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 The Tactical Traveler

joe A BUSINESS-TRAVEL BRIEFING
FOR APRIL 27, 1998


BY JOE BRANCATELLI

This week: All's fare in the frequent flyer programs; a digital tool from Forbes; asleep at the switch at AT&T; TWA's short-trip strategy; fast starts and free seats in Tampa; and more.

COUNTER INTELLIGENCE: All's Fare in Frequent Flyer Programs
The airlines have trained us well: We pay outrageous fares for short-haul, last-minute business trips and earn frequent-flyer miles that we cash for free tickets on low-cost, long-haul vacation routes. But think outside the box--claim free tickets to use on the business trips and pay for the vacation flights--and you'll save a heap of dough. One example: I was quoted $992 round-trip in coach last week for an overnight business trip between New York and Chicago. Appalled by the fare, I cashed 25,000 miles and flew for free. I had earmarked those miles for a weekend jaunt to San Francisco next month. Instead, I purchased a NY-SFO roundtrip for just $316 because I bought 14 days in advance and am staying over on a Saturday night. Net savings: $676. Added bonus: rather than the 1,400 or so miles I would have earned for that $992 NY-Chicago trip, I am getting about 5,000 frequent-flyer miles for the NY-SFO flights. Hey, all's fare in love and frequent-flyer plans.

CYBERTRAVELER: Digital Tool for Internet Diversions
Surf over the Forbes Digital Tool and you'll find a wealth of goofy and provocative on-the-road diversions. The site is extremely weak on meat-and-potatoes business-travel news and views, but you can't beat the after-hours advice. For example, the Fitness Guide (www.forbes.com/fitness) offers an exhaustive review of fitness facilities and related amenities in hotels, gyms, and health clubs around the country. Prefer to fish? Then go to the fishing page (www.forbes.com/tool/toolbox/fishforecast) for the lowdown on spots around the globe where they're biting.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Asleep at the Switch at AT&T
Have you noticed that AT&T has disappeared from all the frequent-flyer programs, leaving the airlines to partner with either MCI or Sprint? Some dimwit at the erstwhile Ma Bell made a conscious decision to get out of the business of winning (and keeping customers) by awarding frequent-flyer miles. AT&T is already suffering the consequences: Tens of thousands of otherwise loyal AT&T customers have defected to MCI or Sprint based strictly on the inducement of huge sign-up bonuses and a continuous stream of frequent-flyer miles. Rather than rush back into the game, however, AT&T is compounding the error by secretly ending AT&T True Rewards, its proprietary loyalty scheme. The program ends April 30 and will be replaced by some other plan, one not tied to the old AT&T "True" campaign. The problem is that AT&T is not telling its customers what is going on. As of April 23, there was no mention of the end of True Rewards on the website (www.att.com/truerewards). Calls to the customer-service number (800-288-8724) yield an admission that True Rewards is ending, but no information on its imminent replacement. Worst of all, some True Rewards members are being "de-enrolled" and will not be offered automatic membership in the replacement program. Do you get the impression that they're asleep at the switch over at AT&T?

MILES & POINTS: TWA's Short-Trip Strategy
TWA's new frequent-flyer program, Aviators, has drawn mixed reviews, but I like the plan for one reason: The 15,000-mile reward for free roundtrip travel between two cities less than 750 miles apart. As explained in "Counter Intelligence" above, you'll often save money if you use miles rather than pay for last-minute, short-haul business trips. The Aviators 15,000-mile award plays perfectly into this short-trip strategy. Most other airlines will charge you 25,000 miles regardless of the length of your business trip. So for that reason alone, join the Aviators program, which launches May 1. Call 800-221-2000.

THE WEEKLY WONDER: Fast Starts and Free Seats
The Tampa Bay Devil Rays, the new American League baseball team, is off to a fast start. In fact, its 10-7 record as of April 22 is the most successful debut of any expansion team in American sports history. If you want to catch a game--or impress a client--check out the "Baseball on the Bay" package from the swanky Renaissance Vinoy Resort in downtown St. Petersburg. Until May 30, the package costs $250 a night and includes: accommodations, two free club-box tickets to a Devil Rays game at Tropicana Field, and transportation to the game. The price drops to $185 a night beginning May 31. Call 800-HOTELS-1 or 813-894-1000 for information and reservations.

This column originally appeared at biztravel.com.

Copyright 1993-2007 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.