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 The Tactical Traveler

joe A BUSINESS-TRAVEL BRIEFING
FOR MARCH 14 TO MARCH 21, 2002


BY JOE BRANCATELLI

Airlines raise fares, directly and indirectly; AirTran flies into Wichita and undercuts United by $500 a flight; hotels improve their frequency programs; DCA is returning to normal; and more.

COUNTER INTELLIGENCE: Directly and Indirectly, Airlines Hike Fares
Airline traffic continues to lag and corporations and business travelers are revolting against high fares and an unfair price structure. So what did the airlines do this week? Raise fares, both directly and indirectly. Direct action was taken over the weekend by American Airlines, which tightened advance-purchase rules on most of its business fares. Three-day advance-purchase fares were eliminated and replaced by fares that must be purchased seven days in advance. Americanís 10-day advance-purchase fares were replaced by fares that must be bought 14 days in advance. Americanís mainline competitors have matched the price hikes on a selective basis. The indirect fare move was made Thursday afternoon by Delta, which eliminated the base commission it pays to travel agents. That will undoubtedly lead travel agents--especially small, storefront retail agents who will now receive nothing for selling Delta seats--to raise the service fees they charge for writing tickets. As of 6 p.m. on March 14, no other carrier had matched Deltaís move, but several were expected to eliminate their commissions over the weekend.

ALTERNATE ARRANGEMENTS: The $524 Solution in Wichita
AirTran is breaking into the under-served Wichita market and the reaction by two incumbent carriers there makes for interesting reading. Beginning May 8, AirTran will offer three daily nonstops to Chicago/Midway and three daily flights to its Atlanta hub. AirTran announced the flights last week, and Delta promptly matched AirTranís Wichita-Atlanta prices, including its $179 one-way a walk-up fare. However, United isnít matching any of AirTranís Wichita fares In fact, hereís what Travelocity.com quoted me on March 14 for a one-way Wichita-Chicago flight departing on May 13: $67.50 on AirTranís 7:30 a.m. departure to Midway and $591.50 on Unitedís 7:35 a.m. departure to OíHare. Can anyone out there explain what makes Unitedís flight worth the $524 premium?

AIRPORT REPORT: Washington/National Returning to Normal
The Transportation Department says it will permit airlines to resume full service at Washington/National Airport (DCA) on April 15. National has been restricted since the terror attacks of September 11. ... The North Concourse of Terminal A at Houston/Intercontinental opened last month. It adds 10 gates to the terminal. ... American Trans Air has moved most of its service at Chicago/Midway to nine gates in the new Concourse A. ... Voters in Orange County, California, have voted to turn the former El Toro military airfield into parkland, ending any chance that the base will be converted into a commercial airport. ... National and Alamo, the rental-car firms owned by bankrupt ANC Rental Corporation, are trying to combine their operations at 75 airports. The plan is running into opposition from other rental-car firms and several airport authorities, however.

MILES & POINTS: Hotels Up the Ante on Frequency Programs
Airline frequent-flyer programs garner the lionís share of attention, but there are a lot of perks, privileges and freebies to be had in hotel frequent-stay plans. And hotel chains are busily upping the ante. ... Six Continents Hotels, parent of the Inter-Continental and Holiday Inn brands, has re-launched its Priority Club program. Now points donít expire, awards have no blackout dates, and members can claim awards online or by telephone. To promote the program, Six Continents is giving away a million points a day from March 15 to April 30. To register for the promotion, surf to the special Priority Club page. ... Best Western has also re-launched its frequency plan, the Gold Crown Club. Key features: a global award feature, which allows travelers to claim free nights at any Best Western without blackout dates or restriction, and elite levels for travelers who stay 15 or 30 nights a year. ... Microtel, the fast-growing chain of budget hotels, has launched MicroPass, which awards travelers a free night for every nine nights they stay.

ON THE FLY: Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Continental Airlines says it will install new seats in the BusinessFirst section of its Boeing 777s. The seats will be 22 inches wide between the armrests, will recline 170 degrees, and will offer 6.5 feet of sleeping space. There will also be dual reading lights, more space for personal storage, and a privacy hood. ... Select Italy (800-877-1755), an Illinois tour operator, now offers a unique service: one-stop access to opera and concert tickets at a dozen of Italyís most famous stages. Among the venues: La Scala in Milan, La Fenice in Venice and the Teatro Massimo in Palermo, Sicily. ... A special Scottish court has upheld the conviction of a former Libyan intelligence agent for the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. The three-judge panel recommended that 49-year-old Adbel Besset Ali al-Megrahi serve at least 20 years. Libya denounced the decision, and a Foreign Ministry spokesman called Megrahi ďthe Jesus Christ of modern times. The verdict confirms once again that the United States and Britain have imposed...a political verdict.Ē

This column originally appeared at JoeSentMe.com.

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