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 The Tactical Traveler

joe A BUSINESS-TRAVEL BRIEFING
FOR MAY 27 TO JUNE 3, 2004


BY JOE BRANCATELLI

This week: Airlines keep trying oil-related fare hikes; the war against CAPPS II moves to Alaska; Emirates, Singapore and Cathay Pacific bring new long-haul flying to New York; Wyndham and Le Meridien keep shrinking; the Langham in London drops Hilton; British Airways launches a business-class fare sale, but you can't have it; and much more.

COUNTER INTELLIGENCE: Don't Buy Airline Tickets This Weekend
The big fare hike that Continental Airlines instituted last week and blamed on rising oil prices collapsed over the weekend when the Big Six carriers didn't move in lockstep to match. But a subsequent $1-$2 per flight price increase launched last weekend by Southwest Airlines did stick when other carriers matched wherever they compete with Southwest. But avoid buying tickets during the next few days because now it's United's turn to try to raise prices. In its typically ham-fisted way, United added a $5 surcharge on Wednesday--but only on first- and business-class fares and unrestricted and other high-priced coach seats. Several carriers promptly matched that increase wherever it appeared. Separately, America West raised most of its fares by 5 percent for travel between mid-June and mid-August and several competitors matched that increase, too. But whether any of these new fare hikes will survive won't be known until Tuesday, when the dust clears and the lemming-like airlines see whether everyone has jumped off the pricing cliff together.

CYBERTRAVELER: The Security War Moves to the Alaskan Front
The war against the Transportation Security Administration's repugnant and intrusive CAPPS II passenger-profiling system moved to Alaska this week. Outraged by the outlines of the planned system--or, more accurately, outraged by what little we know about the secret program--four residents of Alaska announced plans to sue the government. Their unique argument--flying in far-flung Alaska is a necessity and a red "no-fly" rating as envisioned by CAPPS II would essentially imprison U.S. citizens for no reason--is outlined at a new Web site called Alaska Freedom.com. The site is actually the brainchild of Bill Scannell, the activist who created Don't Spy on Us and who has been waging a nearly single-handed battle against CAPPS II.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: The Ultra-Long-Hauls Head to New York
It's going to be an interesting few weeks in the sky as three airlines bring new, long-haul flying to the New York area. First up is Emirates, the top-notch carrier based in Dubai, which launches New York/Kennedy-Dubai nonstop flights on June 1. On June 28, Singapore Airlines will launch its 18-hour Newark-Singapore nonstop service. Then, on July 1, Cathay Pacific will finally begin its long-delayed nonstop flights between Kennedy and its Hong Kong hub. Emirates' 14-hour flights, using Airbus A340-500s configured with a first-class cabin where travelers have private suites with closing doors, have sold briskly, says Nigel Page, the head of Emirates' U.S. operations. "We've been doing extremely well with high-yield travelers," he says. "We're already sold out in first and business class on several days. It shows there is a need for this type of service." Meanwhile, Singapore will be stressing the time savings of the Singapore nonstops, which will also use the Airbus A340-500 and knock almost four hours off the travel time from New York. Singapore's version of the A340-500 is configured with just 181 seats--117 of them in a new coach cabin with 20-inch wide seats with 37 inches of legroom. For its part, Cathay originally hoped to begin its three-class New York-Hong Kong nonstops more than three years ago, but economic turmoil in Asia and then labor disputes delayed the launch. United and Continental eventually beat Cathay to the route, but United has subsequently dropped its flights.

IN THE LOBBY: Wyndham and Le Meridien Keep Shrinking
The amazing shrinking hotel chains, Wyndham and Le Meridien, have lost even more properties in recent days. Two Wyndham properties were converted to Prime Hotels last week, including the former 180-room hotel in Sunnyvale, California, and the Wyndham Garden hotel in North Phoenix. Two more Phoenix-area properties--the Wyndham at SkyHarbor Airport and the Wyndham in Chandler--will be converted to the Prime flag next week. ... Meanwhile, the European franchisee of Radisson, Rezidor SAS, has converted two Le Meridien hotels. The 245-room Le Meridien Lyon has become a Radisson SAS property and the 880-room Le Meridien at Heathrow Airport has become a Park Inn. ... Speaking of reflagging and London, the Langham Hilton has dropped the Hilton name. The move is part of the owner's drive to create a worldwide Langham brand. The company, Great Eagle of Hong Kong, has recently slapped the Langham name on its properties in Hong Kong, Melbourne, Auckland and Boston. The Boston Langham was formerly known as Le Meridien Boston. ... Hotel prices are set to rise in Ottawa on Sunday as properties begin charging a 3 percent tourist-promotion fee. Hotels in Toronto began levying the charge earlier this year.

ON THE FLY: Business Travel News You Need to Know
Independence Air, the low-fare start-up being carved from the old United Express network at Washington/Dulles airport, will launch a frequent-flyer program based on dollars spent, not miles flown. Travelers will earn one point for every dollar in fares purchased. ... Delta Air Lines now offers interlined electronic tickets with Hawaiian Airlines and ATA Airlines. ... Air New Zealand says it will launch nonstop service between Los Angeles and Christchurch on New Zealand's South Island. Three weekly flights will begin November 2. At the same time, Air New Zealand will cut its Los Angeles-Auckland service to 14 weekly flights from its current 17 flights a week. British Airways has launched a huge fare sale on business-class flights from London to Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, Boston and Miami. But American travelers can't book them. The fare sales--as much as 40 percent off existing U.S-London fares--are only available for travelers originating in London. BA executives in the states couldn't say why U.S. flyers are not being offered the lower fares. ... You might want to skip a late-spring holiday in Savannah or Sea Island, Georgia. A G-8 summit is scheduled for June 8-10 on Sea Island and hotel rooms--and security--are likely to be extremely tight.

This column originally appeared at joesentme.com.

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