Now Boarding: Small Businesss

Travel services are rolling out the red carpet once reserved for big customers

Hip-hop artist Speech and his wife, Yolanda Thomas, owners of four-employee Vagabond Productions, dropped a hundred grand last year on airfare alone for their Fayetteville (Ga.) music publishing and production company. Beth Slifer, president of Slifer Designs, a $20 million residential-design firm in Edwards, Colo. is staring down the barrel of a $231,000 travel budget for 2000. Only $50,000 of that will be billed back to clients. "Usually, it's spur-of-the-moment meetings with potential clients," says Slifer, "and my travel plans change constantly, meaning I'm often caught paying the highest fares." Michael Berneis, CEO of New York startup SynchIT.com Inc., spent $15,000 jetting to Europe to meet with partners and investors, so he saves on lodging by staying with friends.

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