The Tactical Traveler

FOR JUNE 5 TO JUNE 12, 2003


This week: United's phony "free ticket" offer; Houston opens a new terminal; a Paris hotel landmark reopens; a new airline will fly to Kabul, but Air Canada won't fly to Beirut; British Airways drops first class on three U.S. routes; Marriott Rewards upgrades its elite level; the Supreme Court allows a fare-fixing suit to proceed; and much more.

COUNTER INTELLIGENCE: United's Phony 'Free Ticket' Offer
United rolled out a Fly Three, Fly Free promotion yesterday (June 4) that is as phony as a three-dollar bill. The crux of the offer: Fly three paid United roundtrips without a Saturday stay and you receive a "free" capacity-controlled domestic ticket that must be booked 14 days in advance and include a Saturday stay. Let's look at the numbers. Fly three paid trips on United's New York-Los Angeles route using the cheapest qualifying fare (the 7-day advance "BIZ" fare) and you'll pay $3,714. Your free trip on the New York-Los Angeles route, a 14-day-advance/Saturday-stay ticket, is currently selling for $283 roundtrip. Total value of the four United roundtrips: $3,997. But take that $3,997 over to JetBlue and you can purchase ten roundtrips between New York and Los Angeles because JetBlue charges only $199 each way with a 7-day advance purchase. Or how about Denver-Chicago? United's lowest qualifying fare is $229 one way, which means you'll spend $1,374 to purchase three roundtrips. Your 14-day advance/Saturday-stay "free" ticket is currently selling for $243 roundtrip. Total value: $1,617. But walk that $1,617 over to Frontier Airlines and you'll be able to buy six roundtrips and a one-way ticket because Frontier's walk-up Denver-Chicago fare is $124 one-way.

AIRPORT REPORT: Houston Gets a New Terminal
The first portion of Terminal E at Houston Intercontinental opened this week. Seven gates, all to be used by Continental Airlines, are now operating. Several retail outlets and restaurants are also open. Terminal E is connected to the South Concourse of Terminal C and is also accessible by the parking garage attached to the east side of Terminal C. ... After scuttling plans to build a new airport, Mexican authorities say they will spend $100 million to upgrade the existing Mexico City airport. The project will add a second story to the terminal and expand passenger capacity by about 50 percent. An airport has been operating on the site since 1910. ... A decrease in passengers and flights means the commuter concourse at Pittsburgh will close on July 1. ... The SkyTeam alliance says participating carriers will open a consolidated facility at Brussels Airport on July 1. Delta, Air France, Alitalia and CSA Czech will use the new ticket counters and check-in facility.

IN THE LOBBY: Another Shift in the Extended-Stay Market
Homestead Suites, the chain of 115 extended-stay properties, will grow by 15 percent in one gulp this month when it converts 17 MainStay Suites to the Homestead brand. ... A 168-unit Residence Inn has opened on the Boston waterfront in Charlestown's Constitution Center. ... The InterContinental Le Grand in Paris has reopened after an 18-month renovation. The 482-room hotel, located on Place de l'Opéra, is probably best known as the home of the Café de la Paix.

A new airline called Swiss Skies says it will launch a Washington/Dulles-Geneva-Kabul, Afghanistan, route next month. World Airways will provide the crew and the plane--an MD-11 configured with 48 business-class and 185 coach seats--for the twice-weekly service. The company says an air marshal will be aboard every flight. Fares have been set at $3,500 roundtrip in coach and $7,500 in business class. ... On the other hand, the Canadian government has told Air Canada that it cannot operate flights between Montreal and Beirut, Lebanon. The service was due to begin this week. ... United Airlines has resumed daily nonstop service between San Francisco and Seoul, Korea. ... British Airways says it will eliminate first-class cabins on its flights to London from Phoenix, Denver and San Diego. The Boeing B-777s serving those routes will be reconfigured with BA's lie-flat business-class seats, the airline's upgraded World Traveller Plus coach cabin and a standard coach class.

MILES & POINTS: Marriott Rewards Upgrades Its Elite Level
Marriott Rewards has moved to shore up its elite level, which has lagged behind the top levels offered by competitors such as Hilton HHonors and Starwood Preferred Guest. Effective immediately, Marriott slashed by a third the number of annual nights required to qualify for elite. It now takes ten nights per year, down from 15 nights. Marriott's limited-service and extended-stay brands now offer elite bonus points and perks, too. There is also a new range of elite-only awards. ... Effective July 1, Diners Club members who do not pay outstanding balances within two billing cycles will forfeit the Club Rewards points earned on the balances. Forfeited points can be restored for a $15 fee. ... Delta is offering bonuses for transfers of American Express Membership Rewards points. Transfer up to 50,000 points to Delta SkyMiles and receive a 10 percent bonus; transfer 51,000 or more points and receive a 15 percent bonus. The deal is valid until July 31.

ON THE FLY: Business-Travel News You Need to Know
The U.S. Supreme Court has allowed a class-action suit over hidden-city ticketing to proceed against Northwest and Delta. The plaintiffs say the carriers conspired to illegally prohibit the sale of hidden-city tickets. The case is being tried in a U.S. District Court in Michigan. ... US Airways has joined the Star Alliance. ... American Airlines and British Airways received approval for limited code-sharing. The carriers will not be permitted to code-share on flights between the United States and London, however. ... Indigo, which was running public charters of corporate jets between Chicago/Midway and Teterboro Airport near New York City, has stopped offering the service. ... Alaska Airlines has admitted it is legally responsible for the crash of Alaska Flight 261 three years ago. The admission came in filings in a San Francisco court where a dozen wrongful death suits are being considered.

THE PARTING SHOT: Speak for Yourself, Leo...
Delta chief executive Leo Mullin, who gives Continental CEO Gordon Bethune a run for his shareholders' money when it comes to saying stupid stuff, did it again this week. While he was talking to a global airline conference on Monday (June 2), Mullin opined that "we're in for another tough year here in the United States. It's mid 2004 to late 2004 before we really begin to see some uptick in traffic." At virtually the same moment, however, AirTran was reporting that its May traffic jumped 16.8 percent and its load factor (the number of seats it filled) increased to 72.1 percent. Of course, it's possible that Mullin isn't familiar with AirTran. After all, AirTran hubs in Atlanta, several large terminals away from Delta's gigantic Hartsfield hub.

This column originally appeared at

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