the reference code field upon registration—to book a room for an upcoming trip to Boston. The JetLux website listed three Boston hotels, but not their rates or availability; members must call a toll-free number to book. The agent I spoke to was nice, professional, and helpful, but her computer was “having issues” that day, so instead of “less than a minute” as promised, I spent 22 minutes on the phone to secure a room at the Fairmont Battery Wharf for $246—15 percent less than the hotel’s own AAA rate.
Though JetLux says it offers an “exclusive 24-hour cancellation policy,” when I asked the agent how far in advance I would need to cancel to avoid fees, she told me I should call her before 5:00 pm Pacific time at least 48 hours in advance of my date of travel. The website also advertises “suite upgrades when available,” but the agent seemed not to know what I was talking about when I asked if those upgrades are free. She told me, “you can always ask at the hotel.”
When the meeting I had planned to attend in Boston was rescheduled, I called JetLux to cancel my hotel reservation. The agent put me on hold because she was “the only one in the office today.” Still, it took just 3 minutes to get my cancellation number. And Aylsworth is right that, had I paid a membership fee, the savings on my first reservation would have covered it. As it happened, the experience didn’t cost me a dime. I’d give it another try.
Yahoo readers can get a free JetLux membership using the reference code "yahoo" on the online registration form.