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 The Tactical Traveler

joe A BUSINESS-TRAVEL BRIEFING
FOR SEPTEMBER 26 TO OCTOBER 3, 2002


BY JOE BRANCATELLI

This week: Hotels.com's 'Big Lie' ad campaign; there probably won't be a Hooters Airlines; how air traffic has fallen since 9/11; the Transportation Security Administration begins testing 'trusted traveler' technology and starts eliminating random gate checks; Aloha Airlines launches Cook Island service; and much more.

COUNTER INTELLIGENCE: Hotels.com Pursues the 'Big Lie' Strategy
You know that old maxim: Lie loud enough and long enough and folks eventually begin to believe the lie. That must be the Hotels.com strategy since its relentless television, print and Internet advertising insists the site guarantees "the best prices at the best places." In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Hotels.com--and its predecessors, Hotel Reservations Network and hoteldiscounts.com--has never offered great prices and always imposed offensive pay-in-advance rules. But now the best-price claim has become a sick joke. On Labor Day, for example, Hotels.com quoted $229.95 for a room at the Oakland Airport Hilton while Hilton.com was offering rooms as low as $79. And here are the results of a random test I conducted this morning for a 2-night stay (October 8-10) in three cities. In New York, Hotels.com quoted $289.95 a night at the Hotel Sofitel compared to $279 at the Sofitel.com site and $269 from Quikbook, the superlative national hotel consolidator. In San Francisco, Hotels.com quoted $249.95 a night at the Park Hyatt while a fine local consolidator, San Francisco Reservations, offered a $235 rate. Hotels.com did better in Los Angeles--$189.95 a night at Le Meredien Beverly Hills--but was still undercut by a local consolidator, Express Reservations, which had rooms for $185.

ALTERNATE ARRANGEMENTS: Aloha Opens a New South Pacific Route
Aloha Airlines, which has been expanding its routes between Hawaii and the mainland, is expanding in the other direction, too. Effective December 9, it will launch twice-weekly flights from Honolulu to Rarotonga in the Cook Islands. (The service will operate once a week from April through September.) Aloha will fly the 2,900-mile route with an extended-range Boeing 737-700 configured with 12 first-class and 112 coach seats. Fares from Oakland, Burbank or John Wayne/Orange County via Honolulu start at $993 roundtrip. ... Midwest Express and its flight attendants have reached a contract agreement. ... Frontier Airlines will launch a daily nonstop flight to Cancun from its Denver hub on December 20. Introductory prices, available for purchase through October 31, are as low as $459 roundtrip. ... Vanguard Airlines, mired in bankruptcy and grounded since July, has rejected an offer from Robert Brooks, owner of the Hooters restaurant chain. Brooks planned to purchase some Vanguard assets and launch a Kansas City-based carrier called Hooters Air.

CYBERTRAVELER: Airlines and Hotels by the Numbers
You never know what John "Johnny Jet" DiScala will think of next and the latest additions to his sprawling Johnny Jet Web site are the soul of probity and convenience. He's built one-stop links to most of the world's hotel and airline sites along with their toll-free reservations numbers. Surf to AirlineNumbers and you'll find a simple, uncluttered bunch of links to the airlines and their respective toll-free numbers. The same goes for HotelNumbers, where you'll find quick access to hotel web links and hotel-chain reservation numbers.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: How the Not-So-Mighty Have Fallen
You've heard all sorts of statistics about how quickly air travel has fallen since September 11, 2001. But you probably don't know how uneven the traffic decline has been among the nation's major carriers. For the 12-month period from August, 2001, to August, 2002, the big loser was US Airways. Its year-to-year traffic declined a startling 21 percent, at least some of it attributable to severe security restrictions at the Washington/National hub. On the flip side, Alaska Airlines' year-to-year traffic is down less than 1 percent. Southwest's traffic has declined just 2 percent, an amazing statistic considering that it is the only major carrier that did not cut capacity after the September 11 terrorist attacks. Northwest (down 8.3 percent) and America West (down 9 percent) were the only other majors to avoid double-digit traffic declines. Continental (down 12.2 percent) and Delta (down 13.7) were in the middle of the pack. The nation's two largest carriers had larger declines: American's traffic year-over-year is off 16.7 percent while United is down 17.7 percent.

SECURITY WATCH: Random Searches Are Out, Trusted Travelers Are In
The Transportation Security Administration is stepping up the pace of change at the nation's airports. What's out? Random gate checks. The TSA is beginning to eliminate the secondary at-the-gate searches. American Airlines has been given permission to stop the checks in Terminal Four at Los Angeles International. JetBlue Airways has also been approved to stop random searches at Long Beach Municipal Airport. The head of the TSA, James Loy, said last week he would like to eliminate random gate checks nationwide after all airport security-screening checkpoints have been staffed with TSA-trained federal employees. What's in? The first test of a "trusted traveler" identification system. The TSA has approved four airports--Los Angeles, Long Beach, Philadelphia and Wilmington, Delaware--to test special ID cards that would allow airline employees to pass quickly through security. If the tests are successful, Loy said, then the ID technology would become the basis of a "trusted traveler" program for frequent flyers.

ON THE FLY: Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Subscribers to the American Express SkyGuide take note: The October edition includes a good offer from Delta: a 3-month trial membership in the Delta Crown Room Club network for $70. If you decide to join the Crown Room Club at the expiration of the trial, you receive a $70 discount on annual membership. ... Regus, the worldwide office-rental firm, has extended its offer of a free Regus Global Membership Card until December 31. The card permits you to book meeting rooms or private offices at 400 Regus facilities in 180 cities for as little as $5 an hour per person. There is also free access to the cybercafes located in most Regus facilities. I think this is an invaluable card for frequent travelers and you can get it by signing up at the Regus home page.

This column originally appeared at JoeSentMe.com.

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