The Tactical Traveler



Travel prices head up--and down; avoid Salt Lake Airport during the Olympics; American declares war on JetBlue; Canada gets more international flights; Diners Club taxes frequent-flyer mileage transfers; and much more.

COUNTER INTELLIGENCE: Are Travel Prices Up or Down? Yes
You’ve probably seen the alarming reports in the mainstream media about a sharp upward spike in travel prices. Then again, you’ve also seen stories touting great bargains due to continued weakness in airline traffic and sluggish hotel bookings. Which of these diametrically opposed scenarios is actually true? Well, both and neither. In point of fact, travel prices are all over the map. Airlines, hotels and car-rental firms are acting tactically and locally rather than strategically and nationally. “We remain in desperation mode,” one airline pricing chief admitted this week. “Wherever things look strong, we’ll slip in a price increase. And wherever and whenever things look terrible, we cut. We’re going market-by-market, day-by-day. There’s no master plan, that’s for sure.”

AIRPORT REPORT: Avoid Salt Lake During the Olympics
How tight is the security going to be at Salt Lake International during the Winter Olympic Games, which open today, February 8? “Slightly to the right of Fascist,” one Utah politician told me. He was kidding--but not very much. Hundreds of flights, mostly operated by Delta into its Salt Lake hub, have already been shuffled to accommodate security blackouts imposed on the airport. More service may be diverted or changed during the run of the Games, which are scheduled to end February 24. On the ground, passengers changing planes or departing from Salt Lake will face rigorous security checks. My best advice: Unless you’re visiting the Games, avoid Salt Lake completely. And do anything you can to ensure you are not booked on a connecting flight through the airport during the next three weeks.

ALTERNATE AGENDA: American Comes After JetBlue
The meteoric, two-year rise of JetBlue Airways faces its first stiff test now that the biggest, smartest, nastiest boys in the skies, American Airlines, have decided that JetBlue has gotten too big for its transcontinental britches. All of a sudden, and despite crippling recent transcon losses, American feels the need to launch two new routes: New York/Kennedy-Oakland and Kennedy-Los Angeles/Ontario. American has virtually no feeder service at those two California airports, so what’s the appeal? How about the stunning success of JetBlue on those two exact routes? And while American stoutly insists it isn’t targeting JetBlue--it also claimed it never attacked Braniff, Vanguard, Legend and more alternate carriers than most of us can remember--American is coincidentally matching JetBlue’s cheap, one-way, walk-up fares and its low ticket-change fees. American’s two daily Oakland nonstops launch March 2; its Ontario flights begin July 2. JetBlue isn’t standing still under the barrage, however. It had previously announced a third daily JFK-Oakland flight beginning March 10. On Thursday, it went further, announcing a fourth nonstop beginning May 8. And last week, JetBlue announced it would launch two daily flights on the JFK-San Juan route beginning May 30. That route has been a lucrative American monopoly ever since it acquired TWA last year.

CYBERTRAVELER: We’re Not Alone Out There
We’re not alone out there in Cyberspace. Case in point: Bob’s Internet Travel Tips, operated by frequent flyer Robert Cowen. He publishes a newsletter, contributes weekly tips to a Detroit radio station, teaches courses on smart travel and stocks his site with a treasure trove of excellent strategies and tactics for a better life on the road. Definitely worth a surf!

INTERNATIONAL ITINERARY: Canada Gets More Europe Links
Austrian Airlines will restart its Toronto-Vienna service and launch Montreal-Vienna flights on May 1. Austrian will fly each nonstop route three times weekly using two-class Boeing 767s operated by its Lauda Air subsidiary. … Air Canada will start daily Toronto-Dublin flights on June 1. The flights from Toronto will operate nonstop to Dublin; the Dublin flights will make a stop at Shannon en route to Toronto. … Word to the wise: Delta Air Lines will begin putting its code on China Airlines flights to Taipei this spring. Many travelers have avoided China Airlines after a series of fatal crashes in recent years.

MILES & POINTS: Diners Club Starts a Taxing Situation
Diners Club, best known in the United States for its extremely lucrative and flexible Club Rewards plan, has decided to pass along the federal frequent-flyer tax it pays when it buys miles from the airlines. Effective February 1, Diners Club will charge you 95 cents for every 2,000 Club Reward points you exchange for frequent-flyer miles. … The next question is whether American Express will now impose a similar fee on frequent-flyer exchanges from its Membership Miles program. The answer? “It won’t be long,” one Amex executive said earlier this week.

This column originally appeared at

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