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 The Tactical Traveler

joe A BUSINESS-TRAVEL BRIEFING
FOR JUNE 1, 2000


BY JOE BRANCATELLI

This week: Follow the bouncing euro to discounts in Europe; watch for even more delays at Chicago/O'Hare; Amex expands its free-companion ticket program; OAG folds Frequent Flyer magazine; Runzheimer predicts a 7 percent rise in business-travel costs next year; watching the KLM-Alitalia alliance unravel on the Web; and much more.

COUNTER INTELLIGENCE: Follow the Bouncing Euro
The 11 local currencies tied to the euro have been bouncing all over the world currency markets in recent weeks. But for all the twists, turns, ups and downs, the Euro remains severely depressed against the U.S. dollar. That means traveling is an unprecedented bargain in the 11 nations with euro-based currencies: Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain. The Euro debuted in January, 1999, at $1.13, promptly shot up to $1.17, then began its 17-month decline. It dropped to the once-unthinkable "parity" level--$1 equals 1 euro--earlier this year, then dipped below 90 cents last month. On Wednesday, it was selling at about 93 cents. What's it all mean? At current rates, a 20-percent discount on hotel rooms, restaurant meals and any other goods and services purchased in euro-based currencies compared to what you would have paid just 17 months ago.

AT THE AIRPORT: Watch for More Delays in Chicago
Traffic is already choked at Chicago's O'Hare Airport and delays are rampant, but that hasn't stopped the Department of Transportation from approving more service at the supposedly slot-controlled airport. Six airlines last week received "slot exemptions" to allow a total of 30 new flights into or out of the nation' second-busiest airport. Three of the carriers--National, Sun Country and Legend--are recent start-ups looking to expand service to one of the nation's most important airports. A fourth, Spirit, is a fast-growing low-fare carrier. But two airlines obtaining slots, America West and Mesa, are established carriers with records of terrible service. In toto, the 30 new flights may increase competition marginally, but it will definitely increase delays at O'Hare, where a quarter of all departures and arrivals are already delayed by more than 15 minutes. ... A 165-room Hilton Garden Inn has opened in Romulus, 2.5 miles from Detroit/Metro Airport.

DOLLAR WATCH: Amex Expands Its Free-Companion Ticket Plan
Four airlines--American, All Nippon, British Airways and Austrian--have joined the American Express free-companion ticket program. Amex Platinum or Centurion Card members who purchase a full-fare premium-class ticket on those and a dozen other carriers receive a complimentary companion ticket. Here's a chilling tidbit: Runzheimer International says business-travel costs will rise a record 7 percent next year. "We have never forecast that big an increase," says Runzheimer executive Rolfe Shellenberger. "It reflects our conviction that inflation, high demand and constrained inventory will occur simultaneously."

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: You Gotta Know When to Fold 'Em
Frequent Flyer magazine, distributed as part of the OAG Pocket Flight Guide for more than 19 years, folds with the June issue. But if you're expecting your outrageously overpriced Pocket Flight Guide subscription to be extended to make up for the loss, forget it. OAG claims it owes you nothing. Continental Airline chairman and chief executive Gordon Bethune fumed in March about the value of Continental stock on the front page of The Wall Street Journal. "If the market says this is all we're worth, then we ought to just buy" to company, he said. But last week Reuters reported that Bethune has filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission to sell 150,000 Continental shares worth about $6.4 million. Bethune acquired the shares through the exercise of a stock option.

INTERNATIONAL ITINERARY: New Routes and New Hotels Around the World
Delta and Air Canada say they will begin a code-sharing agreement in North American on October 29. ... Virgin Atlantic launches the first nonstop service between Las Vegas and London on June 8. The twice-weekly service to London/Gatwick will use B-747s configured with business, full-fare coach and coach classes. US Airways has launched nonstop daily flights between Philadelphia and Manchester, England. A 174-room Ritz-Carlton hotel is scheduled to open today in Wolfsburg, Germany. The hotel is part of "Autostadt," a car-oriented theme park created by Volkswagen, which is headquartered in Wolfsburg.

ON THE FLY: Business-Travel News You Need to Know
The U.S. Supreme Court has let stand an appeals court decision that removes international limits on airline liability for lost or damaged bags. The case centered around five suitcases that disappeared or arrived empty during a family's 1995 flight on American Airlines between Washington and the Dominican Republic. Delta will begin twice-daily nonstop service between Boston and Los Angeles on July 1. Travelers will receive double SkyMiles on selected fares through September 30. ... KLM Royal Dutch and Alitalia, the odd couple of international airline alliances, have finalized their traumatic separation and will be unraveling their ties until September 1. You can watch the whole thing come apart on the Internet at OneTicket.com. The site was originally conceived to celebrate the alliance, which was once expected to blossom into a full-blown merger. Now it is being used to explain what the site calls the "consequences of the break-up" and the "closure of the de-merger process." It's like watching a cyberspace car wreck.

This column originally appeared at biztravel.com.

Copyright 1993-2007 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.