The Tactical Traveler



This week: the miserable economics of buying or transferring miles; America West bucks the big boys on use-it-or-lose-it tickets; USA Today launches a daily travel newsletter; Four Seasons opens a tiny hotel in Tokyo and a Hilton Garden Inn opens in the Napa Valley; Delta is charging for booze in international coach; Hertz says there is no such thing as free miles; hotel bedtime stories by phone; and much more.

COUNTER INTELLIGENCE: Frequent-Flyer Plan Stupidity by the Numbers
Over and over, the experts tell you that the airlines' "buy miles" and "transfer miles" plans are ludicrously overpriced. And here's a vivid example of the miserable economics of buying or transferring miles. American Airlines recently announced a "shareAAmiles" program. So let's say you want to transfer 10,000 miles from one American AAdvantage account to another. American charges $100 for the transfer and a $25 transaction fee. That's 1.25 cents per mile. (And let's not forget that you've already paid to earn the miles you're paying to transfer.) Then there's American's "buyAAmiles" plan. If you buy 10,000 AAdvantage miles, you'll pay $250, $18.75 in federal excise taxes and a $25 transaction fee. In other words, $293.75 or 2.93 cents per mile. But I visited on Thursday afternoon and saw American selling a Los Angeles-London/Heathrow roundtrip fare of $445.40 including taxes. The roundtrip earns a total of 10,912 miles. That works out to just 4.08 cents per mile--and you get the Los Angeles-London roundtrip as part of the bargain. Best of all, those 10,912 flown miles represent almost half the 25,000 miles you need to reach American's Gold elite status. The purchased or transferred miles contribute nothing toward elite status.

ALTERNATE ARRANGEMENTS: America West Says 'No' To More Fees
America West, which finally seems to be rebounding from a long, long period of miserable operations, is also putting more fare distance between itself and the other major carriers. Earlier this year, it simplified fares by eliminating Saturday-night stays and lowering walk-up prices. It then survived a brutal and punitive response from most of the Big Six after launching the new fare structure. It also continues to allow travel agents to issue paper tickets without a ticketing fee. And this week America West announced it would not match the Big Six's new "use it or lose it" policies. Travelers will continue to be able to stand by without a fee and unused tickets will retain their value for a year after the original ticketing date.

CYBERTRAVELER: USA Today Launches a Daily Travel Newsletter
More than any other newspaper in America, USA Today covers life on the road. Moreover, the paper's recently redesigned travel site augments the print edition with business-travel columns and a constantly updated road report called Today in the Sky. How do you keep up with all this useful material? Easily enough now that the paper has launched a free, daily E-mail newsletter that offers links to all the relevant stories. Sign up at the paper's newsletter center and be sure to click the travel box.

IN THE LOBBY: Four Seasons Gets Small in Tokyo
Four Seasons has opened its second hotel in Tokyo and this one is a 57-room boutique property in Pacific Century Place Maunouchi. That's within walking distance of the Ginza, the Imperial Palace and Tokyo Station, which is the terminal for the high-speed trains to Narita Airport. ... Hilton Garden Inns, Hilton's well-regarded limited-service chain, has grown to 150 properties. Most notable new addition: an 80-room property on Solano Avenue in Napa, California. ... I've mentioned Geektels before. It's the only centralized place for finding hotels that offer in-room high-speed access. It isn't perfect, and it seems unable to keep pace with the rapidly changing landscape of in-room access, but it's a good place to start.

INTERNATIONAL ITINERARY: Delta Now Charges for Booze
Starting Tuesday, October 15, Delta Air Lines will charge $4 for alcoholic beverages in coach on its transatlantic, transpacific, Brazilian and Chilean routes. Next March, the airline will extend the charge to the remainder of its Latin American routes. ... The rumble from Down Under is that Qantas will take a large equity stake in financially shaky Air New Zealand. Logical date for the announcement: Air New Zealand's annual meeting on October 29. ... South African Airlines is reinstating daily service between New York/Kennedy and Johannesburg on December 1. Beginning January 8, two of the flights each week will operate via Dakar, Senegal. SAA uses three-class 747-400s on the routes. ... Taca will launch nonstop service between Chicago/O'Hare and Guatemala City next month. There will be three weekly nonstops, although the airline says it will fly four times per week from December 9 to January 14.

MILES & POINTS: Frequent-Travel Plan News You Need to Know
Want to know exactly how cynical airline code-share programs are? Consider this week's announcement from United and US Airways, the bumbling brothers who are now allies in a new code-share. The carriers announced travelers would earn miles on either airline's flights beginning November 1. On January 1, flights on either carrier will qualify toward elite status. But when, and at what mileage levels, can travelers claim awards from either carrier's programs? United and US Airways say they'll get back to you on that one. In other words, fly us now and we'll let you know what, if anything, you can buy later. ... Delta Air Lines has dumped MCI as its long-distance partner and linked up with AT&T. MCI users can continue to earn Delta SkyMiles until February 28. ... Hertz is telling its renters--if you read the very fine print--that there is no such thing as free miles. It now charges a 50-cent-per-day surcharge--and as much as $2 a rental--if you choose to earn miles with its airline partners.

THE PARTING SHOT: Bedtime Stories by Phone
I love this one: The Royal Garden Hotel, a 400-room, high-rise property at the edge of Hyde Park in London, has launched a "bedtime story" program. The hotel's concierge keeps a stock of popular children's books so business travelers can phone home and read their kids a bedtime story.

This column originally appeared at

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