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WHAT TO GIVE A BUSINESS TRAVELER
By Joe Brancatelli
December 1, 2010 -- I have the perfect holiday gift suggestion for any business traveler: Time. Time to be home with family. An extra hour to finish a proposal. Ten more minutes so they won't run late for the next flight. Maybe an extra day in a new place that suddenly captured their imagination.

But since I can't find the time store and wouldn't know how to wrap any minutes or hours I could buy my favorite business traveler, allow me to propose these more practical ideas for your holiday gift list. Whether buying for a spouse, a friend or a client, the gifts below make sense for those who have to hit the road and take to the skies as part of the job. The prices are right for every budget, too. You can also consult last year's Seat 2B Holiday Gift Guide for ideas.

The Next Big (or Small) Thing
Armies may travel on their stomachs, but armies of business travelers move on their mobile technology. Whether it's the small things (smartphones), the big things (the traditional laptop) or the brave new world in between (the burgeoning market for tablet computers and netbooks), a gift of the next great high-tech travel tool is always appropriate. Just make sure you know your business traveler's quirks and preferences.

Like Steve Jobs or loathe him--and business travelers usually fall into one camp or the other--you have to accept that Apple has the two most intriguing tech toys of the season. The MacBook Air with the 11.6-inch screen is extraordinarily thin and light (around 2.5 pounds), thanks in part to its omission of an optical drive and the replacement of a traditional hard drive with a flash drive. As with all Apple "breakthroughs," the compromises are noteworthy (just two USB ports, no Ethernet connection, limited storage), but the sex appeal is there. It sells for about $1,150 from outlets such as Amazon.

Meanwhile, I already see the iPad in the places--airline clubs and first-class cabins--that indicate another paradigm shift in what business travelers consider must-carry technology. The addition of an iPad for the Verizon network also bodes well for the technology's inevitability. And since there isn't yet a formidable Windows- or Android-based competitor, iPad will be the mobile status symbol for a while.

On the other hand, Google's Android phones are already outselling iPhones. Motorola's Droid X is a brilliant successor to the original Droid, the kind of follow-on product Motorola never developed after its earlier mobile sensations (the StarTAC in the 1990s and the RAZR six years ago). Droid users seem even more fanatical about the X (4.3-inch screen, HD camcorder, 8 megapixel camera and even an HDMI connection) than iPhone users. If your business traveler prefers a GSM phone rather than a Droid on Verizon's network, the myTouch 4G from T-Mobile is the way to go. It's sleek and sturdy and data speeds are outstanding. Should style points matter; the myTouch 4G comes in four colors.

Passes and Memberships and Gift Cards, Oh My!
No matter who you're shopping for, if they travel on business, they consume similar products and services.

On the road, most business travelers will either crave their Starbucks fix or they proudly go Dunkin' Donuts. The twain rarely meets. The good news? Both chains offer gift cards that make great stocking stuffers or small tokens of holiday appreciation. As is its wont, Starbucks goes all artsy-fartsy with its cards while Dunkin' keeps it simple.

The GoGo Inflight Internet system may never make sense as a business, but if your business traveler takes cloud computing literally, the company sells a variety of passes and monthly plans. GoGo is currently installed on about 1,000 aircraft operated by eight airlines, but it's most practical as a gift for American, Delta, AirTran or Virgin America flyers. If you'd prefer to feed the Internet beast on the ground, a gift of Boingo is a savvy choice. It offers connections at hundreds of thousands of WiFi hotspots around the world. Prices start at $8 a month.

Or give the gift of shelter from the airport storm. Too many business travelers hit the road without airport club access, so help them take better care of themselves by gifting them membership. All of the traditional U.S. and Canadian carriers operate a club network. Continental Airlines, for example, sells a one-year membership in the Presidents Club for $475 a year or you can buy booklets of day passes for the business travelers who won't belong to a club that would have them as a member. Alternately, buy them Priority Pass, my single favorite thing on the business-travel planet. Its airline-neutral, class-of-service-irrelevant approach to lounge access makes perfect sense. Prices start as low as $99 a year for a pay-as-you-visit plan; $399 buys unlimited visits for a year.

The Gift of Everything
Although thankfully without the killing and the moral turpitude, business travel is a lot like war. There are periods of intense activity followed by long stretches of insane boredom. There are surprisingly thoughtful (and surprisingly inexpensive) ways to help business travelers alleviate the boredom.

Want to make them laugh? How about The Complete Cartoons of The New Yorker? For just $30, you can pick up a volume of 2,000 cartoons--and it comes with a DVD that contains all 70,000+ works the magazine has published. That DVD will lighten up many a transcontinental or transoceanic flight in coach. (Full disclosure: Portfolio.com and The New Yorker are owned, ultimately, by the same parent company, Advance Publications. But I've been laughing at the magazine's cartoons since 1971 and have only written Seat 2B since 2007, so you do the math on my recommendation.)

Never let it be said that Fox doesn't have a sense of macabre humor: Just in time for Christmas gift-giving, it is releasing the 57-DVD box set of every episode of the television series 24. You can pre-order it for about $245 from Amazon. If nothing else, carrying a few of these around will remind business travelers that their last 24 hours weren't so bad. Less violent, if no less time-consuming, is the new box set of 17 DVDs that comprise all of the episodes of The Larry Sanders Show. It costs less than $100.

For road warriors who are musically inclined, Target sells the newly minted Frank Sinatra Concert Collection for less than $55. The 7-disc set spans 14 hours of classic Sinatra television specials and concert performances from the 1950s to the 1980s. He sings with all of the greats--Bennett, Crosby, Jobim, Cole, Fitzgerald, Basie--along the way. If your business traveler doesn't roll that way, there's the new Jimi Hendrix Anthology, a four CD collection of 59 tracks, mostly previously unreleased live and studio recordings. The box set also includes a DVD with a new 90-Hendrix minute documentary. It's $56 from Amazon.

The Fine Print ...
My go-to shop for travel items that double as great holiday gifts? Magellan's. It sells good luggage, trinkets such as travel toothbrushes and travel clocks, practical travel garments and my personal favorite: small, clip-on LED flashlights. I stick them on the straps of my carry-on bags and the zippers of my casual coats and windbreakers.
ABOUT JOE BRANCATELLI Joe Brancatelli is a publication consultant, which means that he helps media companies start, fix and reposition newspapers, magazines and Web sites. He's also the former executive editor of Frequent Flyer and has been a consultant to or columnist for more business-travel and leisure-travel publishing operations than he can remember. He started his career as a business journalist and created JoeSentMe in the dark days after 9/11 while he was stranded in a hotel room in San Francisco. He lives on the Hudson River in the tourist town of Cold Spring.

THE FINE PRINT This column is Copyright -- 2010 American City Business Journals. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright -- 2010 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.