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 The Tactical Traveler

joe A BUSINESS-TRAVEL BRIEFING
FOR FEBRUARY 9, 2000


BY JOE BRANCATELLI

This week: How to negotiate the best hotel discounts; go behind the scenes at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City; American Airlines adds legroom to coach seats; British Airways adds World Traveller Plus seating on long-haul flights; winter travel packages all over the globe; the DOT’s Air Travel Consumer Report offers a wealth of information on the state of travel; and more.

COST CUTTERS: How to Negotiate Hotel Discounts
How do you get the lowest price on a hotel room? Asking for it won't get it done. Mentioning an advertised sale price won't get it done. The only way to secure the lowest rate is to negotiate--and negotiate doggedly--with reservations agents.

For starters, you'll almost never get the lowest rate by requesting an advertised sale price. One example: The Sofitel Hotel in Washington, DC. The Sofitel chain [http://www.sofitel.com] is promoting a worldwide "Winter Sale" and calling the toll-free number (800-SOFITEL) will yield a quote of $130, a substantial discount off the Washington property's posted nightly rate of $219. But is that "Winter Sale" price the lowest available? Nope. Call the hotel directly (202-797-2000) and you may be quoted a "Winterfest" rate of just $99 a night.

Telling a reservation agent at the beginning of your call that you want the cheapest price won't yield the lowest rate, either. That's because the agent isn't listening. They are trained to ignore you. No matter what you say, you'll almost always be quoted the highest available rate first. "We teach them to quote top rack [the highest list price] and then offer a lower price each time you ask for one," explains one hotel executive. "You have to take them down the price ladder."

So how do you know you've reached the bottom rung of the price ladder? Keep asking, "Is that the cheapest price you've got?" Repeat the question until the agent says no lower price is available and will let you hang up without booking a room.

ON THE FLY: News You Need to Know
American Airlines [http://www.aa.com] says it will increase legroom at each coach seat by at least three inches and by as much as five inches. … British Airways [http://www.britishairways.com] is adding a fourth class, World Traveller Plus, on long-haul flights. The cabin will offer expanded legroom and other inflight amenities to travelers who pay full-fare coach prices. … MetroJet, the low-fare division of USAirways [http://www.usairways.com], is juggling its schedule on March 5. Gone will be service from Raleigh/Durham to Orlando and Tampa. The planes will be redirected to Boston, where MetroJet will add flights to Fort Lauderdale, Tampa and Orlando.

VACATION STATION: Winter Deals Around the World
The 10-day "Colors of Spain" package from Petrabax Vacations [http://www.petrabax.com] (800-634-1188), includes roundtrip airfare; eight nights of lodging; daily breakfast, a lunch and three dinners; and guided sightseeing in Madrid, Seville, Toledo and Grenada. Prices start at $949 a person for travel through March. … CIT Tours [http://www.cit-tours.com] (800-248-8687) is offering 5-night packages to London for as little as $1,198 a couple or $793 a person. The deal includes flights from New York or Boston; accommodations; breakfast, and a pass for 24 hours of bus and river sightseeing. Travel must be completed by March 23. … The newly renovated New York Hilton [http://www.hilton.com] (212-261-5870) has a weekend shopper's package valid Friday, Saturday or Sunday night through April 30. For $199 a night, travelers receive lodging and a $50 gift certificate to Bloomingdale's [http://www.bloomingdales.com/].

BEST OF THE WEB: The Government Rates the Airlines
The Department of Transportation [http://www.dot.gov] produces an exhaustive monthly report on the state of the nation's leading airlines and airports. The current Air Travel Consumer Report [http://www.dot.gov/airconsumer/index1.htm], released February 1, is the usual treasure trove of useful data. Besides learning which airlines generally produce the best on-time results, lose the most bags and generate the most complaints, you'll discover which specific flights are chronically delayed; get an airport-by-airport breakdown of airline performance; and even find an hour-by-hour overview of the on-time performance of more than two dozen airports.

This column originally appeared at skymalltravel.com.

Copyright © 1999-2010 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.