The Tactical Traveler

FOR DECEMBER 12 TO 19, 2002


This week: Delta slashes SkyMiles elite benefits; British unions lift their holiday strike threat at London airports; hotels are changing brand names and chain flags with startling rapidity; American raises checked-baggage fees; United drops the $100 standby fee and says it will revive its West Coast Shuttle; and much more.

COUNTER INTELLIGENCE: Delta Slashes Benefits of Its Elite Program
The news is buried beneath a hurricane of obscure verbiage, a maze of misdirection and an infuriatingly dense collection of Web pages, but Delta slashed your SkyMiles Medallion benefits on Wednesday. Among the changes, some of which become effective as early as January 1: higher prices for upgrades, elimination of some types of upgrades and an entirely new basis for awarding elite status. Medallion status is now based on dollars spent, not just miles flown. The lowest-fare tickets now only count for one-half their flown miles toward elite credit. Full-fare first-class and business-class tickets are credited for double their flown miles toward Medallion status. Some discounted coach fares are credited on a mile for-mile-basis. Full-fare coach tickets count for 1.5 times their actual flown miles. Bottom line: Delta management is telling you that the frequency of your flying doesn't matter to them, only the amount you spend on each trip. It's also another ham-fisted attempt to force frequent flyers to buy higher-priced fares.

AIRPORT REPORT: British Airports Dodge a Strike Bullet
Travelers headed to London for the holidays can breathe easy. British labor unions suspended a threatened series of one-day strikes. The strikes would have closed the airports. ... A 174-unit Embassy Suites hotel has opened at 7001 Yampa Street, five miles from Denver International Airport. ... The fatal test run of the AirTrain at New York/Kennedy Airport on September 27 means the $1.9 billion system will be delayed indefinitely. ... Speaking of New York, car-rental firms in the state have won the battle to sell collision-damage waivers (CDW) as an optional add-on charge. That means rentals at New York airports will no longer include CDW coverage as part of the base rental price. ... Frankfurt Airport, Europe's busiest airport and a major hub for Lufthansa and the Star Alliance, says it will build a third passenger terminal. It should begin operating by 2007.

IN THE LOBBY: Welcome to the Velcro Hotels
Pay attention, folks, because hotels are changing names and brand affiliations faster than ever. In fact, I'm checking on a rumor that hotel brand names are now affixed to the sides of buildings with Velcro. ... Checkers Hotel, one of downtown Los Angeles' few business-class properties, has been rebranded as the Hilton Checkers Los Angeles. The 188-room hotel has recently been operating as a Wyndham and it opened as a Kempinski. ... The 415-room Monarch Hotel in the District of Columbia's West End has become the Fairmont Washington. The 415-room property has also been operated as the ANA Washington and as a Westin. ... Fairmont is also taking over Orchids at the Mauna Lani resort on the Big Island of Hawaii. That property opened as the Ritz-Carlton and has been marketed as a Sheraton and as part of Starwood's Luxury Collection. ... The two-year-old Our Lucaya Resort on Grand Bahama Islands is splitting into two properties. In February, the 519-room Reef Village will be marketed as the Sheraton at Our Lucaya. The two other components of the property, Lighthouse Pointe and Breakers Cay, will become the 751-room Westin at Our Lucaya.

ON THE FLY: Business-Travel News You Need to Know now charges a $5 booking fee for each airline ticket purchased. ... American Airlines has joined Northwest in raising baggage fees. Effective December 15, the free checked-bag allowance has been reduced to 50 pounds per bag. Bags weighing between 51 and 70 pounds will cost $25. ... Northwest and Delta now permit their electronic tickets to be used on either carrier. Northwest also permits E-tix interlining with Continental, American and United. Delta has an E-tix interlining deal with United. ... Speaking of E-tix, Air Canada says it will eliminate all paper tickets next year. ... Effective June 1, the Transportation Department will require major carriers to report the causes of flight delays and cancellations for inclusion in the monthly Air Travel Consumer Report.

UNITED WATCH: A Good Idea, Then the Other Shoe Drops
United's first service announcement after Monday's bankruptcy filing was a brilliant move: The airline dropped its plans to charge travelers $100 for same-day standbys. The policy was due to go into effect on January 1, but someone at United realized the airline might win back some passenger loyalty if it bucked the Big Six's trend of making travel more complicated and costly. ... United's next announcement revealed an incredible blunder. Chief executive Glenn Tilton said he would revive Shuttle by United, the disastrous West Coast operation the airline abandoned shortly after 9/11. Memo to Glenn: Check this San Francisco Chronicle piece from last May to see the shambles your predecessors made of the shuttle service. ... In case you missed this little tidbit from the bankruptcy filing: United's cash burn in December is expected to be at least $20 million a day. ... Want to dip into some of court documents concerning the bankruptcy? Click here.

THE PARTING SHOT: Britain Goes to the Dogs--and Cats
Here's good news for pet-loving travelers: Dogs and cats are now allowed to enter Britain without enduring a six-month quarantine.

This column originally appeared at

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