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 The Tactical Traveler

joe A BUSINESS-TRAVEL BRIEFING
FOR JANUARY 20 TO FEBRUARY 3, 2005


BY JOE BRANCATELLI

This week: Will you give United cash in advance for Elite status now; Delta's hub shuffle means a huge increase in Kennedy flights; Air France returns to Cincinnati (again); British Airways cuts Saudi Arabian flights; Milwaukee Airport gets an Amtrak station; Kingfisher, the Indian brewer, is launching an airline; and much more.

COUNTER INTELLIGENCE: Will You Pay United in Advance for Elite Status?
United Airlines has rolled out a new way to prop up its bankrupt bottom line: The Mileage Plus Elite Prepaid Travel Card. The angle: You pay United in advance for travel in increments of $5,000, $10,000 or $20,000 and United gives you instant Mileage Premier, Premier Executive or 1K status. It also promises a 5 percent discount on ticket purchases for Prepaid Card holders. Besides the fact that you're forking over funds in advance to a bankrupt carrier, the Card has some other drawbacks. For starters, the 5 percent discount is only valid for domestic flights purchased at United.com. Then there's the fact that United isn't really giving you anything you wouldn't earn anyway. Five transcontinental roundtrips, which cost about $1,000 each on a walk-up basis, earn you the same Premier status without paying United in advance for the privilege. Finally, there's this little fillip: The card is only valid for 13 months (February 1, 2005 to February 28, 2006) and you'll pay a ferocious penalty if you don't use all of your prepaid investment. If your unused balance after February 28, 2006, is under $250, you'll receive a travel certificate eight weeks later. But if your unused balance exceeds $250 after 13 months, you'll lose 50 percent of its value and wait 12 weeks for a refund of the rest. Card sales begin February 1 at United's Prepaid Card site.

AIRPORT REPORT: How Delta's "Big Bang" Shuffles Its Hubs
A wildcat strike Wednesday at Toronto/Pearson Airport stranded thousands of passengers overnight and forced Air Canada to cancel dozens of flights. Air Canada seemed to be back on schedule by late Thursday (January 20). ... Delta Air Lines is promising a "big bang" on January 31 when it shuts its Dallas/Fort Worth operations and spreads the flights around its remaining hubs in Atlanta, Cincinnati, Salt Lake City and at New York/Kennedy. Overnight, Delta will drop to 3 percent of the market at DFW, but it will grow its Kennedy presence by a startling 40 percent. Most of the additional Kennedy seats will be on Florida, Caribbean and transcontinental routes where Delta competes with JetBlue Airways. Atlanta will grow by almost 10 percent to more than 1,000 daily flights. Capacity at Salt Lake will grow by 27 percent while Cincinnati service will grow by a more modest 9 percent. ... A $6.8 million Amtrak station opened Tuesday at Milwaukee/Mitchell International. The station is just south of Remote Parking Lot B. ... Priority Pass, the worldwide network of airport clubs, has added lounges in Hannover, Germany; New Delhi, India; and Shenyang, China.

CYBERTRAVELER: The Orgy of Words That Is the A380
You've probably already heard more than you want to about the gigantic, double-decked Airbus A380, which the European aircraft manufacturer introduced on Tuesday. But if you just haven't had enough blather about the bells, whistles and seven-story-tall tail on the plane, which could hold about 800 people in an all-coach configuration, point your browser to Airbus' special A380 Reveal page. The orgy of words continues...

INTERNATIONAL ITINERARY: Air France Just Can't Quit Cincinnati
For the third time in four years, Air France is prepared to fly the Cincinnati-Paris route. This time, Air France will fly seasonally, operating daily between May 9 and October 29. The French carrier launched Cincinnati flights early in 2001, dropped them immediately after 9/11, restarted them several months later then dropped them again late last summer. ... British Airways says it will drop its flights to Saudi Arabia at the end of March. BA has been flying three times a week to Riyadh and four times a week to Jeddah. ... The upsurge in service to Mexico continues. Alaska Airlines says it will begin twice-weekly MD-80 flights between Los Angeles and Loreto on February 17 and Continental will launch daily regional-jet service between its Houston hub and Queretaro on March 17. ... Perhaps you've had a bottle of Kingfisher, the Indian lager beer that's brewed around the world and is a staple in Indian restaurants? Well, say hello to Kingfisher Airlines. India's largest brewer says it will buy 30 Airbus jets and hopes to begin flying domestic routes in April.

ON THE FLY: Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Carlson, the parent of the Radisson, Park Plaza, Park Inn and Country Inn hotel brands, has revamped its GoldPoints frequent-travel plan. The program, renamed GoldPoints Plus, now offers points at all 800 Carlson properties in the Americas and Rezidor SAS hotels in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. ... The former chairman and chief executive of Hawaiian Airlines has agreed to repay the bankrupt carrier about $3.6 million. John Adams was ousted by Hawaiian's bankruptcy judge after creditors claimed that Adams and his management team had pocketed most of Hawaiian's 2001 bailout grant and the proceeds of a 2002 tender offer. ... United Airlines says it will begin Ted service at Chicago/Midway in April. United maintains its primary hub at Chicago/O'Hare and the Ted flights to United's Denver and Washington/Dulles hubs are apparently a bid to harass Southwest Airlines, which has been growing quickly at Midway and will soon begin code-sharing with ATA Airlines, another large Midway discounter. ... Eurostar says it will offer two types of first class on its trains that cross the English Channel through the Chunnel. There will be separate carriages for first-class business and first-class leisure customers. No word on whether you have to show your laptop at the door.

THE PARTING SHOT: The More the Merrier in Asia
An airline you've probably never heard of, AWAIR of Jakarta, launched flights to Singapore this week. Why is that noteworthy? AWAIR is the 13th carrier to ply the Jakarta-Singapore route. Besides globally known names like Cathay Pacific, Singapore Air, Thai and KLM/Air France, there are also a host of local low-fare airlines. The outlook for such a crowded route? More competition at the end of the month when Qantas' low-fare carrier, Jetstar, becomes the 14th carrier to offer service between the Indonesian capital and Singapore.

This column originally appeared at joesentme.com.

Copyright 1993-2005 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.