Loyal business customers are also favoured by hotels. Sheraton Club International, which costs $25 a year to join, hands out four points for every US dollar spent. These can be redeemed, says Sheraton, for almost anything from airline tickets and car hire to a video cassette recorder or a Nile cruise. Members also qualify for free upgrades when available, complimentary newspapers and late check-out times. Inter-Continental Hotels has a three-tier frequent guest recognition programme which transports its best customers by courtesy limousine and allows a spouse or partner to stay completely free of charge.
At the new Edwardian International at Heathrow some £60 million has been spent on buying and upgrading what was the old Skyway Hotel. The business traveller and conference delegate has been at the forefront of Edwardian's thinking. For example, the telephone system allows confidential messages to be received, while the television in each room allows the tired delegate to recline on his or her bed and follow the proceedings in full. Despite the fact that the hotel has been virtually rebuilt from top to bottom, it even boasts four-poster beds in some of its top suites.
Even some credit card companies now reward users with dividends and prizes. An "Air Mile" for every £10 spent is given out with a Visa and MasterCard issued by National Westminster Bank, while Barclaycard hands out "profile points" which can be exchanged for gifts. Evidently credit and charge cards offer much more than just a credit facility. Supplementary travel insurance and a 24-hour helpline are now standard services. Barclaycard guarantees purchases of over £50 for 100 days against loss, theft and accident, and tickets for air, sea, rail or a hired car are covered with travel insurance of up to £50,000. Diners Club cover is more extensive, providing, for example, baggage delay compensation of up to £400 and overseas medical expenses of up to £75,000. And American Express also has the advantage of a worldwide network of travel assistance centres.
Marketing ploys, though, are not limited to appealing to the executive via his or her pocket. The comfort and convenience of valuable business travellers is also high on the agenda. Heated competition between airlines, in particular, has pushed service standards to a high level of indulgence. Passengers in Singapore Airlines' newly restyled "Raffles Class" can look forward to drinking Taittinger brut 1983 in specially crafted glasses complete with palm logo. Women can freshen up with Elizabeth Arden toiletries and men with Nina Ricci.
Meanwhile, Virgin Atlantic boasts a choice of 140 movies which can be watched on a laptop video screen. A masseur and manicurist are also available on some flights. And Japan Air Lines recently upgraded its "Executive Service", fitting ergonomically designed seats which, it claims, provide about 20% more space for each passenger, and a five-inch video screen has even been built into the armrests. Air Canada is promising to serve a "flex-meal" lobster dish any time up to 30 minutes before landing.
But MGM Grand Air says that it will provide the ultimate in luxury if it gets the go-ahead to start a transatlantic service to Stansted. The airline, which operates an exclusive first class and business class service between New York and Los Angeles, carries only half the number of passengers and offers amenities such as state rooms which convert into twin or queen size bedrooms.