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 The Tactical Traveler

joe A BUSINESS-TRAVEL BRIEFING
FOR APRIL 15, 1999


BY JOE BRANCATELLI

This week: Never buy airline tickets on the weekend; another dreadful Delta ad/Web campaign; the State Department ramps up its travel warnings; deals on deluxe rail cruises and Sofitel hotels; and more.

COUNTER INTELLIGENCE: Never on Sunday (or Saturday)
The rules of the road shift all the time and here's a new one worth sticking in your mental file folder: Never buy airline tickets on the weekend. The reason: carriers tend to raise fares on Friday, then back off by Monday morning if other airlines don't match the price bump. If you buy tickets on Saturday or Sunday, however, you won't get the fare increase refunded on Monday. The latest example of the weekend pricing dance began late Friday, April 9, when Continental attempted to impose the third across-the-board fare hike of 1999. Continental loaded into its pricing computers a 3 percent rise in leisure fares and a one percent increase on walk-up fares. Continental's move was quickly matched by America West, Delta, United. But the fare initiative collapsed over the weekend when American Airlines decided it would not increase its prices. By Monday morning, America West, Continental, Delta and United had rescinded their increases. Travelers who purchased tickets from those three airlines on Saturday or Sunday paid the higher prices, however. Had Continental's initiative held, it would have placed the cumulative 1999 price increases at 10 percent (leisure) and 4 percent (business).

CYBERTRAVELER: Why Bother?
Delta Air Lines has launched its advertising campaign for Business Elite, the new international business-class service that replaces Delta's old first- and business-class cabins. Prominent in the ad is a suggestion that travelers visit Business Elite's new Web site at http://www.bizelite.com. A quick surf over to the site makes you wonder why Delta even bothered. The "virtual tour" section isn't active, a surprise since journalists received a CD-ROM with a virtual tour of the Business Elite cabin several months back. There's no mechanism for contacting Delta, no place to post questions about the service, and no FAQs about Business Elite. Most important of all, Delta doesn't even bother to tell visitors what aircraft on which routes now offer the new class.

DOLLAR WATCH: Deals of the Moment
The lavish Equinox resort in Manchester, Vermont, is offering "Spring Escape Sale" packages through April 29. For $218 a night, travelers receive accommodations, breakfast and dinner for two. Courtyard by Marriott (800-321-2211) has "Spring Value Weekend Rates" of $49-$69 a room through May 30. Rates are valid Thursday through Sunday evenings at participating locations; a two-day advance reservation is required. Avis (800-331-1212) is moving its seasonal fleet of cars from Arizona and has an $11.99 a day rate if you help move the iron. The catch: rentals are one-way, with a maximum of seven days, and cars must be returned to California or specified Nevada location. The rate applies until June 30. "Spring Sale" rates at 32 Sofitel (800-SOFITEL) properties in Europe cut prices to one of five level ($130, 150, $170, $220 or $250) until May 31. The first leg of horse racing's Triple Crown, the Kentucky Derby, is set for May 1 at Churchill Downs in Louisville. Tickets are always scarce, but Spectacular Sports Specials (800-451-5722) has 4-day Derby packages starting at $1,440 a person.

INTERNATIONAL ITINERARY: Beyond Yugoslavia
It goes without saying that the U.S. Department of State has issued a Travel Warning urging citizens not to travel to Yugoslavia. But lost in the dust and the noise of the NATO bombing of Serbia is a Travel Warning issued for Lebanon on April 12. State tells travelers to "exercise caution" while traveling to Lebanon and raises safety concerns about Beirut International Airport, which "official government travelers currently use on a limited basis." U.S. travelers are also asked to register with the Embassy in Beirut while in the country. And, for security reasons, personal access to the Consular Section of the Embassy "is not possible unless prior arrangements have been made." The United States lifted the ban on travel to Lebanon in July, 1997. By the way, you can get all of the State Department's Consular Information Sheets and Travel Warnings delivered directly to your E-mail address. Surf to http://www.state.gov/www/listservs.html and request the "DOSTRAVEL" subscription.

ON THE FLY: Business-Travel News Worth Noting
The Boeing 777, already a favorite of airlines and many frequent flyers, is getting a major service boost over the Pacific. The Federal Aviation Administration is expected to allow the twin-engine jet to travel as much as 207 minutes from an alternate landing field, up from the current restriction of 180 minutes. That will allow the carriers to carry more cargo and passengers per flight and take more direct routes on Pacific flights. ... More passengers die from an in-flight medical emergency than an aircraft accident or crash, according to the Aviation Health Institute. The non-profit British firm says there were approximately 1,000 in-flight deaths last year while about 800 travelers died in crashes. Despite this state of affairs, AHI director Farrol Kahn says most airlines continue to rely on doctors flying as passengers to come forward in case of an in-flight emergency. ... About 640 million passengers flew on commercial airlines last year, according to the U.S. Transportation Department. The commercial carriers reported an operating profit of $9.2 billion in 1998, up $1.3 billion from 1997. Although the DOT didn't draw the obvious conclusions, you can do your own math: $9.2 billion in profit divided by 640 million passengers means the airlines, on average, earned $14.37 a head on each traveler.

THE WEEKLY WONDER: Southern Africa Safari Special
The super-deluxe "Rovos Rail" train is making a 13-day safari journey in July and African Travel (800-421-8907) has special offer: buy two tickets for the itinerary and airfare to South Africa is free. The trip, scheduled for July 2-14, departs from Cape Town; stops at Kimberly for a visit to the diamond area; visits Pretoria and the famed Kruger National Game Park; tours Victoria Falls and includes a cruise on the Zambezi River; and makes other stops in Zimbabwe, Zambia and Tanzania. The first passenger pays $9,375, the second pays $7,200, including the airfare from New York. Pre-tour packages in Cape Town and post-tour bundles in Tanzania are also available.

This column originally appeared at biztravel.com.

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