Seat 2B By Joe Brancatelli
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A Holiday Gift Guide by Us for Us
December 4, 2014 -This always happens at holiday parties.

"You're a travel expert," they inevitably begin, a sure sign that they have no clue about business travel or who deserves the "expert" honorific. "My husband/wife/lover/partner travels all the time and I never know what to get him/her," they say. "Do you have any ideas?"

That's when I lie. With malice aforethought.

"A nice piece of luggage, something small and stylish," I reply. "Make sure the wheels are sturdy and the handle doesn't wobble." Then I make a lame excuse to slink away and pray to the business-travel gods for karmic forgiveness.

As I explained a few columns ago, luggage is a terrible thing to buy for a business traveler because it's virtually impossible to know what the flier truly needs or prefers. I only tell partygoers that awful fib because I don't want to get into a long conversation about business travel (Hey, it's a party!), I know the questioner won't listen (Have you ever taken advice you solicited at a party?) and I'm not licensed to use the expert deflection deployed by doctors and lawyers ("I don't practice in that area, so consult a specialist").

Thankfully, here in Seat 2B, where it's just us business travelers, I can make interesting gift recommendations because we know what life on the road is really about. More importantly, you know enough to decide if one of these suggestions below isn't suitable, when and how others should be tweaked for a specific business traveler and, perhaps most important of all, when to give up and shower your special someone with always practical, much-appreciated gift cards for Starbucks or Amazon.com or iTunes.

Stuff that stocking

For a variety of financial, social and hygienic reasons, hotels are rapidly switching in-room coffeemakers to single-serve models. That's bad news for business travelers who obsess over their morning joe and travel with a custom blend. To the rescue: $15 reusable single-serve filters. (You can find cheaper models in the coffee aisle of your local supermarket.) The only problem? There's no universal fit for single-serve machines. But if your traveler is a coffee fanatic, some customization is better than none.

Every business traveler struggles with "cable spaghetti" in their technology bag, what with all the chargers, connectors and earbuds we carry for our phones, laptops and tablets. The solution? Cheap, space-saving retractable cords. Just make sure you sneak a peek at your traveler's tech bag to see which cables he or she carries.

Speaking of tech tools, I've been traveling with the original $20 Keynamics laptop stand for ages and it never fails to elicit oohs and ahhs when I use it in-flight. It packs flat and weighs just nine ounces. It puts the keyboard at the optimum typing angle and raises a laptop to keep the battery cool. It also works wonders on hotel-room desks. The company makes a version specifically for iPads and Macbooks, too.

Small, personal luxury

I personally don't sweat the small amenities on the road. If it's in a hotel bathroom and it's a bar, I scrub with it. If it's in a little bottle in the shower, I wash what's left of my hair with it. But many business travelers are ferociously brand loyal when it comes to their ablutions. And then there are perfumes, oils, beauty items and all sorts of other things business travelers carry in our itty-bitty 3-1-1 toiletries bag.

You can put together a terrific gift of miniatures by haunting the "travel" section of your local market, discount store or pharmacy. Or do it the easy way by shopping at Mimimus.biz. The online firm claims to have 2,500 travel-sized bottles, tubes, packets and boxes of brand-name products.

Got a business traveler who's a picky eater? Get lost in the virtual Minimuz.biz aisle of compact condiments and shelf-stable food items. Just imagine buying your favorite business traveler a supply of single-serve Tabasco or their preferred brand of preserves. They'll never have to swipe extras off the room-service tray again and you can't put a price on the gift of dignity.

Travel-sized cosmetics and perfumes are trickier. Your best source is probably the finest department store in your area. Hit the cosmetic counter and ask about miniature-sized versions of your business traveler's favorites. If that fails, call the manufacturer directly. Many produce promotional miniatures and travel-sized items meant to be gifts with purchase. You can probably convince them to ship you a supply.

Passports to convenience

Too many business travelers are loath to spend a few bucks on their personal comfort and convenience. If the business traveler on your list isn't a member of an airport club, enroll them in one or more networks. Priority Pass is best if they use many carriers, but if they fly a specific airline, consider buying them a membership in the Alaska Airlines Board Room, American Admirals Club, Delta's SkyClub or the United Club.

And don't forget Global Entry, the $100 government program that allows business travelers to cut customs and immigrations lines when they return to the United States. Global Entry membership also confers bypass privileges with the TSA PreCheck scheme. If your business traveler isn't a member, subsidize their enrollment.

Surprise suite upgrades

Several times a year, your business traveler is going to be stressed and overworked and then required to make a trip he or she doesn't want to take. That's the time for the surprise suite upgrade. Call the hotel and ask for the day manager, rooms manager or general manager. Then arrange for the best suite in the house for your overwhelmed traveler. Make sure it's also stocked with his or her favorite beverages and snacks. Some flowers would be nice, too.

The weekend away

I never recommend more travel for business travelers, but, once or twice a year, a couple's "weekend away" can be a remarkable stress buster. The key components: a destination you can reach without a flight, a room or suite in the best hotel in town, breakfasts in bed, tickets to a great cultural attraction or concert and at least one romantic dinner. Throw in a late check-out, some wine and a massage or spa treatment. Leave plenty of free time for relaxation and wandering without a plan and you have the kind of travel even a business traveler would be glad to add to their schedule.

This column is Copyright 2014 American City Business Journals. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright 2014 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.