Chick-fil-A, Southwest top-rated among business travelers

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by Nancy Trejos / USA TODAY

USA Today

Posted on January 16, 2014 at 11:11 AM

Business travelers aren't always asking their employers to pay for lavish steakhouse dinners when they're on the road for work.

They're more likely to spend their dollars at bargain chain eateries such as Chick-fil-A, Dunkin' Donuts, Panera Bread, and McDonald's, a study released today shows.

For 2013, the vendors that business travelers spent most of their money at were Starbucks, Delta Air Lines, Avis and Marriott, based on millions of receipts analyzed by Certify, which helps companies track expense accounts. Places that provide free WiFi did particularly well, says Robert Neveu, CEO of Certify.

"What never ceases to amaze me is the popularity of fast food, convenience, quick -service restaurants in the business travel space," Neveu says.

Neveu says business travelers get "visual guilt," which keeps them from spending too much.

"Visual guilt tends to be a great sort of moderator for people," he says. "It saves people money. "

Dunkin' Donuts was the biggest gainer in terms of expensed items. It moved up from sixth-most expensed restaurant to fifth-most expensed from the third quarter of 2013 to the fourth quarter.

American Airlines moved from fifth to fourth-most expensed airline in the last quarter.

Southwest Airlines dropped from third most expensed airline in the third quarter to fifth most in the fourth quarter.

Business travelers didn't necessarily spend their money at places they enjoyed the most.

Southwest was the top-rated airline even though it was not the most expensed.

Chick-fil-A trumped the competition as a favorite restaurant. "Chick-fil-A continues to take down the top rated restaurants," Neveu says.

Chipotle, the Mexican fast food eatery, also earned high marks.

Other top-rated vendors were Residence Inn and Enterprise. Neveu surmises they were not the most expensed because they were not the most convenient for business travelers.

For instance, Southwest tends to please crowds because it has no fees for changing flights and does not charge for checking the first two bags. Yet, he points out, it does not always fly routes that business travelers need.

Either way, Neveu says, business travelers are trying to save their companies money.

Yet they're spending more because prices are going up.

The average amount they spent at Starbucks each time last year was $9.58, up from $7.54 in 2012.

Scott Zebedis, a USA TODAY Road Warrior who works at a non-profit in Anderson, Ind., usually has breakfast at McDonald's, lunch at Chick-fil-A and dinner at Outback Steakhouse.

"I eat at Outback Steakhouse because I can get a good meal for under $25," he says. "Since I work for a non-profit Foundation, cost is always a consideration in all travel decisions."

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