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 The Tactical Traveler

joe A BUSINESS-TRAVEL BRIEFING
FOR NOVEMBER 30, 1998


BY JOE BRANCATELLI

This week: 'Tis the season for hotel discounts; Paul Grimes is back on the travel beat; the airline-alliance scorecard; the Ghosts of strikes past and future; a bargain on the Concorde; and more.

COUNTER INTELLIGENCE: 'Tis the Season for Hotel Discounts
It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas and that's good news for business travelers looking for a break on hotel rates. Hotels empty out as the end-of-the-year holidays approach and hoteliers lay on the discounts. Among the offers: as low as $39 at HomeGate (until December 31; 888-456-GATE); $49 at Hyatt (December 18-January 2; 800-233-1234), AmeriSuites (December 17-30; 800-833-1516) and Wellesley Inns (until December 30; 800-444-8888); and $59 at Residence Inn (through January 31; 800-331-3131). Even the Loews Miami Beach (800-23-LOEWS), which is scheduled to open today, is making with the holiday rates. It's $199 a night until January 3. Don't see what you like? Call your favorite chain or preferred hotel and they are sure to have a special holiday rate.

CYBERTRAVELER: Grimes on the Beat
Paul Grimes changed the face of travel journalism with his weekly "Practical Traveler" column in the otherwise flaccid Travel Section of the Sunday edition of The New York Times. If you cared about the business of travel, you read Grimes, clipped his columns, and took a pass on most of the rest of the section. These days, Grimes has staked out a new beat: cybertravel. In his self-syndicated column, he reports on the financial and journalistic happenings at the web sites that claim travel as their domain. It's can't-miss reading if you follow the scribbling of online scribes like me, research travel on the web, or buy your travel on the bet. His columns are easiest to find at the website of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: The Airline Alliance Scorecard
The old baseball adage is now applicable to airlines, too. You really can't tell the players without a scorecard. The alliances are coming so fast and furious that a recap is in order. Let's start with the "original" alliance, struck earlier in the decade by Northwest and KLM. Northwest bought into Continental last week, just days before Continental's primary international ally, Alitalia, announced a joint-venture deal with KLM. This four-party alliance, which may soon be dubbed "Wings," will eventually include Virgin Atlantic and junior partners such as Alaska, Air China, America West and Kenya Airways. The "Star" alliance is built around the tri-partite co-operation of United, SAS and Lufthansa, and also includes Air Canada, Thai and Varig. Air New Zealand and All Nippon will join the fold next year. Singapore is also considering throwing in with Star. And then there is the recently dubbed "Oneworld" group built around the still-to-be-consummated alliance of American Airlines and British Airways. Joining those two are Cathay Pacific, Qantas and Canadian. Assume Reno Air as a junior partner and watch for the addition of Iberia, Finnair and Japan Airlines next year. (Iberia, Qantas and Canadian are each partly owned by BA and/or American, and American acquired Reno earlier this month.) USAirways, American's new domestic ally and BA's erstwhile partner, may join Oneworld once the bitterness and legalities surrounding the USAirways-BA breakup dissolves. The fourth alliance is, at least for now, built around Delta, Austrian, Swissair and Sabena. Delta has a lousy history with its partners (ANA, Singapore and Varig have all severed Delta code-share deals in the last 18 months) and sources in Europe insist Swissair may switch to Oneworld next year. Ever-chaotic Air France has a code-share with Delta, but also maintains one with Continental, so no one knows one whose side it may land. In fact, despite its marketing and labor mishaps, Air France's desirable Paris hub could be the nexus for a fifth alliance.

STRIKE NOTES: Ghosts of Strikes Past and Future
There'll be no strike at America West during the holiday season. The National Mediation Board has given the airline until December 11 to respond to its flight attendant's request to declare an impasse in contract negotiations. Since the flight attendants cannot legally strike until an impasse is declared and a federally mandated 30-day cooling off period expires, a strike now can't occur until at least mid-January. Meanwhile, Northwest continues to pay for its ruinous confrontation with pilots last summer. Analyst Susan Donofrio says business travelers have been slow to return to the airline. The reluctance of high-yield frequent flyers to fly Northwest will depress one of the airline's crucial revenue indicators by almost 15 percent in the fourth quarter. She also downgraded Northwest's investment rating.

THE WEEKLY WONDER: Supersonic Savings
For about the price of a roundtrip business-class ticket, the Exclusive Supersonic Travel Fare from Air France (800-AF-PARIS) offers travelers a flight on the Concorde to Paris and a return seat in business class to any Air France gateway in the United States. Prices start at $6,000 roundtrip and passengers may also make up to one stop beyond Paris. The promotion is valid for departures through March 31; a four-day advance purchase is required.

This column originally appeared at biztravel.com.

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