UK: Business travel - planes, trains and hired cars. (2 of 2)

UK: Business travel - planes, trains and hired cars. (2 of 2) - Car rental companies, too, are wooing executives with higher service standards. Avis, for instance, is eliminating the need to queue and the lengthy process of repeating personal details eac

Car rental companies, too, are wooing executives with higher service standards. Avis, for instance, is eliminating the need to queue and the lengthy process of repeating personal details each time a car is rented by giving frequent renters a "VIP service" called Avis Express. The privileged can turn up at exclusive Avis Express booths located at major UK airports, hand over the Avis Express card which holds routine rental information and, hopefully, within minutes drive a car away from a special priority bay. The company, which has invested $1 billion in its "Wizard" computer system to store all personal rental information, is also introducing a rapid self-return service to the UK. After keying in mileage and fuel gauge readings, a printed record of charges is produced in 60 seconds and the busy executive can then, ideally, be on his or her way.

Other schemes use free mobile telephones to lure business travellers. Hertz "Super Shuttle Drive" and "Executive Connection" customers, for instance, pay no telephone rental - only call charges and VAT. The mobile phone can even be picked up before boarding a train if a car is to be rented at the other end. In addition, computerised driving directions are available in eight languages at major airports and train stations. The self-service computer prints out step-by-step directions, the estimated distance and driving time. However, the free tank of petrol, thrown in with every executive car rental, has recently been withdrawn because it was believed to be of little perceived value to those who only used half a tank.

Instead the emphasis is now on offering an integrated service. Hertz has teamed up with British Rail and British Airways so that car rental can be purchased at the same time as train or airline tickets. Likewise, British Midland is forging a partnership with Avis under the "Flying Start" banner. Frequent users are rewarded with free rental - four air and car packages, for instance, earn a complimentary weekend car hire in Europe and 16 qualifies for two free weeks.

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