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 The Tactical Traveler

joe A BUSINESS-TRAVEL BRIEFING
FOR JUNE 26 TO JULY 10, 2003


BY JOE BRANCATELLI

This week: Delta Air Lines cuts business fares in Salt Lake City; a German company offers four days of clothes in its own luggage; hotels keep changing their flags; airlines increase service to Mexico; Lil' Kim loses her bling-bling at JFK Air-port; Verizon stops fighting wireless-number portability; and Virgin dresses up its competition with British Airways.

COUNTER INTELLIGENCE: Another Brick in the Fare Wall Falls
Slowly but surely, the airlines are being dragged into the real war when it comes to walk-up fares. The latest example: Delta Air Lines has slashed many business fares at its fortress hub in Salt Lake City. Two examples: One-way flights to Boston are now as low as $649 compared to the previous price of $1,149 and flights to Kansas City have dropped to $399 from $698. There's even a first-class upgrade available for as little as $50 more. The fares are refundable, but not totally unrestricted because they are capacity controlled and not available on all flights or in all markets. But the simple fact that Delta feels compelled to reduce fares at a hub where it is the dominant carrier shows that the existing fare structure is teetering on the edge of total collapse.

CYBERTRAVELER: Life on the Road, in One Bag
I don't exactly know what to say about 96 Hours, the Web site that promotes and explains a brilliant, fascinating--but somehow chilling--new concept in business-travel attire and luggage. Produced by Puma, the German company best known for athletic footwear, 96 Hours is the firm's all-in-one lines of clothes and bags. And when I mean all in one, I mean that literally. Each "Manhattan Collection" is packed in its own hard-sided, 14x22-inch bag and includes slacks, shirts, a suit, gym clothes, footwear and even socks. Every-thing is color-coordinated, designed to fold into the bag and supposedly will get a man through a 96-hour business trip. Puma's "Connecticut Collection" is 24 hours worth of clothes packed in a bag. It's all so weird and compelling that Puma's pitch--"a new expression of urbanism developed for the business gypsy based on the mathematical properties of time"--somehow seems to make sense. And 96 Hours is not a fanciful concept. The product is already on sale at select retail outlets in Europe and New York.

IN THE LOBBY: What's in a Hotel Name? Apparently Very Little
Hotels continue to play musical flags with their brand names. So pay attention carefully because this is confusing. The 500-room Swisshotel in Boston's financial district has become the Hyatt Regency Boston.... But the former Hyatt at University Village near the University of Illinois campus in Chicago has been reflagged as the Chicago Marriott Downtown. ... Meanwhile, the 107-room Givenchy Resort & Spa in Palm Springs, California, has become the Le Parker Méridien Palm Springs. ... The 434-room Pinnacle Hotel in downtown Vancou-ver will become the Marriott Vancouver on July 1. ... The old Shannon Court on Geary Street in San Francisco has reopened after a six-month renovation as the 171-room Hotel Adagio.

INTERNATIONAL ITINERARY: More Flights South of the Border
Mexico is one of the few places where the U.S. dollar remains strong and it's currently buying about 9.5 pesos, a 10 percent jump in the last year. That's led bargain-hungry travelers to head south of the border and the airlines are following right along. ... On July 7, for example, AeroMexico is due to launch four weekly flights between Fort Lauderdale and its Mexico City hub. ... On July 10, Alaska Airlines is planning to launch daily nonstops between Los Angeles and Guadalajara. The airline will use a Boeing 737 that originates in Alaska's Seattle hub, allowing travelers there to fly same-plane service to Guadalajara. ... Frontier says it will begin flights this fall to Puerto Vallarta and Cabo San Lucas from is Denver hub. ... And US Airways has set October 26 as the start date for its daily Charlotte-Mexico City nonstops.

ON THE FLY: Three-Way Award Redemption Begins July 15
The Axis of Evil--I mean, the tri-partite code-share alliance of Continental, Northwest and Delta--delivers its first practical benefit beginning July 15. Members of the three carriers' frequent-flyer programs will be able to book and redeem mileage awards off all three charts on that date. Delta Connection flights operated by American Eagle--don't ask!--are not eligible. Song flights are also exempt. ... Speaking of alliances of the damned, two bankrupt carriers, United and Hawaiian, have launched interline electronic ticketing. ... WestJet customers who book their tickets on the airline's Web site can now earn Air Miles. ... Worth noting: Tri-State Airport in Huntington, West Virginia, is so desperate for business that it's offering rebates of up to $100 per ticket. The offer is good on any flight that originates at Tri-State between July 7 and August 6. ... Lil' Kim (that's the rapper handle of diminutive singer Kimberly Jones) lost her bling-bling (that's hip-hop slang for big jewelry) last week at JFK (that's airport code for New York/Kennedy). She says she inadvertently checked a carry-on bag full of jewels onto a United Airlines flight to Left Coast (that's derogatory talk for Los Angeles). Jones claimed that about $500,000 worth of baubles (that's 1950s talk for expensive necklaces) was missing from the bag when it was returned to her.

TECH TALK: Your Wireless Number Will Finally Belong to You
After years of ferocious resistance, the nation's leading wireless provider, Verizon, says it will stop fighting a government plan to allow cellphone users to keep their phone numbers when they switch carriers. Although other leading wireless providers say they will continue to resist the Federal Communications Commission order, Verizon's decision probably paves the way for implementation of the so-called "portability" rule on November 24. ... Continental and United airlines have set the price for two-way, in-flight E-mail at $15.98 per flight. The carriers will use Verizon JetConnect, an enhanced seat-back phone system. The system will only be available on domestic flights. ... StayOnline, which operates wireless Internet access points at about 130 hotels around the nation, has announced a roaming agreement with Boingo, one of the country's largest hot-spot aggregators. Boingo customers will now be able to use StayOnline hotels for Internet access.

THE PARTING SHOT: Dressing to Kill in a Murderous Competition
The last, best competition in the sky is between British Airways and Virgin Atlantic on their routes between the United States and London. BA has astonishingly good lie-flat beds in its first- and business-class cabins. Virgin offers door-to-door limo service for its Upper Class passengers. BA offers service to more U.S. gateways. Virgin has more lavish airport clubs. The next one-up perk: bespoke tailoring at Virgin's Clubhouse lounge at London's Heathrow Airport. A company called Dress2Kill will be available to create suits and/or shirts for Virgin's Upper Class passengers. Virgin claims a fitting takes as little as 20 minutes; prices start at $520 for a suit and $96 for a shirt.

This column originally appeared at JoeSentMe.com.

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