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 The Tactical Traveler

joe A BUSINESS-TRAVEL BRIEFING
FOR AUGUST 2 TO 9, 2001


BY JOE BRANCATELLI

This week: Northwest delays the opening of Detroit's new terminal for six weeks and claims an "on time arrival:" Continental retreats on a lawsuit against a frequent-flyer coupon broker; several hotel chains are ready to drop their energy surcharges; United's lost-baggage rate skyrockets--again; and much more.

COUNTER INTELLIGENCE: Delayed Six Weeks, DTW's New Terminal is 'On Time'
This is why business travelers abhor airlines: Northwest on Tuesday announced the "on-time arrival" of its Midfield Terminal at Detroit/Metro airport on January 20. The problem: The $1.2 billion facility was scheduled to open on December 9 and, as late as Wednesday afternoon, the airport's website was still promising the terminal "is on schedule to open in late 2001." The six-week delay means the 97-gate facility will not be open for the Christmas rush or for early January's Auto Show, Detroit's most important business event. Worse, it means six more weeks of pain for business travelers who use Northwest's cramped and tatty Detroit facilities. Northwest is the developer of the Midfield Terminal and the project has been plagued by construction delays, charges of cronyism and strident complaints from concessionaires and competing carriers. One last note: Northwest plans to move its entire 500-flight operation to the Midfield Terminal overnight and within six hours on January 20. Of course, it's hard to determine exactly what six hours means when Northwest classifies a six-week delay as an "on time arrival."

ALTERNATE ITINERARY: Our Weekly Look at America's Other Carriers
National Airlines has slashed fares for travel through December 12. One-way prices start at $39 and include fares such as $99 between Dallas/Ft. Worth and Las Vegas, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Tickets must be purchased by August 13. The fares require a 14-day roundtrip, advance purchase and a Saturday stay. Vanguard Airlines says it will not launch its previously announced service between its Kansas City hub and Reno/Lake Tahoe. Speaking of Reno/Lake Tahoe, Frontier Airlines says it will begin two daily nonstops from its Denver hub on October 1. It will also launch twice-daily flights between Denver and Austin on the same day.

CONNECTIONS: Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Continental Airlines has eliminated the headset-rental fee for coach passengers. In-flight audio and video entertainment is now free for travelers with their own headsets. Travelers who wish to purchase headsets from Continental can pay $2 and then keep the equipment. Delta Air Lines has retired the last of its Lockheed L-1011 widebody jets. The so-called TriStars were introduced into the Delta fleet in 1973. The "mishandled baggage" rate at United Airlines is soaring again and nearing the record high levels the airline recorded last summer. It is botching bags now at a rate of about 7.3 reports per 1,000 customers. Dallas/Fort Worth airport authorities say they will implode the former Hyatt Hotel West on September 16. Opened as the Amfac Hotel in 1974, the hotel is being demolished to make way for the new International Terminal D. That terminal, scheduled to open in 2005, will feature a new, 300-room Hyatt with a rooftop swimming pool.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Opening the Door for Coupon Brokering
Continental dropped a federal lawsuit last month against a well-known broker in frequent-flyer miles and awards and that may signal the effective end of the airlines' claims that buying and selling miles is illegal. Filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, the suit was Continental's first-ever case against a coupon broker. The broker's attorney, well-known travel lawyer Barry Roberts, was circumspect about his victory. "Every case is different and this does not technically set a precedent," he said Tuesday. "But I think this is the first time a [coupon broker] has obtained a satisfactory conclusion" in a lawsuit. Another attorney was more definitive, however. "Now when an airline sues a broker or a traveler, the defense will say, 'Well, you knew about that guy and you didn't do anything,'" he explained. "It opens the door for brokering because it undercuts the airlines' claims that they vigorously pursue people who violate the rules of the frequent-flyer programs. And it certainly indicates that airlines are reluctant to allow their arbitrary rules to be tested in a court of law."

IN THE LOBBY: Energy Surcharges May Soon Disappear
The days of the hated hotel energy surcharge may be numbered. At least two major chains are poised to announce the end of the fees within the next 30 days. "Energy costs are moderating and we never really considered these fee permanent," one hotel executive told me Wednesday. "Besides, travelers hate them. We end up removing a lot of the fees at check-out when guests complain." The $1-$6 nightly charges began appearing early this year and spread from California to more than a dozen business centers in the East and Midwest. The W Chicago-City Center hotel has opened. The 390-room property is a renovation of the old Midland Hotel. A St. Regis hotel has opened in Shanghai, China. The 318-room property includes 48 suites in a new, 40-story tower.

THE WEEKLY WONDER: Five Hotel Deals in New York
The Boutique Hotel Group (877-847-4444), which operates five boutique-style properties in New York, has launched a summer rate sale. Nightly rates start at $139 at The Franklin, a tiny property on the Upper East Side; $169 at The Mansfield (in Midtown) and the Roger Williams (near Herald Square); $175 at The Shoreham (in Midtown) and $199 at the Hotel Wales on Madison Avenue. Prices are valid through September 3.

This column originally appeared at biztravel.com.

Copyright 1993-2004 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.