The Tactical Traveler

FOR JUNE 22, 2000


This week: maximizing the value of your frequent-flyer miles; Southwest shuffles off to Buffalo and prices plummet; an abusive crew throws a football player off a flight; and a superlative summer weekend deal at a new New York hotel.

COUNTER INTELLIGENCE: Don't Bank Those Frequent-Flyer Miles
There may be a dozen airline mergers--or none--in the immediate future, but here's a smart strategy for maximizing the value of your frequent-flyer miles: Spend them now if you can find award seats. "I wouldn't bank miles in my program right now," one airline executive told me earlier this week. "If I don't know who our partners are going to be six months from now, how can anyone logically be saving miles for a trip to a specific destination next year?" There's another compelling reason to spend miles now: record-high prices on many popular domestic and international routes. In recent weeks, airlines have quietly eliminated several 7- and 14-day discount fares for summer and fall travel, often leaving only the choice between impossible-to-book restricted tickets and outrageously inflated full coach fares. "If you can find a free seat, book it," another airline official said. "At the prices we're charging, a free ticket is a much better value than usual."

CYBERTRAVELER: A Familiar Voice Rejoins the Fray
It's always good news when you can find travel stories by Paul Grimes, whose resume includes long stints as the Practical Traveler at The New York Times and a columnist for Condé Nast Traveler and Frequent Flyer magazines. Grimes' new home: Smarter His new column, a bi-weekly effort called "On the Go," leans to the practical. "Nothing startling," says the modest Grimes, "but hopefully with a fresh approach that will attract readers." So far, On the Go has taken on travel insurance and the sad state of airports.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Who Polices the Inflight Police?
Whenever a flight attendant or pilot deems a traveler surly or unmanageable, they have the federally-mandated right to remove the offender from a flight. Moreover, you may be jailed, fined or otherwise prosecuted. But what happens if a flight attendant or pilot is out of control? Does the passenger have the right to resist or object? Is anyone policing the "inflight police?" Apparently not, if the case of football player Randy Moss is any guide. The Minnesota Vikings wide receiver was kicked off a US Airways flight last week to Pittsburgh from Charleston, West Virginia. The "charge" was disobeying a flight attendant's instruction. But guess what? Fellow passengers on the flight rushed to the defense of Moss and claimed both the flight attendant and a pilot were rude and abusive. Moss "was a complete gentleman," one passenger said. "If there was any instigation, it was by [the flight attendant]. I've never seen anyone get treated the way he did. Ever." The passenger told the Associated Press that the captain cursed Moss and said he had "better sit back there and shut up or he would…throw him off the plane." At the insistence of the pilot, Charleston police removed Moss from the plane. The airport's assistant director said Moss was cooperative. Less cooperative have been the flight attendant, the pilot, their respective unions and US Airways. None would comment on the incident, even after the Federal Aviation Administration refused to fine Moss or investigate the matter.

ON THE FLY: Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Southwest Airlines shuffles off to Buffalo, New York, beginning October 8. The schedule includes daily non-stop flights to Baltimore, Las Vegas, Orlando and Phoenix. Southwest's unrestricted Buffalo-Baltimore one-way fare will be $65. US Airways currently charges more than $330 one-way. … United and Air Canada have begun issuing interline electronic tickets. … Effective July 1, Northwest will realign membership levels and fees for its WorldClub airport lounges. Bottom line: Northwest has abandoned the domestic and international membership levels it adopted several years ago. Now a single fee will offer access to all clubs worldwide. … Delta and Air France are expected to announce today that they have chosen "Skyteam" as the brand name for their new worldwide alliance. … Sabena launches nonstop flights between Dallas and Brussels on August 6. It has posted an introductory roundtrip fare of $468 until October 30. Tickets must be purchased by July 3. ... AT&T exited the U.S. frequent-flyer programs in a huff several years back and then suffered massive market-share losses to MCI. But now AT&T has finally bought its way back into the game and has joined Continental OnePass. … Taking a cue from the Starwood Preferred Guest plan, the Hyatt Gold Passport program has dropped blackout dates on its hotel awards. Capacity controls remain, however, unless you're on the Platinum or Diamond level. … Virgin Atlantic has extended a promotion that gives a Handspring personal digital assistant to premium-class passengers. The program now runs through September 30 for registered members (877-747-0123) of Virgin's frequent-flyer plan.

WEEKLY WONDER: A Wall Street Weekend for a Song
Last month I raved about the elegant new Regent hotel on Wall Street. Now the lovely oasis in the heart of American capitalism has slashed its weekend rate to just $200 a night through August. Or book a suite for only $315. Simply put, this is the best bargain in New York, a notoriously expensive hotel town even on the weekends. For reservations, call 212-845-8600.

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