Now this is interesting. The Wall Street Journal has teamed with Upside Travel and launched “The Wall Street Journal Business Travel Service” which it says is designed “exclusively for the 200 million do-it-yourself business travelers.” Primarily, these are travelers who don’t work for large corporations with tight travel policies and entire departments or agencies set up to enforce them, and reap the savings of bulk buying. They are also known as unmanaged travelers or rogue travelers.
We’ve written about Upside Travel before (see post). It’s the new service started by Jay Walker (the guy who invented Priceline) that works like this: Instead of booking your usual first-choice airline, flight time and hotel, you let the Upside website put together an air-hotel package for you. Once you decide if the alternatives work, and if the discounts and gift cards offers are enticing enough, you book the trip. Gift cards come from 50 different retailers, including Amazon.com and Whole Foods, so they are pretty much as good as cash rebates.
Unlike traditional travel agencies, neither Upside or the WSJ Business Travel Service charge fees. Users earn frequent flyer miles for bookings, but do not earn the all-important elite qualifying miles. Delta and Southwest are not participants in the program. Users do not always earn hotel program points. A customer service rep I spoke with said that they will take your program number and call the hotel and try to get the points, but that does not always happen. Also, these bookings do earn points with credits cards and are coded as travel-related purchases for bonuses.
While Upside has pushed the discounts and gift card aspect of the service, the WSJ seems more focused on the service aspect. It says, “With this new service, any business traveler now has the level of comprehensive service and access previously only available to employees of the very largest companies, with no fees, commitments or corporate approvals required. Business travelers can connect with travel experts for instant service via phone, chat or email.”
Since anyone can use the Wall Street Journal Travel Service (no membership, subscription or other fees required) I’m wondering if there’s any difference in using it or the Upside site. Customers booking through the WSJ service get day passes to airport lounges via a deal it has with LoungeBuddy. A spokesperson added that Wall Street Journal subscribers ($400-$500 per year) who use the service get a set of Bose QuietComfort II headphones ($350) after their first trip
I put the new WSJ service to the test and it did produce some substantial savings for a two day trip to New York City from San Francisco in mid November. Here’s what I found.
When I fly to New York, I usually like to fly Delta (for the service, the miles and elite perks) and stay at at Marriott branded hotel for the points and the recognition my elite status brings.
When I enter my dates on the WSJ site, it comes back with flights on American, Alaska/Virgin, JetBlue, United. It also offers up the Marriott Courtyard on Fifth Avenue (rated 4.0 on TripAdvisor). Total package price: $786.78.
If I accepted the site’s first offer of a United roundtrip and stay at Marriott Courtyard, my company would save $15, and I’d get a gift card worth $30. Not bad!
But here’s where this service is different. It also offered me three other alternatives for hotel stays in NYC. If I chose to stay at the NH Jolly Madison hotel (rated 3.5 on TripAdvisor and only a few blocks away) instead, my company would save $42 and I would get a gift certificate of $130. Hmmm. Now that seems worth the switch to me, even with the loss of my Marriott points.