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 The Tactical Traveler

joe A BUSINESS-TRAVEL BRIEFING
FOR MARCH 21 TO APRIL 4, 2002


BY JOE BRANCATELLI

This week: Mainline airlines engage in childish fare wars; Southwest will launch two Chicago-California routes; Hertz expands its Prestige Collection; American and Continental link E-tix; and more.

COUNTER INTELLIGENCE: Watch Your Wallet! Children at Play
Mainline airlines have been at their mud-slinging, tantrum-throwing, petty-bickering worst in the last two weeks as they squabbled over fare levels and played childish pricing games. The spectacle began when the biggest bully in the sandbox, American Airlines, decided to raise fares: One-way business fares that required a 3-day advance purchase were increased to 7-day fares and one-way fares that required a 10-day advance purchase were raised to 14 days. But when only Continental matched, American rescinded most of its increases. Out of spite--or in another attempt to act as market disciplinarian--American launched a brutal fare war in the markets of every carrier except Continental. On some days, prices dropped as low as $198 roundtrip for fares that required no minimum stay and only a 3-day advance purchase. When United and Delta matched American’s remaining fare increases, American dropped the fare sales in United and Delta markets. But Northwest reacted to American’s onslaught by dropping some fares to $188 roundtrip and American responded by expanding its fare sale. Late today, however, American apparently cried uncle and increased roundtrip prices to $498 or $598 with a 7-day advance purchase in Northwest markets. The only hero in this sordid game of one-upmanship? Tireless fare tracker Terry Trippler, whose Website did yeoman work chronicling every spitball and temper tantrum.

ALTERNATE ARRANGEMENTS: Meanwhile, Back at the Sane Airlines...
After reading the above item, do you need any more reasons to abandon the moronic mainline carriers for the streamlined fares and service offered by the nation’s alternate airlines? How about these? ... Southwest Airlines is expanding its West Coast service from Chicago/Midway Airport. On May 5, it launches three daily nonstops to Los Angeles. On June 9, it begins three weekly nonstops to San Diego. Prices start as low as $178 roundtrip for tickets purchased by the respective start-up dates. ... Spirit Airlines adds more service on May 9: a daily nonstop between Detroit/Metro and Fort Lauderdale and a daily nonstop between Orlando and San Juan. ... On May 23, Frontier Airlines launches two daily nonstops between its Denver hub and Indianapolis.

AIRPORT REPORT: Hertz Expands its Prestige Collection
Hertz is expanding its Prestige Collection, which offers guaranteed reservations for deluxe vehicles such as Volvos, Lincolns, Jaguars and Land Rovers. Effective April 1, the program will be available at 10 additional airports, including hubs such as Baltimore/Washington, Houston, Minneapolis, Seattle, St. Louis, Philadelphia and Salt Lake City. The Prestige Collection launched at 21 airports last June. ... Alaska Airlines has opened a Board Room club at Portland International in Oregon. The 3,400-square-foot facility is located across from Gate C5. ... International flights arriving in Shanghai will begin using the new Pudong Airport (PVG) starting in April. All international flights will be shifted to Pudong from Hongqiao Airport by October. Pudong is about 22 miles and a US$12 cab ride from central Shanghai.

CYBERTRAVELER: The Airline E-fare E-mails Are Evolving
American Airlines launched the E-fare E-mail revolution several years ago and the pitch was simple: Sign up and receive a weekly list of deeply discounted, heavily restricted E-fares available for the upcoming weekend. But as the airlines get more desperate to fill empty seats, they’ve begun to expand their E-fare offerings. Some now offer two weekends' worth of fares in each mailing and many others are pushing Internet-only fares that have nothing at all to do with last-minute weekend purchases. Bottom line: Business travelers can no longer afford to ignore the E-mail services. Be sure you’ve signed up for as many as possible. You can find direct links to many E-fare sign-up forms at a special Airlines of the Web page. Another site, Best Fares, offers a page that summarizes the weekend promotions and other Internet-only sales and special deals. And Randy Petersen’s redoubtable WebFlyer site offers a unique product: Enter the city from which you fly and a WebFlyer search engine will aggregate all the available special deals.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Where Do We Go for Our Refund, Darryl?
One reasons why the airline industry is in such disarray is that the so-called aviation “experts” and stock-market analysts are almost as arrogant as the airline executives who run the mainline carriers. This week’s case in point: Darryl Jenkins, director of the Aviation Institute at George Washington University, and one of the industry’s most frequently quoted sycophants. As Jenkins concedes in a remarkable Associated Press story that appears on the ABC News Website, he couldn’t wait to tell the world--and Congress--of his support for the outrageous $5 billion taxpayer grant that the airlines demanded after September 11. Now, after the airlines have squandered our tax dollars, he admits he was probably wrong. “Should we have been a little more circumspect?” he asks. “We probably did act too hastily. Longtime structural problems could have been better addressed through Chapter 11 than a bailout.” Gee, Darryl, no kidding. You think maybe that’s why we have a bankruptcy code in the first place?

ON THE FLY: Business-Travel News You Need to Know
American and Continental airlines now offer “interline” electronic tickets. That means travelers with E-tickets on one carrier can be rebooked on the other airline without first returning to the ticket counter for a paper ticket. ... In Hawaii, the two inter-Island carriers, Hawaiian and Aloha, have called off their merger. ... Another nonstop link between the United States and Africa will disappear on Saturday, March 23, when South African Airways ends the New York/Kennedy-Lagos, Nigeria, flights it operates for Nigeria Airways. The three weekly flights began in February, 2001, restoring a link that had been severed for almost a decade.

This column originally appeared at JoeSentMe.com.

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