The Tactical Traveler

FOR MARCH 13 TO MARCH 20, 2003


This week: Big-city hotels are now discounting aggressively; Delta bails on Dallas Love Field; the Euro's rise dents U.S. traveler's wallets; Air Canada and Lufthansa expand on transatlantic routes; AirTran adds an elite level to its frequent-flyer plan; and much more.

COUNTER INTELLIGENCE: Now's the Time for Hotel Bargaining
The impending war with Iraq, a lagging economy and an endless stream of new properties has taken its toll on the nation's hotels, especially full-service properties in big business cities. The result: Massive discounting and big discounts for travelers willing to bargain, haggle and comb the various distribution channels for the best deals. Besides flat-out rate cuts, hotels are offering a variety of value-added deals, including free use of in-room, high-speed Internet access, free or discounted meals in the hotel restaurant, free parking and free upgrades to the concierge floors. How aggressive are the deals? "Let's just say I'm listening to all offers," says the general manager of one New York hotel that previously shunned discounting. "I've got [occupancy] numbers to hit and, at this point, I'll let my daily rate suffer to make it happen."

AIRPORT REPORT: Delta Bails on Dallas/Love Field
Delta Air Lines, which may finally understand that it can't compete with American and Southwest airlines in Dallas, continues to pull down service at the city's two airports. It has already announced that it will downgrade most of its flights at Dallas/Fort Worth to regional-jet service. And now it says that its Delta Connection commuter carrier will drop flights between Dallas/Love and its Atlanta hub. Last flight out is May 31. ... Austin, Texas, got nonstop service to Mexico last week when Mexicana launched two weekly nonstops to both Mexico City and Cancun. ... Wilmington, North Carolina, gets a nonstop flight to New York/LaGuardia on May 4 when US Airways Express carrier Mesa Air launches daily, 50-seat regional-jet service. ... British Airways shifts its two daily London-Moscow flights to Domodedevo Airport on July 1. The service currently uses the much-despised Sheremetyevo Airport.

CYBERTRAVELER: What's New on the Web
Bill McGee, the last editor of the now-defunct Consumer Reports Travel Letter, has launched a column for ... Aeroflot Russian Airlines is trying to escape its Soviet-era image as the flying embodiment of Stalinism. The latest move: new aircraft livery. I don't know why, but it reminds me of Delta's paint job. ... Speaking of Delta Air Lines, an enraged passenger has opened a site called Boycott Delta. It decries Delta's decision to become the first airline to test the Transportation Security Administration's intrusive new CAPPS II security regimen, which does a "threat assessment" on all passengers. ... Who says there's no free lunch on the Web anymore? will give you 250 free business cards if you pay a small handling charge and accept a discreet VistaPrint ad on the back of your card. ... Think Hooters Air is crude? Check out Viking's Exotic Resort in the Dominican Republic. The all-inclusive rates include some novel and distressing frills.

DOLLAR WATCH: The Euro Pounds the Once-Almighty Dollar
Ah, for the days when the strong dollar meant that the Euro was selling for about 85 cents and rooms, meals and cab rides were cheap all over the Euro Zone. But this week the Euro briefly hit $1.10 against the once-almighty dollar before settling back on Thursday to $1.08. Last year at this time, the Euro was selling for about 92 cents. To add insult to financial injury, Runzheimer International is reporting that the three most costly cities in the world for business travelers are all in Europe, but outside the Euro currency zone. Atop the list is London, where Runzheimer says you need $498 to cover three meals and a night's lodging. Next comes Geneva at $410 and then Moscow at $407. New York comes in fourth at $401 a day, followed by Amsterdam, a Euro Zone city, at $393.

INTERNATIONAL ITINERARY: The Star Alliance Picks Up United's Slack
As United Airlines continues to hemorrhage cash, Star Alliance partners Air Canada and Lufthansa are filling the international gap. Lufthansa is expanding its all-business-class experiment, launched last year on the Newark-Dusseldorf route, to two additional markets. Beginning May 19, the German carrier will fly 48-seat business jets between Newark and Munich. On June 9, the service will expand to the Chicago/O'Hare-Dusseldorf route. Lufthansa's 48-seat jets are operated by PrivatAir, a Swiss charter firm that specializes in corporate jets. Also on May 19, Lufthansa will launch Montreal-Munich flights using Airbus A340 aircraft configured with traditional first, business, and coach classes. ... Meanwhile, Air Canada will launch daily nonstop service between Toronto and Copenhagen on May 27. The Boeing 767 flights will operate until October 24. Also on the summer schedule: service between Montreal and Rome and between Montreal and Beirut. The Rome flights will operate four times weekly with Boeing 767s between June 18 and October 15. Beirut flights using Boeing 767s will operate thrice weekly between June 13 and October 14.

MILES & POINTS: American Finally Automates Award Redemption
Years behind other major carriers, American Airlines has finally fully automated reward redemption for American AAdvantage members. Travelers can now book free tickets in any class across the entire American network at the Web site. ... British Airways has infuriated members of its Executive Club by reducing the value of discounted airfares. Beginning July 1, discounted fares are only worth 25 percent of the mileage flown. ... Look for a major revamp of the AirTran A-Plus program next month. The major change: the airline's first-ever elite level. The tier will offer free upgrades, priority check-in and boarding privileges and the waiver of change fees on some fares.

This column originally appeared at

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