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 The Tactical Traveler

joe JOE BRANCATELLI'S BUSINESS-TRAVEL
BRIEFING FOR FEBRUARY 16 - FEBRUARY 23, 2006

Beware of Another Nasty New Rental-Car Fee
Even in the inglorious travel industry, the rental-car firms stand out as experts at inventing nasty new fees that they try to slide past business travelers. The newest gambit comes from airport locations of Budget and Avis, both owned by Cendant, the hotel-franchising giant. This charge is a doozy: a $9.50 fee for returning your car full of gasoline. According to Budget, the first one to try the charge, the fee is meant to cover short-mileage rentals that travelers return without topping off the tank. But that's a disingenuous dodge because Budget automatically imposes the fee if you've driven your rental vehicle for fewer than 75 miles. The only way to avoid the fee is to prove to a Budget rental agent that you have, in fact, topped off the tank by producing a receipt for the gasoline. Avis has recently begun "testing" the fee at several airports around the country, too.

The Battle for the 'Heartland' Rages On
A couple of years ago, Northwest Airlines began a breakneck expansion in Midwest cities such as Milwaukee and Indianapolis. The goal: Drive out smaller carriers like Milwaukee-based Midwest Airlines, Indianapolis-based ATA Airlines and Independence Air, the Washington/Dulles-based carrier that began flights to a large number of Midwestern cities when it launched in June, 2004. Northwest's so-called Heartland Strategy has had decidedly mixed results. Independence Air tanked earlier this year. ATA went bankrupt and has closed its Indianapolis hub. But Northwest itself was driven into bankruptcy last year and it is now furiously slashing flights in Milwaukee. Northwest's new schedule, which begins in April, offers 30 percent fewer seats and half the flights in Milwaukee compared to last year. Northwest hasn't won in Indianapolis, either. Three weeks ago, AirTran Airways announced it would begin nonstop flights to Los Angeles and San Francisco beginning on June 7. That's in addition to the six other cities that AirTran already serves from Indianapolis, most of which the Atlanta-based carrier added after ATA dumped its Indianapolis flights. AirTran's West Coast move has now generated a response from Northwest, which yesterday (February 15) announced nonstop Indianapolis-San Francisco flights beginning on June 1 and more service to Los Angeles starting on June 8.

Need an Airport? Build an Island.
The new airport in Kobe, Japan, is scheduled to open today (February 16). More than 20 years in the making, the airport is built on an artificial island off the coast of Kobe. It's linked to the city by a newly opened bridge and a passenger tram that takes 16 minutes to make the run between the airport terminals and Kobe's central railroad station. ... One more time: The new domestic terminal at the airport in Adelaide, Australia, should finally open tomorrow (February 17). Completed months ago, the terminal has been closed to traffic because contaminated fuel lines made it impossible for flights to operate there.

Follow the Flag, Boys...
It's impossible to keep up with the changes in brand identities of major hotels around the world, but pay attention to these because they will affect your travel. ... For starters, Hyatt is getting control of the Great Eastern Hotel, the property adjacent to London's Liverpool Street Station. Liverpool Street is the terminus of the Stansted Express train from Stansted Airport and it is in the heart of The City, London's financial district. The switch to the Hyatt Regency flag will take place in January. ... Much closer to home (not to mention a faster time frame), Omni gets to put its name on two famous properties in San Antonio: La Mansion del Rio and the Watermark Hotel. That should happen in the middle of March. ... Come April 1, the Hilton Jacksonville Riverfront hotel in Jacksonville, Florida, will become a Crowne Plaza. The property is receiving a much-needed facelift, too. ... Kimpton, the big boutique-hotel operator, is getting its second New York hotel. It is taking over management of the 200-room Muse Hotel in Times Square. It already operates the 70 Park Avenue hotel near Manhattan's Grand Central Terminal.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Guess who turns out to be the largest single shareholder of the "new" United Airlines, which exited bankruptcy on February 1? The Pension Benefit Guarantee Corp. (PBGC), which holds a 23 percent stake. The PBGC got its shares in exchange for assuming about $10 billion in pension plans from United. The stake is currently worth about $400 million. The PBGC also got about $450 million earlier this month by selling off some of its claim on United assets. If you do the math, that means the quasi-public agency is about $9 billion in the hole thanks to United's decision to dump its pensions. ... Hawaiian Airlines is suing commuter carrier Mesa Air. Hawaiian says that Mesa, which is starting an inter-island commuter airline in Hawaii, is using confidential business data gleaned from Hawaiian's recent stay in bankruptcy. Hawaiian says Mesa was given more than 2,000 pages of detailed information about the airline and violated a confidentiality agreement signed in April, 2004. ... American Airlines is removing rear galleys from about half of the more than 300 MD-80s in its fleet. In place of the galleys, American will add four more coach seats on each plane.

Copyright 1993-2006 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.