The Tactical Traveler



This week: Beware confusion over hotel holiday rates; British airports face a series of one-day strikes in the next 45 days; Hilton Garden Inn adds free high-speed Internet access; frequent-travel plans drop bankrupt MCI as a partner; and the Homeland Security bill means less security for air travelers.

COUNTER INTELLIGENCE: It's the Silly Season for Hotel Rates
Holiday rates have kicked in at hotels around the nation and that isn't necessarily good news for price-conscious travelers. Although the rates themselves are great--up to 60 percent off standard prices in big-city properties and/or creative value-added promotions at resorts--the holiday deals create havoc with booking services, travel agents and even normally reliable hotel consolidators. Not all the outlets have all the end-of-season rates and that means you'll get room quotes that could vary by hundreds of dollars. If you're traveling between now and mid-January, do what Santa Claus does: make a list of hotel quotes and check it twice.

AIRPORT REPORT: British Airports Facing Holiday Chaos
A pay dispute between firefighters and security guards and the management of seven British airports may mean holiday chaos for travelers. Negotiations between the union and BAA, which operates London/Heathrow and six other airports, has broken down and employees have authorized a series of one-day strikes. The job actions are likely to close the two major London airports as well as London/Gatwick, London/Stansted, Southampton, Aberdeen, Glasgow and Edinburgh. The selected strike dates: November 28; December 2, 10, 15 and 23; and January 2, 2003. Plan accordingly. ... The Transportation Security Administration has deployed a group of federally trained private security screeners at San Francisco airport. San Francisco is one of five airports approved to test private security screeners who meet federal standards. ... The Federal Aviation Administration turned down the request of Sioux City airport to change its three-letter code. Sioux City's code: SUX.

IN THE LOBBY: Hotel News Need to Know
The fast-growing Hilton Garden Inn chain says all of its rooms will offer free high-speed Internet access by the end of next year. "It's already available free in 40 of our hotels," Hilton Garden Inn senior vice president Adrian Kurre recently told me. "All our new hotels will have it, too. We'll be switching the remaining properties [about 150] to free Internet access over the course of the year."... Wyndham Hotels has assumed management of the massive Crystal Palace Casino in Nassau, Bahamas. The hotel had most recently been operated under the Marriott flag. ... The Ritz-Carlton chain, which doesn't have a property in London, is now handling reservations for The Ritz, London. While you can now book the landmark London hotel through any standard Ritz-Carlton channel, it will remain privately owned, operated and managed. In other words, consider it code-sharing between a hotel chain and an independent hotel that just happen to share part of a name. ... Westin has opened a 735-room property in the planned community of Kierland, Arizona, located about 20 miles from Phoenix/Sky Harbor Airport.

MILES & POINTS: Airlines and Hotels Dump Bankrupt MCI
Mired in bankruptcy and scandal and unable to pay the bills for its mileage purchases, WorldCom and its MCI Long Distance subsidiary are being booted out of the frequency programs. American AAdvantage and Delta SkyMiles have replaced MCI with AT&T, while United Mileage Plus, another former MCI partner, has now aligned with Sprint. A fourth carrier, US Airlines, itself operating in Chapter 11, has petitioned the bankruptcy court to end the arrangement between MCI and Dividend Miles. For the moment, MCI remains in the Northwest WorldPerks and Southwest Rapid Rewards frequent-flyer programs and the Six Continents Priority Club Rewards frequent-stay plan. One mileage maven I spoke to this week suggested a novel approach for earning extra miles and points: Take MCI long-distance service to earn the bonus still being offered by Northwest, Southwest or Priority Club, then switch long-distance carriers and earn a second sign-up bonus when a new phone partner is announced. All of MCI's remaining partners "are rushing to get out of their contract," he said, "so it's a unique opportunity to pile up the bonuses."

SECURITY WATCH: Homeland Security Means Less Travel Security
The House of Representatives on Wednesday passed the bill authorizing formation of a cabinet-level Homeland Security Administration and that is lousy news for travelers. Why? A group of Republicans, led by Texas Rep. Tom DeLay, inserted a clause authorizing a one-year delay of the December 31 deadline to install explosive detection systems to screen all checked baggage. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) was ordered to install the bomb-screening devices at all commercial airports in last year's security bill, but the agency ran into stiff resistance from recalcitrant airport operators. Airports have been ducking baggage-screening deadlines for more than a decade and the loudest opponent of the current deadline has been the manager of Dallas/Fort Worth Airport. The TSA opposed extension of the deadline. But DeLay didn't stop at ensuring air travel will be less safe for another year. He also inserted a nifty bit of political pork in the bill: a vaguely worded clause that would make Texas A&M eligible for federal homeland security research funds. The Senate is scheduled to consider its version of the Homeland Security Administration bill next week.

This column originally appeared at

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