The Tactical Traveler



This week: Watch the airlines roll the fuel surcharges into base fares; room service by any other name; competition comes East in Canada; a 6 a.m. flight on the East Coast Shuttle; Hertz adds Jaguars to the luxury fleet; and a notable Daytona 500 package.

COUNTER INTELLIGENCE: The Never-Ending Surcharges
The so-called fuel surcharges imposed by most major carriers went into effect last week—-just as the cost of jet fuel began dropping on the spot market. So logic dictates the obvious question: When will the airlines drop the new fees, which reach $20 roundtrip on some domestic itineraries? The answer, unfortunately, is equally obvious: The airlines will never drop the surcharges. Instead, watch for them to bundle the new fees into base fares during the next few months. "We wouldn’t think of eliminating the surcharge for at least a few months," one airline pricing expert admitted last week. "By then, it’ll be time for a fare increase anyway, so what we’ll do is absorb the surcharge into the base fare." What’s the most likely timetable for turning the supposedly temporary surcharges into a permanent fare hike? Somewhere between the end of March and mid-April, several airline executives agreed.

CYBERTRAVELER: Room Service by Any Other Name
What do you do if you need a meal and your hotel doesn’t offer room service? Paul Grimes, the travel ace who writes the "Takeoff" column for Frequent Flyer magazine, has a brilliant suggestion. Order from one of the websites that link you to restaurants offering delivery service or meals to go. Grimes’ column in the January issue pays particular attention to five sites, including (listings for 12,000 restaurants nationwide) and (about 1,300 locations, most of them on the West Coast). But don’t forget, a site that didn’t make the Grimes story. Kozmo delivers snacks, sandwiches and other food and non-food products within one hour in New York, Boston, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington, D.C.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Competition Comes East in Canada
When Air Canada scooped up Canadian Airlines International after a protracted battle last year, it looked like meaningful air-travel competition in Canada was fated to disappear. After all, Canada’s two leading airlines control something like 90 percent of the scheduled jet service in the country. But riding to the rescue is WestJet, the no-frills carrier that currently serves 12 cities in Canada’s western provinces. Often compared to Southwest Airlines in the United States, WestJet plans to create a hub in Hamilton, Ontario, beginning March 9. Hamilton, the center of Canada’s steel industry, is located about 45 miles from Toronto, site of the country’s busiest airport. WestJet will begin with nonstop flights from Hamilton to Winnipeg and Thunder Bay with continuing service to Calgary. Fares will start at C$99 one-way and flights between Hamilton and Calgary will be priced as low as C$179. (By comparison, Air Canada charges as much as C$1,300 on Toronto-Calgary flights). WestJet says it will add flights in the spring from Hamilton to Ottawa and Halifax. Flights to Montreal are scheduled to begin in the summer. "Hamilton isn’t the perfect solution for business travelers hoping to have some alternative to the Air Canada juggernaut," one observer of the Canadian travel market said last week. "But WestJet is going to give [Air Canada] a lot of headaches. Like Southwest, the company is good at hauling passengers from place to place at low cost. That’s going to be a welcome counter-balance to Air Canada."

ON THE FLY: Business-Travel News You Need to Know
The US Airways Shuttle has launched 6 a.m. flights between New York’s LaGuardia Airport and Washington’s Reagan National Airport. … Emirates has begun what will become twice-daily service between its home base in Dubai and Bahrain. … Now that Hilton and Promus have completed their merger, watch for the Promus brands--Doubletree, Embassy Suites, Hampton Inn, Red Lion and Homewood Suites--to join the Hilton HHonors frequent-stay program next month. … Hertz is adding Jaguars (the XJ8 and S-Type) to its luxury-class fleet in a dozen U.S. cities. … Chinese government officials have ordered hotels throughout the country to remove the Cartoon Network from in-room televisions. … The sixth flight in 90 days was delayed last week at Cairo Airport due to a bomb hoax. Although there is no pattern to the hoax calls, three of the flights targeted were operated by Arab airlines.

WEEKLY WONDER: Fast Cars in the Sun
This year’s Daytona 500 is scheduled for Sunday, February 20, and Spectacular Sport Specials (800-451-5772) has tickets to the season-opening event of the NASCAR Winter Cup series. A five-day package from February 17-21 includes lower grandstand seats to the race; tickets to the previous night’s 300-mile Busch National race; four nights of lodging; daily breakfast, and racetrack and airport transfers. Prices start at $1,865 a person or $2,620 a couple.

This column originally appeared at

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