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 The Tactical Traveler

joe A BUSINESS-TRAVEL BRIEFING
FOR DECEMBER 21, 1998


BY JOE BRANCATELLI

This week: Check your mileage ticker before the new year; life with laptop; the airline end game on travel-agent commissions; sublime and ridiculous travel deals; and much more.

COUNTER INTELLIGENCE: Check Your Mileage Ticker
With just a few days before the end of the year, it's imperative that you check your frequent-travel programs for expiring miles and points. If your programs have sunset provisions--in other words, miles that expire with each year--you need to act now to protect your investment. Hobbled by its pilots strike earlier this year, Northwest unilaterally extended by one year the validity of all WorldPerks miles due to expire in 1998. Several other carriers have responded: United, for example, is allowing travelers with at least 20,000 MileagePlus miles to roll over their 1998 miles for an additional year. But other programs have made no provisions to extend miles. How do you save expiring miles? First, check with your program to see if it permits a 1998 rollover. If they don't permit this, claim an award. Airline awards, for example, are valid for travel for one year after the award is issued, thus effectively extending the life of your miles. Alternately, make a donation of your expiring miles to a charity recognized by your frequent-travel program.

CYBERTRAVELER: Life With Laptop
The end-of-the-year travel lull is a great time to clean out your laptop and your laptop bag. Get rid of those old files, disks, pens, scraps of papers, post-it notes, cables, old manuals and other paraphernalia. It might also be a good time to check out two websites aimed at the care and feeding of your traveling beast of electronic burden. Over at Laptop Travel (http://www.laptoptravel.com), the site specializes in connectivity products. There are quick-connect kits and other devices aimed at getting your laptop working with the various electrical and telephony systems around the world. On the other hand, the site of the On The Road newsletter (http://www.roadnews.com) is sort of a coffee klatch of laptop users. All sorts of topics are discussed, most of them concerning the how business travelers live with--and rage at--their laptop.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: The Airline End Game on Commissions
You've undoubtedly heard that most major airlines have slashed the commission they pay to travel agents on international tickets, the third pay cut in the last few years. You've also undoubtedly heard how airlines won't discuss the matter and how travel agents are bleating about unfairness, collusion and other shadowy motives. But the end game of the airline commission maneuvers is actually more important than day-to-day events. Consider this scenario: by slashing the amount of the retail fare they pay agents from the old 10 percent standard to something closer to a niggardly 5 percent, many mom-and-pop travel agents will close their doors. Larger agencies that survive will undoubtedly be forced to concentrate their business with just a few airlines in order to get a better cut of the action. The result? The end of the "honest broker" system of travel agencies. The small operators will be gone and the large agencies that survive will be biased in favor of a few airlines that offer them special treatment in exchange for large volumes of business. If you then try to book your ticket on the Internet, you may find that independent web sites have also been driven out of business. Your only alternative will be the reservations numbers or proprietary web sites of the airlines. When the day comes when your only options for booking an airline ticket are the airlines themselves and their vassal travel agents, fares will skyrocket. And therein lies the commission end game: higher fares for travelers with no alternatives for booking around them.

THE WEEKLY WONDER: Deals Sublime and Ridiculous
You may disagree with British Airways' advertising contention that it is The World's Favourite Airline, but you can't question BA's ferociously competitive and creative nature when it comes to packaging travel in 1999. Want a sublime experience? Consider the "Barbados in Style" all-inclusive package. BA will deploy the supersonic Concorde for three roundtrips between New York/JFK and Barbados during February. It's also including seven nights of accommodations at four deluxe hotels, breakfast and dinner daily, service charges and taxes, and roundtrip airport transfers. Prices for the 8-day/7-night package start at an admittedly stratospheric $3,899 a person, but that's less than half the normal roundtrip Concorde fare to London. For more information, call BA at 800-222-7342. Want ridiculously low-priced deals? BA's "World Offers" start at $389 a person, and include roundtrip airfare to London, three hotel nights and continental breakfast. Three-night packages are also available to Paris (from $429), Amsterdam (from $449), Rome (from $459), Lisbon (from $469), and Madrid, Vienna and Barcelona (from $499). Six-night deals are similarly low priced and the deals are valid from January 4 to March 25. For more information, call BA Holidays at 800-359-8722.

This column originally appeared at biztravel.com.

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