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 The Tactical Traveler

joe A BUSINESS-TRAVEL BRIEFING
FOR DECEMBER 11 - 18, 2003


BY JOE BRANCATELLI

This week: Fares will be coming down in Boston and Philadelphia; Kennedy Airport finally gets its rail link; the holiday hotel blues in New York and Hawaii; JetBlue's startling statistics; Lufthansa is rolling out a new business class; Mesaba pilots enter a 30-day cooling off period; and more.

COUNTER INTELLIGENCE: Fare Relief Is Heading to the Northeast
Southwest Airlines today announced its first cities from Philadelphia and that means fare relief in six markets when the low-fare giant begins flying on May 9. Southwest says it will launch its Philadelphia incursion with daily nonstops to Chicago/Midway; Las Vegas; Orlando; Phoenix; Providence, Rhode Island; and Tampa. And since Southwest caps its walk-up nonstop fares at $299 each way, that means substantial savings in all six markets. US Airways, the Philadelphia incumbent, now charges walk-up fares of $374 to Las Vegas and between $428 (Phoenix) and $477 (Chicago/O'Hare) one-way on the other five routes. And don't forget that another high-fare market, Boston/Logan, gets relief beginning January 16. That's when JetBlue Airways launches nonstops to Florida (Orlando, Tampa and Fort Lauderdale), Denver and its Southern California hub at Long Beach. Like Southwest, JetBlue walk-up fares top out at $299 one-way. United currently charges $676 one-way to fly the Boston-Denver route.

AIRPORT REPORT: New York/Kennedy Finally Gets Its Rapid Transit Line
The long-delayed, 30-years-in-the-making rail system at New York's Kennedy Airport is scheduled to open on Wednesday, December 17. The $1.9 billion AirTrain connects Kennedy's terminal buildings with its long-term parking lots and other outlying services. That service is free. For a $5 fare, the 8.1-mile loop will also connect travelers to several New York subway lines and the Jamaica Station of the Long Island Rail Road. There is no direct link to Manhattan, however. ... On the other hand, funding for a 23-mile rail link to Washington/Dulles is in jeopardy after one Virginia community balked last week at its share of the funding.

ALTERNATE ITINERARY: More Service to Unexpected Places
Spirit Airlines launches international service next week when it goes south of the border to Cancun, Mexico. Nonstop service from Fort Lauderdale begins on December 18. ... ATA Airlines (fka American Trans Air) is expanding in its hometown of Indianapolis by adding a daily nonstop to Miami. The all-coach service starts on December 20. ... Aloha Airlines, which has been expanding beyond its intra-Hawaiian core in recent years, next week launches twice-weekly flights to Pago Pago, American Samoa. The two-class service begins on December 16. ... The startling saga of JetBlue Airways continues. The latest Transportation Department Air Travel Consumer Report, which tracks airline operations in October, ranked JetBlue first in the nation in on-time performance with a 92.3 percent rating. It also had no consumer complaints in October. Moreover, it had no involuntary denied boardings and just 15 voluntary denied boardings during the first nine months of 2003. Oh, one more stat: JetBlue says it sold an eye-popping 96.6 percent of its seats on November 30.

IN THE LOBBY: No Rooms at the Inns in New York and Hawaii
Looking for a hotel room in New York in the next few days? Forget it. Manhattan is sold out through next week. A combination of Christmas shoppers and Europeans visiting on the cheap thanks to the strength of the euro against the dollar has filled the town. To add financial insult to lodging injury: Room rates have skyrocketed. One example: Officials at the St. Regis, just off Fifth Avenue, say its average nightly room rate this week has been around $900. ... And while occupancy drops in New York in the week before Christmas, Hawaii hoteliers report that they are virtually sold out between Christmas Eve and the first week of January. "There not only aren't any last-minute bargains available, there aren't any last-minute rooms available," one Waikiki general manager told me this week. ... Reflaggings of note: Loews Hotel is now managing the Don CeSar Beach Resort in St. Pete Beach, Florida. ... Wyndham is out at the U.S. Grant hotel in San Diego. The downtown, 284-room hotel is now independent. ... The Inn at Bay Harbor in Bay Harbor, Michigan, becomes a Renaissance hotel tomorrow (December 12). ... The largest hotel in Fredericton, the capital of the Canadian province of New Brunswick, will become the Delta Fredericton on Monday (December 15). The 222-room property has been operating as a Sheraton hotel. ... Finally, entertainer and entrepreneur Merv Griffin has sold the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills. The property will remain a Hilton, however.

ON THE FLY: Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Lufthansa is unveiling a new business-class cabin this month on its newly delivered Airbus A340-600 and A330-300 aircraft. Seats convert into 6.5-foot-long flat beds and have a built-in massage function. Details and photos are available at the Lufthansa Web site. ... Mark this one on your calendar: Pilots at Mesaba, a Northwest Airlink commuter carrier, are now working on a federally mandated 30-day cooling off period. If no contract agreement is reached, the pilots will be legally free to strike beginning January 10. ... Continental Airlines and KLM now offer interlined electronic tickets. ... US Airways tickets are no longer available via the Expedia Web site. ... Travelers who book business- or first-class tickets on British Airways and pay using Diners Club will receive a bonus of 10,000 Club Rewards points. The tickets must be for full-fare, roundtrip travel and must be purchased by January 31.

THE PARTING SHOT: The Sound of Muzak
Conrad Hotels, the luxury division of Hilton, recently surveyed guests at five of its international hotels. The topic? Hotel music. According to Conrad, classical music was preferred in the bars during daytime hours. In the evening, however, guests preferred pop, contemporary music and jazz. In the restaurants, piano and strings were the favorites. And classical and jazz were the clear favorites in the public areas. The hotel chain said "the number one winner at Conrad is indisputably the piano." Unfortunately, Conrad didn't say what instruments the piano was tested against. And they had no information on travelers' preferred elevator tunes.

This column originally appeared at JoeSentMe.com.

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