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 The Tactical Traveler

joe A BUSINESS-TRAVEL BRIEFING
FOR DECEMBER 2, 1999


BY JOE BRANCATELLI

This week: Avoiding the weekend fare-increase trap; beware of flyers with masks and luxury cars; Marriott converts most of the Swallow hotels in Britain; Austrian Airlines discounts Eastern Europe via Vienna; and more.

COUNTER INTELLIGENCE: Avoid the Weekend Fare Trap
While you were gobbling turkey this past Thanksgiving weekend, several airlines were attempting to raise your fares. Initiated by American and Delta, then followed by United and Continental, the fare increase posted in reservation computers was 3 percent across the board. The initiative failed when the other major carriers refused to match the increase and the remaining airlines rolled back the higher fares by Monday morning. But the incident reinforces a travel-buying axiom that bears repeating: Never, ever buy airline tickets over a weekend. As this effort showed, carriers hoping to increase prices almost always install the higher new fares in reservation computers at the beginning of a weekend. If other carriers match, the higher fares stand. But if others shy away--as they did over Thanksgiving weekend--the fare-raising carriers withdraw the increase before the start of the business week. But if you were unlucky enough to buy a ticket at the higher price before Monday, however, the airlines won't refund the increase without imposing a $75 ticket-rewrite processing fee. One other note: The Thanksgiving initiative would have been the sixth general fare increase of the year, representing a cumulative 1999 price rise of 17.5 percent on business fares and 20.5 percent on leisure fares.

CYBERTRAVELER: The Other BizTraveler
The National Business Travel Association has launched a website it calls BizTraveler [http://www.biztraveler.org], a name not unfamiliar to BizTravel.com members. This site has lots of basic, but useful, tips for business flyers; an overview of traveler's rights and an on-line complaint form; a section on international travel; and a list of travel advisories issued by the U.S. Department of State. The information doesn't break much new ground, but the site is worth a surf.

DOLLAR WATCH: Win Some, Lose Some
At the close of business Tuesday, a strange confluence of major currencies occurred. Thanks to a plummeting Euro and a rampaging Yen, both were near parity with the U.S. dollar. The Euro closed at US$1.007 and the Japanese Yen closed at 102.3 to the dollar. The situation is a win-lose scenario for U.S. travelers. The Euro has collapsed from its record high of US$1.17 earlier this year, making the dollar admirably robust in the 12 nations whose currencies are tied to the Euro. On the down side, the dollar is off 17 percent from its 12-month high against the Yen, once again making Japan a pricey proposition for U.S. visitors.

AIRPORT REPORT: Beware of Flyers With Masks and Luxury Cars
Armed robbers rammed a luxury car through the window of the Bank of Ireland located at Dublin Airport. Three masked robbers held up the staff and made off with about US$66,500. Passengers on a flight to Oslo were delayed six hours at London's Heathrow Airport when SAS staffer searched for the cause of a noxious cabin odor. The culprit: a passenger's oilskin coat, which the captain ordered into the cargo hold. Three of every ten intra-Europe flights departed more than 15 minutes late during the third quarter. Barcelona, Milan/Malpensa and Madrid had the worst departure records. Four Nordic airports -- Oslo, Helsinki, Stockholm and Copenhagen -- posted the fewest delays. American Airlines says it will install carry-on baggage sizers on the X-ray machines at more than a dozen airports. Bags that don't meet American's 15 x 9 inch or 24 x 5 inch standards will have to be checked.

ON THE FLY: Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Most of the 38 Swallow hotels in the United Kingdom will be converted to Marriott properties. The mass migration was made possible when Marriott's British licensee purchased the Swallow properties last month for more than $900 million. Diners Club is offering quadruple Club Rewards points for purchases made through December 31 at the Sharper Image website. A jury ordered Ramada Inn to pay $1.7 million to two men who were shot in the parking lot of one of the chain's hotel in Hialeah, Florida. Police suspect the pair were involved in a drug deal gone wrong. The judgment is on hold until the verdict is reviewed by an appeals court.

THE WEEKLY WONDER: A Fast Fare Sale
You've only got days to cash in on excellent winter fares to Austria and Eastern Europe. Austrian Airlines (800-843-0002) has slashed prices for travel until April 8, 2000, but you must buy your tickets by December 8. From New York, roundtrip coach fares are as low as $358 to Austria; $368 to Budapest; $408 to Athens and Istanbul; and $438 to Moscow. Departures from Atlanta to the same destinations range from $438 to $608. The fares require a Saturday-night stay.

This column originally appeared at biztravel.com.

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