The Tactical Traveler

FOR MAY 15 TO MAY 29, 2003


In this special report: The dollar's plunge means international travel will be much more costly this summer; Detroit/Metro gets more food options and Philadelphia gets a Laptop Lane; somebody finally loves Song; Air Canada is grounding planes and slashing routes to the United States; Hertz adds the Prestige Collection at five more airports; Wyndham loses 27 hotels; and more.

COUNTER INTELLIGENCE: Maybe We Should Start Paying in Doubloons
It's been another humiliating week for the U.S. dollar on foreign-exchange markets and that means the cost of international travel continues to spike upward. Even after a furious rally today (May 15), the dollar remains near recent lows against all major currencies. It is buying just 116 Japanese yen, near a two-year low. The Australian and New Zealand dollars, which were trading as low as 50 U.S. cents in recent years, are now fetching about 65 U.S. cents. The Euro is commanding about US$1.14, meaning the dollar has lost about 25 percent of its buying power in Euroland during the last year or so. The Canadian loonie has surged above 70 U.S. cents for the first time in almost five years, making Canada about 15 per cent more expensive than last year for U.S. visitors. The Mexican peso has gained about 10 percent in value against the dollar in 60 days. And the dollar continues to scrape along against the British pound, buying just 61 pence. "Travelers expecting a bon-anza thanks to low international airfares will be disappointed," one currency expert told me. "Anything they may save [on fares] will be more than offset by very much higher prices at their destination."

AIRPORT REPORT: New Food, New Services and Old Problems
The 15-month-old Northwest World Gateway Terminal at Detroit/Metro is slowly filling out its roster of food and beverage outlets. New this week: a branch of the Chili's chain, two outlets of the local National Coney Island group and Slapshotz, a hockey-themed bar and grill. ... A Laptop Lane has opened at Philadelphia International airport. The facility, which rents fully equipped office cubicles by the minute, is located on the upper level between Terminals A and B. ... Hertz has expanded its Prestige Collection service to five more airports: Cleveland; Charlotte; Albuquerque; Jacksonville, Florida; and Portland, Oregon. The service rents model-specific upscale automobiles such as Jaguars, Volvos, Land Rovers and Thunderbirds. ... Two international airlines are moving at New York/Kennedy airport. Avianca has relocated to Terminal 4, the airport's new international terminal, and All Nippon is moving to Terminal 7 on June 1. ... The Washington Post reported this week that five large airports have lost their federal security directors in recent weeks. Many of the departed, discouraged security directors said interference from the airlines made their jobs impossible. Gee, what a surprise.

CYBERTRAVELER: Somebody Finally Loves Song
A month after it started flying, Song, Delta's latest low-fare venture, has finally scared up some kudos for its Compliments page. As of 10 p.m. today (May 15), Song has managed to post three notes telling it how great it is.

INTERNATIONAL ITINERARY: Air Canada Plans Huge Service Cuts
Bankrupt Air Canada is grounding 40 planes and slashing routes to Asia and the United States. Among the casualties: flights from Toronto to New Orleans and Tokyo; Calgary to Chicago; Vancouver to Nagoya, Japan; and all service to Dayton, Ohio, and Grand Rapids, Michigan. ... US Airways and Lufthansa say they will begin code-sharing soon. It's the next step in US Airways' plan to join the Star Alliance, which is dominated by Lufthansa and United Airlines, US Airways' domestic code-share partner. ... Code-share partners Northwest Airlines and KLM Royal Dutch say they will begin interlining on transatlantic electronic tickets next month. ... BWIA and LIAT, two struggling carriers based in the Caribbean, will merge next month. ... Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific has succeeded in its decade-long quest to resume flights to mainland China. The Chinese government is permitting the airline to fly to Shanghai, Beijing and Xiamen. Of course, given the fact that the SARS epidemic has devastated traffic in China and Hong Kong, it looks like a Pyrrhic victory for Cathay.

IN THE LOBBY: Wyndham, The Amazing, Disappearing Hotel Chain
Burdened with massive debt, chaotic corporate management systems and the lack of a major frequency program, Wyndham Hotels has taken another big hit. After a spat with one of its primary property owners, the chain has lost control of a dozen Wyndham hotels and 15 Summerfield Suites, the company's all-suite brand. The hotels' owner, Hospitality Properties Trust, claims Wyndham didn't pay its rent. At the moment, the Wyndhams are being managed by a division of the Spanish hotel company Barcelo and the Summerfields are now managed by Candlewood, another all-suite chain. The 27 hotels are still being marketed as Wyndham and Summerfield hotels, but that may change in the coming weeks. ... The 380-room Grand Hyatt Tokyo has opened in the Roppongi Hills neighborhood. ... A 248-unit Embassy Suites has opened in Rogers, Arkansas, a few minutes from the headquarters of Wal-Mart and Tyson Foods and down the road from Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport. ... This is what it has come to in Orlando, where proximity is everything. The fifth Orlando-area Homewood Suites has opened about a mile from Universal Studios. The 122-suite property's name? The "Homewood Suites by Hilton Orlando-Nearest to Universal." Folks, you can't make this stuff up...

ON THE FLY: Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Continental Airlines is increasing the number of OnePass miles required to claim a first-class or BusinessFirst ticket to Hawaii. Effective June 1, a restricted award will cost 75,000 miles and an unrestricted award will cost 150,000 miles. America West is eliminating food service on eight of its long-distance routes beginning next week. ... If you're just too busy or too important to take the Nantucket-Cape Cod ferry, take note: Cape Air will begin flying between Nantucket and Provincetown on June 12. ... United Airlines says it will increase the seat pitch in business class on its Boeing 777 fleet. It will also add Verizon Airfone JetConnect service to all planes in its domestic fleet. For $5.99 per flight, JetConnect delivers news, sports and other information through seat-back phones. E-mail transmission is available for an additional fee. ... JetBlue Airways didn't have a single denied boarding in the first quarter of the year. Moreover, the carrier also had just four voluntary bumps in the period, according to the latest Air Travel Consumer Report released by the Transportation Department.

THE PARTING SHOT: I Dunno, Fidel Seems Like a Party Dude...
Since I won't touch base with you again until after Memorial Day, allow me to leave you with this. Several members of the House of Representatives have introduced a bill that would all but eliminate U.S. restrictions on travel to and trade with Cuba. The Export Freedom to Cuba Act is unlikely to pass, but Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Montana) thinks we're missing the chance to bring Cuban dictator Fidel Castro to his knees. "We believe that if you want to drive the Cuban government crazy, you should let them deal with Spring Break," McGovern explains. Of course, I hear Castro is a huge fan of MTV and would
do anything to see Jennifer Lopez's new Flashdance rip-off video. Have a great Memorial Day weekend. See you on May 29.

This column originally appeared at

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