Eat @ Joe's By Ralph Raffio
I Faked a Business Trip and Found Real Alternatives
May 25, 2017 -- Let me tell you about a fraudulent business trip because we might learn something about the fraudulent nature of travel loyalty and how honest-to-goodness business travelers can break the ties that once bound us to particular airlines and hotels.

I am sitting in an all-but-empty Long Island Rail Road car that is leaving New York's Penn Station. In around an hour it should reach its destination: Long Beach.

Cousin John will meet me there and we'll go to his house and plant tomatoes. My cousin has not been well, you see. Even the slightest physical exertion leaves him breathless, the result of four-plus decades of a two-plus-pack-a-day habit. So when I learned that he planned to do the hard work of summer gardening, I invented a nonexistent business trip to New York.

"How about I steal a day and come help you out?" I asked my cousin. "You'd be doing me a favor getting me out of Manhattan, believe me."

I don't expect you to care about my cousin or his tomatoes. But you may find the travel component of the phony trip useful. Because like an increasing number of business travelers, I now move heaven and tomato-enriching earth to avoid A) giving the nation's airlines my money; and B) subjecting myself or my wife to the indignities that the major travel companies try to rain down on us.

From my home in Portland, Maine, JetBlue Airways, a comparatively decent airline, can deliver me in about an hour to New York/Kennedy Airport, located just a hop, skip and a channel-traversing bridge from Cousin John in Long Beach. Roundtrip fare? Just $128

Instead, I chose a nearly six-hour bus ride and, at $138 roundtrip, a slightly higher fare. Time and money, as you can see, had nothing to do with my decision. It's much more about, as Aretha first reminded us 50 years ago, R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

Airlines have decided that their paying customers do not deserve to be treated with civility. But a growing number of other transportation companies take the opposite view. To my mind, these alternate modes of transport deserve as much support as we can give them.

Take this bus between Portland and New York. Concord Coach Lines launched the express service in late 2015--and, boy, did they do it right.

They took a full-size motorcoach built to carry 51 passengers and retrofitted it to seat only 30. Ten rows of spacious, comfortable, wired seats configured 2x1. WiFi and movies are free, as are as many snacks and cold drinks as you want. There's a Keurig in the galley for making fresh coffee. A bathroom sized with actual humans in mind. Plus all baggage--lots and lots of it should you desire--is free.

Around three hours into the trip down to New York my wife, who'd been comfortably dozing in her window seat, looked up.

"Okay, which would you do?" she asked, looking sleepy but cheerful. "Five hours on a plane or ten hours on this thing?"

To which I recited my mantra: "Screw the airlines."

But it's not just the airlines. I'm getting tired of the hotel chains, too, and I question the value of their supposed loyalty programs. Screw them, too.

It's not that there weren't plenty of rooms available at the chain hotels. But prices were especially high during our travel dates and, in most cases, the open rooms in our price range ($225) would be at best merely tolerable on the comfort scale. Besides, the chains are sparsely represented on the residential Upper West Side of Manhattan, where my wife wanted to stay. I know this because I'm from New York originally, travel there several times a year and pay close attention to these things.

"Look at The Beacon," advised a lodging-savvy friend. "It's a great hotel that should be on more people's radar."

For a nightly rate of around $225, we got a corner room on the 24th floor. The accommodation was large--and not just large-by-Manhattan-standards large. It even had a kitchen. Great views of the city, too. The hotel is just steps from the Beacon Theater and across the street from two of New York's great names in food: the original Fairway market and, next door to that, Citarella.

We were so impressed with the hotel and its staff that we're talking about spending all of December at the Beacon.

We won't be flying then, either. Screw the airlines. And hotel chains.

This column is Copyright 2017 by Ralph Raffio. is Copyright 2017 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved. All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property and responsibility of Ralph Raffio. This material may not be reproduced in any form without his express written permission.