The Tactical Traveler
JOE BRANCATELLI'S BUSINESS-TRAVEL
BRIEFING FOR JULY 27 TO AUGUST 10, 2006
Alaska Airlines Heads South of the Border
- Alaska Airlines Grows Fast South of the Border
- The 'Southwest Effect' Shatters Fares in Denver
- HIgh-Tech 'Nerd Bird' Flights Aren't Dead Just Yet
- Another Bunch of Hotel Reflaggings and Rebrandings
- They'll Try (Again) to Open Bangkok's 'New' Airport
- Avis and Budget Have Nasty New Terms & Conditions
- The Dollar Wilts (Again) in Europe and the Pacific Rim
U.S. carriers have been flooding Mexico with flights in recent years and now it's Alaska Airlines' turn. Alaska has announced five nonstop routes south of the border in the last month. If all goes according to plan--and neither U.S. nor Mexican authorities have frowned on new cross-border routes lately--Alaska will add San Francisco-Cancun nonstops to go with its existing service from SFO to Los Cabos, Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan and Ixtapa. Also launching in the fall will be flights from Los Angeles to La Paz; Seattle to Cancun; and Portland, Oregon, to both Los Cabos and Puerto Vallarta. When the expansion is complete, Alaska's winter schedule will offer 44 daily flights to 10 Mexican destinations.
The 'Southwest Effect' Shatters Denver Fares
Denver-area flyers already had comparatively reasonable fares thanks to the existence of Frontier Airlines as a counterbalance to United Airlines. But fares at Denver have plummeted still further since the return of Southwest Airlines in January. According to newly released government statistics, the average one-way fare in Denver during the first quarter of the year plummeted $50 to $96 compared to $146 one-way during the first three months of 2005.
Speaking of Frontier Airlines, the airline is launching flights between San Diego and Cancun on December 16.
JetBlue Airways continues to expand in the Carolinas. On October 18, it begins a daily flight between Boston/Logan and Raleigh-Durham using 100-seat EMB-190s.
Flyglobespan, the Scotland-based discount carrier that launched flights between Glasgow and Orlando in June, is planning its second transatlantic route. Beginning next May, it will fly a daily seasonal service between Newark and Liverpool, England. The airline offers both a traditional coach service and a serviceable business class at extremely low fares.
Follow the Flags If You Can
The hotel industry continues to play its infuriating shell game of reflagging and rebranding. The bottom line for business travelers: Never assume that the hotel you visited last week will be flying the same hotel flag or have the same name the next time you pay a call. This week's most notable changes? Westin is taking over at the 178-room property that has most recently been called the Hilton Key West.
In the Independence Business District near Cleveland Hopkins Airport, Sheraton has taken over management a 179-room hotel that used to be a Clarion.
Doubletree is now flying the flag at the 298-room former Radisson in downtown Birmingham, Alabama.
The Holiday Inn Select hotel at Indianapolis Airport will convert to Crowne Plaza in the fall after a $6 million renovation.
And, sometimes, new hotels actually do happen. Such is the case in London's Canary Wharf district, where a 238-room Hilton has opened on South Quay.
Maybe the Thirty Thousandth Time Is the Charm
The "new" airport in Bangkok, Suvarnabhumi, is 40 years in the making and it's still not yet open for business. Meanwhile, Don Muang is groaning under the load of flights. So the "new" airport is once again being "fast tracked" for opening. According to government officials and airport executives, a series of test-run domestic flights will be landing at Suvarnabhumi on July 29. At least 24 flights operated by six carriers will test the facilities. Then, if all goes according to the current plan, all flights headed to Bangkok will begin using Suvarnabhumi on September 28. However, critics say the airport is still not ready for prime time. They say construction quality of the facility's runways and passenger terminal is subpar.
The Endless Battle Over Exchange Fees
The endless war over how and how much credit cards charge for payments made in foreign currency took another small turn in favor of travelers this week. A class-action lawsuit against Visa, MasterCard, DinersClub and several large credit-card issuers has been settled. Although they admit no guilt--do they ever?--the credit-card firms have agreed to pay $336 million into a fund that will be used to reimburse travelers for exorbitant and/or badly disclosed exchange fees. The settlement requires court approval. Complete details won't be released until the settlement is approved and should be posted at a special Web site.
Speaking of foreign exchange, the weak dollar continues to be feeble against other worldwide currencies. It has fallen to $1.28 against the euro, $1.86 against the British pound and ¥115 Japanese yen. The Australian and Canadian dollars are also near record highs against the U.S. greenback.
Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Avis and Budget customers take note: That set of new terms and conditions you received in the mail is filled with the kind of rapacious and anti-consumer codicils that we've come to expect from car-rental firms. Most notable: Avis and Budget now reserve the right to sell a damaged vehicle instead of repair it. And if the sale brings a lower price than the car's supposed "fair market value," you are responsible for the difference. The new terms take effect on August 1.
Continental OnePass has lost TAP Air Portugal as a partner.
Speaking of Continental, the airline has fired a pilot who was removed from a flight this week after other employees smelled alcohol on his breath.
Chalk up a modest revival for so-called Nerd Bird flights between major high-tech destinations. Effective December 14, American Airlines says it will use larger aircraft on two of its three flights between San Jose, California, and Austin, Texas.
A moment of silence, please, for the now-defunct Air Turquoise, a French airline that grew out of the rubble of Air Lib. The airline stopped flying on July 19.
Copyright © 1993-2006 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.