The Tactical Traveler

FOR MAY 8 TO MAY 15, 2003


This week: Travelers, not the airlines, get the benefit of the upcoming security-tax holiday; Delta slashes Atlanta-LAX fares to compete with JetBlue and AirTran; Song still posts no compli-ments and gets another bad review; the strange saga of the hotel at 614 Canal Street in New Orleans; American jacks the paper-ticket fee to $50; and much more.

COUNTER INTELLIGENCE: The Security-Tax Holiday Belongs to Us
One of the terms of Airline Bailout II, the $3.5-billion, taxpayer-funded boondoggle appended to the Iraq War appropriations bill, is a tax holiday that suspends the $2.50 per segment security surcharge. The airlines tried to claim that they paid the fees, which would have allowed them to collect the security charge from us and then pocket the funds. But after some initial confusion, this bit of shameless airline spin has been ignored. The agencies and clearing houses that deal with airline tickets all agree: You cannot be charged the security fee on any ticket purchases you make between June 1 and September 30, the tax-holiday period. At least this is one bit of the bailout that the airlines didn't get their greedy, grimy corporate hands on.

ALTERNATE AGENDA: Delta Climbs Down on Atlanta-LAX Fares
Faced with new competition from JetBlue Airways and AirTran Airways on flights between Los Angeles and Atlanta, Delta Air Lines has begun slashing fares. Before the competition arrived--JetBlue launched flights between its Long Beach hub and Atlanta today (May 8) and AirTran service between Atlanta and LAX begins next month--Delta's walk-up fares on the route were more than $2,000. This week, walk-up fares as low as $600 were appearing in Delta's computers. The fares are capacity controlled and nonrefundable, however. ... ATA Airlines says it will launch four daily roundtrips between its hub at Chicago/Midway and Pittsburgh on June 1. Introductory fares start at $138 roundtrip and must be purchased by May 21. ... Aloha Airlines is hoping to launch a daily nonstop flight between John Wayne/Orange County and Keahole/Kona on the Big Island of Hawaii. Subject to regulatory approval at Orange County, the Boeing 737 flights will begin on July 2. An introductory fare of $399 is available for flights in July.

CYBERTRAVELER: No One Loves Song; Everyone Hates
We've been wondering for several weeks now why Song, Delta's new low-fare carrier, hasn't gotten around to posting any kudos on its Compliments page. But Song is now in its fourth week of flying and there are still no compliments to be found, so it's getting hard to avoid the obvious conclusion: No one likes Song. I mean, do you have an alternate explanation? ... Meanwhile, here's another reason to hate, the overhyped, overbearing Web site that never seems to deliver on its claim of low hotel rates. A detailed new report from the Web arm of Consumer Reports debunks's claims and concludes that the site almost never offers the lowest rate. In the organization's tests, Travelocity fared best, finding the lowest nightly rate 29 percent of the time. Orbitz and Expedia also fared better than

IN THE LOBBY: The Tangled Tale of the Hotel at 614 Canal Street
For almost 20 years, the 494-room hotel at 614 Canal Street in New Orleans was managed by Le Meridien. But now it gets complicated, so pay attention because this is a one-building primer on the depressing state of modern lodging. After Le Meridien was sold again in 2001--the hotel-management firm was once part of Air France and then a unit of a British conglomerate--the owners of 614 Canal Street, a company called LaSalle Hotel Properties, decided to invoke the change-of-control clause in Meridien's contract. Last year, it tried to bring in Westin to manage the hotel, but Meridien refused to vacate the building. Lawsuits ensued. LaSalle won the right to change management, but an arbitration panel ruled last December that it had to pay $5.4 million to Meridien to cover the market value of the lease. LaSalle then brought in an independent management firm and 614 Canal was rebranded as the New Orleans Grande Hotel on December 20. Now here's where it gets really complicated. Sometime this year, LaSalle began negotiating to sell 614 Canal Street to Marriott and Marriott planned to rename it the JW Marriott New Orleans. Marriott even announced the property on its Web site. But those plans drew a lawsuit from a firm called Whitehouse, which owns the building that houses the Ritz-Carlton New Orleans. Ritz Carlton is a subsidiary of Marriott and Whitehouse claims that Marriott had a financial conflict of interest. Marriott removed 614 Canal Street from its Web site. Late last month, however, LaSalle sold 614 Canal Street to CNL Hospitality for $91.5 million. And even though CNL has a close relationship with Hilton Hotels, Marriott is now managing the hotel because Whitehouse has lost several legal motions. And 614 Canal Street is back on the Marriott Web site as the JW Marriott. The good news: This was the condensed version and I think I got all the facts right.

ON THE FLY: Business-Travel News You Need to Know
American Airlines now charges $50 for paper tickets--and it won't even sell you a paper ticket on any domestic route that qualifies for an electronic ticket. ... The 565-room Millenium Hilton, located across the street from Ground Zero, reopened in Lower Manhattan this week. It was the last of three hotels damaged in the September 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center to reopen. A fourth, the Marriott World Trade Center Hotel, was destroyed. ... Minneapolis Airport now offers wireless Internet access on five concourses, in all airline lounges, in the Northstar Crossing concessions area and in the Grieve Conference Center. ... America West Express, which is operated by Mesa Airlines, is the first carrier to operate the CRJ900, an 80-seat regional jet. Configured with six first-class and 74 coach seats, the jets fly on routes from America West's Phoenix hub to Los Angeles and Long Beach, California, and El Paso, Texas. ... Las Vegas has all but disappeared from the route maps of Asian carriers. Singapore Airlines has dropped its three weekly flights form Las Vegas to Hong Kong and Japan Airlines has dropped nine of its 13 weekly flights from Las Vegas to Japan.

This column originally appeared at

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