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 The Tactical Traveler

joe A BUSINESS-TRAVEL BRIEFING
FOR NOVEMBER 18 TO DECEMBER 2, 2004


BY JOE BRANCATELLI

This week: American Airlines juggles fares in South Florida; AirTran prepares to replace ATA at Midway in Chicago; Lufthansa recreates first-class travel in Frankfurt with private offices, day rooms and limo transfers to the gate; Frontier Airlines raises some fares; Pam Am disappears--again; the high cost of saving money on in-flight pillows; and much more.

COUNTER INTELLIGENCE: American Simplifies (Sort of...) Florida Fares
Desperate to protect its Miami hub and its South Florida markets from the influx of JetBlue and other rational-fare carriers, American Airlines on Thursday (November 18) unveiled what it says is a broad simplification of its Florida fare structure. Walk-up domestic coach fares are capped at $499, $599 or $699 one-way depending on distance. Saturday-stay restrictions are eliminated and the total number of fare "buckets" on each route has been cut to about 10 from the current 20 or more. Change fees have been reduced to $50 from the current $100. The airline also claims some discounted walk-up fares have been cut between 40 and 85 percent. First-class fares have also been reduced and many nonstop flights now offer one-way fares. Whether the new pricing is really simple in practice--or competitively priced--remains to be seen. But there is some hope: On Thursday evening, AA.com was quoting $87.60 for a one-way nonstop at noon tomorrow between Boston and West Palm Beach. The morning nonstop (7:30 a.m.) was selling for $107.60. Delta.com was quoting $202.60 for its daily Song nonstop between Boston and West Palm Beach.

ALTERNATE ITINERARY: The Shuffle Is On in Chicago
AirTran and ATA Airways came to a definitive agreement for AirTran to take over most of ATA's service at Chicago/Midway Airport. According to the terms of a $90 million deal signed Tuesday (November 16), ATA will maintain its current service at Midway until January 11, then AirTran will take over the flights. But since AirTran won't have the equipment to operate the flights, ATA will use its existing planes and crews to fly as AirTran until June. The deal is contingent on approval of ATA's bankruptcy court and Chicago airport officials. Meanwhile, Southwest Airlines will increase the pressure on the two carriers at Midway. The airline said Thursday (November 18) that it would add five more flights at Midway in March, including new nonstops to Salt Lake City and Norfolk. That comes on the heels of Southwest's announcement two weeks ago that it would add 16 flights at Midway to its existing schedule of 145 flights.

AIRPORT REPORT: Lufthansa Raises the Bar on First-Class Travel
Effective December 1, Lufthansa is effectively rewriting the rules of first-class travel. The airline will open a dedicated first-class terminal and two new first-class lounges at its Frankfurt Airport hub. While they wait for their flights, first-class passengers will be offered the use of a fully equipped private office or a luxury suite outfitted with a daybed, toilet, shower and bathtub. There is also a dedicated first-class restaurant and a cigar bar that serves drinks and snacks. First-class passengers won't be walking to the departure gates, either. They will be transferred directly from the lounges to their flights via Mercedes S-Class cars or Porsche Cayenne SUVs. Total investment for the terminal and lounges: 30 million. A similar first-class program will be implemented at its Munich hub in 2006. ... US Airways is closing its airport clubs in Indianapolis, Syracuse and Rochester. It is also shuttering the club in Concourse B at its former hub in Pittsburgh. ... Speaking of Pittsburgh, the US Airways downsizing has led airport officials to close the commuter terminal and nine gates in Concourse B.

IN THE LOBBY: All That Glitters Isn't Five Diamonds in Miami
A spate of new luxury properties has opened in Miami in the last few years but the Mobil Guide says none of them rate the book's coveted five-diamond award. The new guide, published earlier this month, gave only four stars to the Four Seasons, Mandarin Oriental and the Ritz-Carlton properties in Coconut Grove and Key Biscayne. Two other luxe hotels, the Ritz-Carlton South Beach and the Conrad, opened too late to be included. To add insult to missing stars, Mobil also downgraded two Miami-area resorts, the Inn at Fisher Island and Little Palm Island, to three stars. ... The 548-room Renaissance Las Vegas is due to open on December 3, the same day that the 62-room Malmaison in Belfast, Northern Island, is expected to open for business. ... Speaking of new properties, Thistle Hotels, which already has 23 hotels in London, now has another: The Cumberland at the top of Park Lane on Oxford Street. The 900-room hotel has been redesigned and refurbished and is the first to bear the name Guoman, which is Thistle's new luxury brand.

ON THE FLY: Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Frontier Airlines raised its $299 fare cap in a dozen markets due to rising fuel prices. The airline says fares have risen about 7 percent. ... Another version of Pan Am has been grounded. Guilford Transportation, the New Hampshire company that owns the storied name, grounded all its Pan Am planes and transferred most of the routes to its Boston-Maine Airways subsidiary. Why? Pan Am was unionized. Boston-Maine is not. ... It seems that the Star Alliance can't find an airline it doesn't love. Two more carriers, Adria of Slovenia and Croatia Airlines, are joining as "regional members" on December 15. There are now about 400 Star Alliance carriers...at least it seems that way. ... The Transportation Department says airlines that charge an add-on fee for telephone booking must include the charge in their advertised fares. ... Northwest Airlines, which is trying to beat $950 million of concessions out of its unions, has awarded $3.7 million in restricted stock to its top five executives. They also received salary increases after the departure of former Northwest chief executive Richard Anderson.

THE PARTING SHOT: For Want of a Pillow...
Word leaked out this week that American Airlines has quietly removed the pillows from its fleet of more than 300 MD-80 series aircraft. The move is expected to save about $500,000 a year. But the pillow story has already been carried on all the wire services, published in most newspapers and broadcast on many radio and television stations. No one at American has yet calculated the cost of the adverse publicity.

This column originally appeared at joesentme.com.

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