This week: Marriott introduces unrestricted hotel awards; American inconveniences TWA Aviators members; our weekly look at America's alternate carriers; there's chaos in the skies of Australia and New Zealand; El Al hits the skids; and much more
COUNTER INTELLIGENCE: Death, Taxes & Frequent-Travel Plan Changes
Death and taxes are inevitable, of course, but so are changes to your frequent-travel plan. One example: Two years after it insisted it didn't need to and wouldn't match Starwood Preferred's totally unrestricted hotel awards, Marriott has introduced its Stay Anytime rewards. Marriott now allows you to break the blackout dates and capacity controls imposed on standard Marriott Rewards when you pay a 50 percent points premium. One interesting twist: Marriott will allow travelers to mix-and-match standard and Stay Anytime awards on a day-by-day basis when reserving a free hotel stay. Meanwhile, American Airlines is ensuring that the end of TWA's Aviators program will be most painful for TWA flyers. For instance, TWA members won't get reciprocal treatment during the American-TWA integration. TWA flyers can't use Aviators miles to claim American seats even though American AAdvantage members can already use American miles to claim TWA seats. And, effective July 3, American is pulling TWA out of the American Express Membership Rewards program. That means you won't be able to dump Amex miles into your TWA program.
ALTERNATE ITINERARY: New Routes From the Other Guys
Some major carriers are beginning to trim their route networks in reaction to the slowdown in business travel, but the nation's other airlines are adding service. … American Trans Air launches a weekly roundtrip between Boston and Aruba beginning on May 5. … Effective May 22, Midway Airlines is launching three daily roundtrips to Dayton from its Raleigh-Durham hub. … Southwest Airlines continues to expand its longer-haul route network. Effective August 5, it will add a daily nonstop on these routes: between Las Vegas and Tampa Bay and Austin; between Albuquerque and Chicago/Midway and Tucson; and between Midway and Islip, New York.
CYBERTRAVELER: Keeping Posted on Business Travel
It's taken The Washington Post way too long, but they have finally added a business-travel column to the mix of the paper's daily business section. The new Business Class column appears every Wednesday and is penned by Keith L. Alexander, who recently joined the Post after a stint at USA Today. Best of all, you can read Alexander's current column and his previous offerings at WashingtonPost.com.
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Chaos in the Skies Down Under
A confluence of unrelated events has created chaos in the skies of Australia and New Zealand. In Australia, Ansett was forced to ground its fleet of 10 Boeing 767s just before Easter when safety regulators uncovered a series of maintenance problems. In fact, regulators cited Australia's No. 2 carrier for "repeated failure" to meet safety standards and briefly threatened to completely shut down the airline. Ansett, which is owned by Air New Zealand, has since gotten at least one of the 767s back in the sky. Eventually, the airline admits, it will have to sell all its 767s and may even be forced to change its name. Meanwhile, Qantas New Zealand shut down abruptly last weekend, stranding tens of thousands of flyers. Qantas of Australia, which franchised the use of its name but had no other relationship to the New Zealand airline that folded, was forced to rush its own planes into service within New Zealand. Air New Zealand, which had sent some planes to Australia to aid its Ansett subsidiary, also stepped in and carried about 20,000 passengers stranded by the collapse of Qantas New Zealand. "Needless to say, it's been a confusing few weeks down here," one airline executive said Monday. "I'm not sure who's flying where and who owns what anymore."
INTERNATIONAL ITINERARY: El Al in a Tailspin
Continued strife between Israelis and Palestinians is destroying traffic to Israel and that is exacting a devastating toll on El Al, the already financially stressed state-owned airline. Traffic between the United States and Israel has declined 65 percent since the beginning of the year and the passenger count from European destinations has dropped by almost 50 percent. With no end to the unrest in sight, traffic isn't likely to pick up soon and that means El Al is facing serious cutbacks. The airline has already said it will sell more than a half-dozen planes and lay off hundreds of employees. The carrier may soon halt flights to as many as 10 destinations, including service from Tel Aviv to Chicago.
WEEKLY WONDER: Hellfire, Business Travel and London Hotels
I wouldn't be the first to suggest modern business travel bears more than a passing resemblance to Hell as described in Dante's Divine Comedy. Not coincidentally, Botticelli's original drawings for Dante's epic journey through Hell, Purgatory and Paradise are now on display at London's Royal Academy of Arts. And someone at London's Athenaeum Hotel (800-335-3300) had the brilliant idea of twinning exhibition tickets with guestrooms. The Botticelli Package is priced at about $280 a night and includes: overnight accommodations at the hotel overlooking Green Park; breakfast; a pair of entry tickets; and a gallery guide to the exhibition. The package is available until June 10.