The Tactical Traveler



This week: airlines roll out February bargains for international travel; JetBlue is transforming fares and traffic in New York; Hilton expands its appealing Hilton Garden Inn chain; frequent flyers convicted of indiscretions are sentenced to (no kidding!) caning and flogging; major carriers contributed twice as much to Republicans as Democrats during the recent election campaign; and much more.

COUNTER INTELLIGENCE: Deals in the Doldrums
February is the slowest month of the year for business travel. Large segments of the leisure-travel market sit this month out, too. So what do airlines do during the February doldrums? Slash the dickens out of airfares. You've already missed one startling promotion--Northwest was selling business-class seats between Detroit and Rome for just $799 roundtrip--but other great deals abound. If you hurry, for example, carriers flying to London have their usual February miracle: Fly Wednesdays between February 14 and April 4 and one-way fares are as low as $99. Tickets must be purchased by the end of business today (February 8), however. Meanwhile, British Airways is offering a separate deal on its Chicago-London flights: Fly World Traveler Plus, BA's cabin with extra legroom and other amenities, and pay just $1,099 roundtrip. Travel is valid until April 30, but tickets must be purchased by February 28. And to promote its new nonstop service between Newark and Hong Kong, Continental has rolled out an astonishing fare: $289 one-way for travel Mondays through Thursdays in March. The fare is $389 for flights between April 1 and June 15. Tickets must be purchased by February 28.

ALTERNATE ITINERARY: Introducing the 'JetBlue Effect'
Everyone knows the Southwest Effect, the phenomenon where prices plummet and traffic booms whenever Southwest Airlines begins flying a route. Now there's also the JetBlue Effect, which is what happens when JetBlue Airways launches flights. According to a Transportation Department report issued last month, the JetBlue Effect can be seen in the New York-Buffalo market, one of JetBlue's first routes. Overall, traffic between New York and Buffalo soared 54 percent during last year's second quarter after JetBlue's arrival. Average one-way fares dropped 20 percent, from $143 to $115 each way. Half of JetBlue's customers at New York/Kennedy paid less than $75 each way and all of them paid less than $125. Most interesting, however, was JetBlue's effect on the existing carriers flying to Buffalo. Continental's Buffalo traffic from its Newark hub dropped 26 percent, but its fares increased an average of 23 percent. At New York/LaGuardia, US Airways' Buffalo traffic increased, but its fares dropped only 11 percent. And JetBlue's most direct Buffalo rival, American Airlines at Kennedy, got the best of all worlds: its overall traffic tripled, its average fare dropped by one third, and "American carried approximately the same number of passengers at fares above $125 after JetBlue's entry as it did before." The simple lesson here: More competition, not less, is better for passengers and for airlines.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Hilton Finds a Niche in the Garden
With less public attention than it probably wants, Hilton Hotels has been building an interesting new mid-priced lodging chain called Hilton Garden Inn. About 100 have opened since 1995 and another 100 are in the pipeline. Most are in the suburbs, but Hilton Garden Inns are now beginning to appear in center-city locations, too. After stays in a half-dozen Garden Inn outlets, I find Hilton's proposition of "focused service" quite appealing. Rooms are modestly furnished, but extremely well equipped: a workdesk and an ergonomic desk chair; adjustable lighting; desk-height electrical outlets; two-line phones with dataports; and high-speed Internet access. They also have a microwave oven, coffeemaker, refrigerator and room-service dining. The hotels all have a bar, casual restaurant, fitness room, pool and a functional, 24-hour business center/computer room. Best of all, a Pavilion Pantry is located in the hotel lobby; it operates 24 hours a day and sells sundries, beverages, snacks and an array of packaged, refrigerated and frozen, microwavable foods. "You're able to get yourself a meal or a snack day or night," explains Bill Fortier, Hilton's senior vice president of franchise development. "Guests love coming down to the lobby, grabbing a bag of popcorn and microwaving it in their rooms," he adds. Depending on location, nightly rates at Hilton Garden Inns range from $75-$150.

LEGAL BRIEFS: Corporal Punishment for Unruly Frequent Flyers
This has been a very bad week for naughty flyers. This from Saudi Arabia: A court sentenced a man to be flogged for using his mobile phone during a flight. The traveler refused a flight attendant's request not to use his phone during a domestic Saudia Arabian flight and the court ruled he would receive 70 lashes for the infraction. Meanwhile, in Singapore, a 27-year-old computer engineer faces caning for groping a sleeping woman during a flight. According to testimony, the man twice accosted the woman in the seat next to him last year during a Singapore Airlines flight to San Francisco. The court sentenced him to three strokes of the cane and one year in prison. The defendant says he will appeal.

ON THE FLY: Business-Travel News You Need to Know
All the major, full-service airlines now charge $100 for voluntary changes to nonrefundable tickets. This includes American, which first raised its fee to $90, then hiked it to $100 after other carriers matched Continental, which initiated the $100 charge two weeks ago. Keep this in mind if the Bush Administration's Justice Department approves any or all of the pending airline mergers. According to figures obtained by Aviation Daily, the major carriers contributed more than $175,000 to George W. Bush's campaign, but only $60,000 to defeated Democratic candidate Al Gore. Soft-money donations by the airlines went to Republican causes in roughly the same ratio. After sporadic complaints about the B-777 from airlines and passengers, Boeing says it would recommend some operational changes. Passengers and cabin crews flying the so-called "triple seven" have complained of motion sickness, dizziness, and high temperatures. Experts claim that air-circulation patterns on the planes are inefficient.

This column originally appeared at

Copyright 1993-2004 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.