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 The Tactical Traveler

joe A BUSINESS-TRAVEL BRIEFING
FOR AUGUST 31, 2000


BY JOE BRANCATELLI

This week: some good news for United flyers; fare sales at the nation's alternate carriers; a website that transforms miles into cash; America West runs afoul of safety regulators and Olympic Airlines must pay for an in-flight asthma death; and a flight pass valid for unlimited travel in Europe.

COUNTER INTELLIGENCE: Some Good News for United Flyers
The tentative contract United reached last weekend with its pilots will eventually--but not immediately--improve the airline's appalling on-time record and cancellation rate. But there is some near-term good news for United flyers. First, United's competitors are actively wooing Mileage Plus Premier, Premier Executive and 1K flyers. If you've longed to ditch United, but hesitated because you didn't want to start over with another carrier, now is the time to call the service center of a competitive frequent-flyer program. Chances are you'll be granted instant elite status to match your United credentials. In fact, as many as 10 percent of United's premier members already may have gotten the VIP treatment from other carriers this summer. Meanwhile, United seems desperate to boost fall traffic, so it is mailing Mileage Plus members 15 percent discount coupons that can be used with the airline's cheapest domestic and international fares. Lastly, United's plummeting passenger counts have opened up room for travelers using frequent-flyer awards. Random website checks--United permits you to book awards at its proprietary site--indicate a surprisingly large number of seats are available for inexpensive "saver" awards to Hawaii, California, New York and other vacation destinations.

ALTERNATE AGENDA: Fare Sales from the Nation's Other Carriers
The vacation travelers disappear after Labor Day, so the nation's alternative carriers have launched a series of fare sales. For example, Legend Airlines, the plush carrier based at Dallas/Love Field, has launched its first-ever price cuts. But you have to buy by tomorrow (September 1) to qualify. The company flies DC-9s configured with just 59 seats to Las Vegas ($119 one-way), Washington/Dulles ($119), New York/LaGuardia ($124) and Los Angeles ($129). A roundtrip and 14-day advance purchase is required. Fares are valid until February 14. At least you've got until Tuesday, September 5, to cash in on the sale at American Trans Air. Prices range from $79 (Indianapolis-Orlando) to $249 (Chicago/Midway-Honolulu) one way. Prices are valid through December 13 and require a roundtrip and 7-day advance purchase. The sale at Kansas City-based Vanguard Airlines lasts through September 8. Prices range from $49 to $129 one way and require a roundtrip and 7-day advance purchase. Travel is valid through February 14. ProAir, which flies from close-in Detroit/City Airport, has cut midweek fares to its six destinations. Fares range from $39 to $95 one-way and are valid until November 15. Seats must be purchased by September 15.

MILES AND POINTS: Converting Frequent-Flyer Miles into Dollars
Ever wonder what biztravel's MileMaster columnist, Randy Petersen, does with his free time? Besides running Webflyer and publishing Inside Flyer magazine, he's helped create a website that will allow travelers to turn their frequent-travel points into hard dollars. Milepoint officially launches in late October and travelers will be able to convert credits from many programs--including Northwest, Continental, US Airways and TWA miles and Hilton HHonors points--into "MilePoint Money." That can be used to purchase Amazon.com gift certificates or get discounts from retailers such as Sharper Image, Orvis, and Frontgate. The program boasts a good conversion rate (2 cents per mile) and the ability to pool miles from any of the participating programs. Even better, there will be no minimum conversion amount required. That means you'll be able to convert your "leftover" and "orphaned" miles into something of value.

INTERNATIONAL ITINERARY: Check Out These Flight Changes
Effective November 1, American Airlines is dumping its daily nonstop service between New York/Kennedy and Frankfurt. Travelers who use Alitalia for long-haul eastbound flights take note: The ailing Italian carrier is shuffling its offerings. Out are flights to Sydney, Nairobi, Addis Ababa and Bangkok. In are additional flights to Dubai and Mumbai (Bombay). In November, after the Olympics frenzy, Qantas is beefing up its U.S.-Australia service. The airline will fly three times daily between Los Angeles and Sydney and will fly daily between Los Angeles and Melbourne. The airline is also boosting its New York/Kennedy to Sydney service to daily operation; that flight stops in Los Angeles.

ON THE FLY: Business-Travel News You Need to Know
A federal judge in San Francisco has ordered Olympic Airways to pay $700,000 for its part in an asthma-related death of a passenger aboard a smoke-filled plane in 1998. The traveler was seated in the airline's smoking section, but complained the smoke was bothering him. He repeatedly requested to be moved, but flight attendants for the Greek carrier refused his request. The passenger died during the flight. The venerable Desert Inn in Las Vegas has closed. Resort developer Steve Wynn plans to demolish the 715-room property and then build two 59-story hotel towers on the property. Air Canada and its pilots have accepted a government mediator's recommendations and signed a four-year contract. Pilots have been working without a contract and came within hours of a strike earlier this summer. America West is facing renewed safety scrutiny after a recent Federal Aviation Administration audit. The FAA found no flight-safety issues, but "we have serious concerns about America West's continuous airworthiness program," said FAA official David Gillom. In other words, the FAA is worried America West isn't maintaining its planes properly.

WEEKLY WONDERS: Taking a Pass Through Europe
Europebyair.com (888-387-2479), which offers travel to 130 destinations on 16 European carriers, is now selling "Flight Pass Unlimited." It offers unrestricted travel on the continent for 15 days ($699) or 21 day ($899). You must buy the pass outside Europe, but no advance reservations are required and there are no blackout dates and no maximum number of flights you may take during the 15- or 21-day periods.

This column originally appeared at biztravel.com.

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