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 The Tactical Traveler

joe A BUSINESS-TRAVEL BRIEFING
FOR SEPTEMBER 7, 1998


BY JOE BRANCATELLI

This week: Asian fares skyrocket; it's not Greek to this web site; misery loves company in flights; a Northwest strike update; a New York hotel bargain; and more.

COUNTER INTELLIGENCE: Asian Fares Skyrocket
The strike at Northwest Airlines has done what a year's worth of fare promotions and a panicky fleet realignment couldn't do: fill flights going to Asia. With Northwest's copious Asian capacity grounded due to the pilot's strike, U.S. and Asian competitors have finally found some takers for their excess seats. The result? All those marvelous Asian fare deals announced in the last year have temporarily disappeared. In fact, many business and first-class cabins are sold out for the next few weeks. Unless you need to travel to Asia immediately, defer your travel purchases until after Northwest returns to the skies. In fact, be prepared for an immediate resumption of the Asian fare wars. Northwest will slash fares to win back traffic and its Asian competitors will match.

CYBERTRAVELER: It's Not Greek to Me
The Globalink Web Site (www.comprende.globalink.com) is a wizard of a language-translation page. You can type up an E-mail, have the site translate it into any of five languages (French, Italian, German, Spanish or Portuguese), then send it along to your clients. It also offers the ability to translate web pages and documents. The quality of the translation is rudimentary--simple, declarative sentences work best and idioms regularly stump the technology--but Globalink is nevertheless a wonderful tool for time-pressed travelers. Better yet, there is very little in-your-face promotion for Power Translator, a $149 software package sold by Globalink. But, no, the site won't translate into Greek.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY Misery Loves Company
It's not your imagination. Your fellow frequent flyers also think service in the travel industry stinks and is getting worse. According to the Department of Transportation's monthly Air Travel Consumer Report, complaints about the airlines continue to skyrocket. Data for travel during July, released last week, showed flyers' complaints about airline service rose 30 percent compared to June. And there were 35 percent more complaints in July, 1998, than July, 1997. Hotels are faring little better. According to the 1998 results of the American Consumer Satisfaction Index from Arthur Andersen and the University of Michigan Business School, customer satisfaction with hotels is at a five-year low. In 1994, the hotel industry's ASCI rating was 75 out of 100. It sank to 71 this year. "Perceived value," what guests believe they receive for what they pay, also has dropped to a five-year low, rating just 73 out of 100.

STRIKE STUFF Items Worth Noting
Northwest has laid off most of its staff and "pickled" planes to prepare them for a long period of inactivity. The carrier also admitted it may now take 10 days to resume full service after the strike ends. That all but guarantees it won't return to the skies before late September... Don't expect President Clinton to intervene in the Northwest strike using his power under the Railway Labor Act. Key Democratic Congressmen are urging him not to order the pilots back to work. White House sources say Clinton won't offend the Democratic lawmakers because he needs their support if impeachment hearings proceed after the November elections. ... Some Northwest flyers were protected on Air Canada flights, meaning they were strike-bound twice. ... AirTran flight attendants are threatening work stoppages during September to protest their lack of a contract... Northwest has a cash horde that could cushion it for a 250-day strike, analysts say. Northwest pilots are also well funded. Air Canada pilots, on the other hand, have walked off the job without a strike fund. ... Unlike Northwest commuter carriers, which stopped flying when Northwest was struck, Air Canada's commuter airlines continue to fly, ... Mickey Foret, hired by Northwest to help it prepare for a strike, was named the airline's chief financial officer last week. Foret, who has a reputation as a union breaker, joins at least four other high-ranking Northwest managers who were once key executives at airlines run by Frank Lorenzo. ... An insiders group led by Northwest chief executive John Dasburg sold $73 million worth of Northwest stock earlier this year when it was near its 52-week high of 65.31. It closed at a 52-week low of $27.06 Thursday.

THE WEEKLY WONDER: A Real New York Bargain
The Avalon Hotel (888-HI-AVALON), a new Manhattan boutique property I recommended earlier this summer, has cut rates through September. Nightly room prices start at $169, a bargain by New York standards, and suites start at $199. Continental breakfast is included.

This column originally appeared at biztravel.com.

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