The Tactical Traveler



This week: Travel-agent fees soar; low-fare carriers add routes; airports continue to suffer security-related upheavals; how to find hotels with high-speed access; airlines load up on overseas flights; United continues its financial follies; and much more.

COUNTER INTELLIGENCE: Travel Agents Ask You to Dig Deeper
As expected, the mainline carriersí decision to eliminate the commission they pay to most travel agents is translating into a fare increase for travelers. Thatís because travel agents have moved quickly during the last two weeks to increase the service fees they charge to write tickets. Fees, which had been hovering around $20 a ticket, are now closer to $40 at most agencies. Some agents told me this week that they are charging $50 or $60 per ticket. And a few agents have imposed a 10 percent service fee (with a maximum charge of $100) on every ticket they write.

ALTERNATE ARRANGEMENTS: More Low-Fare Options Are Coming
For travelers who are justifiably fed up with the antics of the money-losing, tax-sucking, fare-gouging mainline carriers, here are some new flight options from the nationís low-fare carriers. ... On May 23, National Airlines will add three daily flights from its Las Vegas hub to Seattle. ... Spirit Airlines is also expanding on May 23. It will add nonstop flights from Detroit/Metro to Oakland and Fort Lauderdale. AirTran is expanding into Milwaukee by offering nonstop flights to four destinations. Beginning June 19, it will launch three daily flights to its Atlanta hub and a daily nonstop to Orlando. It will add a daily nonstop to Tampa on October 6 and a daily nonstop to Fort Lauderdale on November 5.

AIRPORT REPORT: The Annals of Security
Security maneuvering since September 11 continues to cause turmoil at the airports. Here are the latest changes of note. ... Delta and Northwest now demand domestic passengers be checked in and at the gate 15 minutes before departure. The previous standard was 10 minutes. Delta is further requiring that international passengers be at the gate 45 minutes before departure. ... The National Guard will be leaving the nationís airports now that the Transportation Security Administration has ordered them replaced with uniformed local police. Airports have until April 30 to make the transition. ... A controversial C$24 (about US$14) roundtrip security fee went into affect at Canadian airports on Monday. ... Also on Monday, new security surcharges went into effect at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam. The fee is Ä4.40 (about US$3.80) for passengers boarding in Amsterdam and Ä1.60 (about US$1.40) for transit passengers. ... Beginning May 1, Hong Kong will impose a HK$13 (about US$1.75) security surcharge on departing passengers.

CYBERTRAVELER: In Search of High-Speed Hotel Access
These are tough times for road warriors who make their lodging decisions based on the availability of high-speed access in their hotel rooms. The disappearance of several high-speed providers has actually reduced the number of U.S. hotel rooms outfitted with speedy wired or wireless access. And you've probably already figured out that the Internet isn't too much help. Most hotel chains don't have a high-speed directory page and there isn't a comprehensive, centralized hotel locator anywhere on the Net. The largest, GeekTools, only lists about 2,000 locations. Your next best option is to check with the high-speed access providers themselves since several have placed hotel locators on their own sites. These include: Wayport; STSN; iNET; Lodgenet; MobileStar; Nicom; and Guest-Tek.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: The Fiduciary Follies Continue at United
Youíre United Airlines. Youíve lost money for six consecutive quarters, including a mind-boggling loss of $2.1 billion last year. Youíre going to lose money in 2002 and are about to announce a gigantic first-quarter loss. How can you piss away such huge sums? Well, here are two ways. After months of denying the obvious--that no sane corporation would buy fractional-jet service from an airline that couldnít run its scheduled operation--United has shuttered its Avolar corporate-jet subsidiary. It spent an estimated $100 million on the start-up, but the subsidiary closed without ever carrying a passenger. United said it would take a $45 to $55 million first-quarter charge to account for the shutdown. Separately, in a proxy filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, United said it spent $5.7 million last year to rid itself of former chief executive James Goodwin, the man who created Avolar, pursued the unsuccessful merger with US Airways, and destroyed the airlineís operating efficiency in 2000 before caving in to record salary demands of the airlineís pilots. The $5.7 million went to buy out the remaining three years of Goodwinís contract and included about $204,000 for unused vacation time, $100,000 for life-insurance premiums, $14,000 for financial-advisory services and another $14,000 in club memberships. Oh, by the way, the $5.7 million package did not include the additional $1.5 million Goodwin earned in salary and bonuses in 2001.

INTERNATIONAL ITINERARY: A Raft of New Flights...But Why?
International traffic continues to lag far behind last yearís pace--and year-over-year fares are dramatically lower in most markets--yet airlines are continuing to restore or introduce overseas flights. Iíve given up trying to figure out why, so Iíll just run down the new services. British Airways launched a daily morning nonstop between Washington/Dulles and London/Heathrow on Sunday. That brings its Washington-London service to three daily flights and restores BAís U.S. flight capacity to within 5 percent of its pre-September 11 level. Delta launched daily Atlanta-Milan flights on Monday. ... Air France begins daily nonstop service from Cincinnati to Paris/DeGaulle on April 15. ... Finnair resumes daily flights between New York/Kennedy and Helsinki next week; it had been operating five flights weekly since September 11. ... Over the next three months, US Airways will restore all its transatlantic service curtailed after September 11. ... Cathay Pacific is adding flights to its Hong Kong hub from both Los Angeles and Vancouver on June 1. ... Speaking of Hong Kong, Singapore Airlines will launch three weekly flights between Las Vegas and Hong Kong on August 2.

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