The Tactical Traveler



This week: Some high-fare routes you'd be wise to avoid; Starwood slashes elite-level benefits; airlines won't be flying to Iraq anytime soon; London's May Fair hotel changes hands; US Airways is the last holdout on use-it-or-lose-it tickets; inter-island fares skyrocket in Hawaii; and much more.

COUNTER INTELLIGENCE: Some High-Fare Routes to Avoid
The fast growth of low-fare carriers has been driving fares down nationally--but not everywhere and especially not at the hubs of the Big Six. A recent look at fare and traffic information filed with the Transportation Department reveals some startling pockets of rapacious pricing. Take the Chicago/O'Hare-Minneapolis route, for example. United, based at O'Hare, is generating an average fare of 51.5 cents per mile. Northwest, based at Minneapolis, gets even more: 52.2 cents per mile on the 333-mile route. United and Northwest are awfully cozy on the O'Hare-Detroit route, too. United is averaging a fare of 36 cents per mile there and Northwest, which maintains a hub in Detroit, generates 34.5 cents a mile on the 234-mile route. Northwest, which has a lock on flights between its Detroit and Minneapolis hubs, charges plenty for the privilege. The route is 526 miles and Northwest's average fare is 43.5 cents per mile. And woe to you flyers in Kansas City. American Airlines charges you 28 cents a mile to fly to its hub at Dallas/Fort Worth while Northwest charges almost twice that, or 55.7 cents per mile, for the 394-mile route to Minneapolis. But business travelers are most consistently overcharged for flights to and from Washington/National. Northwest charges 34.5 cents a mile from Detroit. Delta charges 30 cents a mile from its Atlanta hub. United charges 28 cents a mile from O'Hare while American, which also hubs at O'Hare, charges 27.4 cents a mile. By the way, the average fare in this country on the Big Six carriers is in the 12-14-cent per mile range.

AIRPORT REPORT: You Won't Be Flying to Iraq Anytime Soon
All the airlines that have noisily announced they would be flying to Iraq have been disappointed again. Baghdad Airport is and will probably remain off-limits for months. And the plans of six carriers to start flying to Basra in southern Iraq have also come to naught. The airlines--four based in Arab nations, LOT Polish and SAS Scandinavian--were all hoping to begin flights to Basra this weekend. Those plans will now be delayed for at least another week because the U.S.-led coalition has deemed Basra airport not ready for prime time. In other words, it's still too dangerous. ... Sacramento airport now has Wi-Fi wireless Internet access in Terminal A and Terminal B. ... Dorval Airport in Montreal will be renamed in honor of Pierre Trudeau, a former Canadian prime minister. The irony of the renaming is uniquely Canadian: It was Trudeau who championed the building of Montreal's Mirabel Airport, which quickly became a white elephant and remains a financial albatross for Canada. ... The cost of building a new concourse at Seattle/Tacoma airport has soared to $577 million, $202 million more than the initial estimate. The new facility is due to open next June.

CYBERTRAVELER: Read on the Web
The never-ending scandal of airline-executive compensation hit the headlines again this week when two non-profit groups released studies blasting the top executives of Continental, Delta and Northwest. The chief executives of all three airlines gave themselves hefty raises after 9/11 even while the carriers were losing billions and laying off tens of thousands of rank-and-file employees. Bloomberg, the business-news service, carried a report on the studies. And you can read one of the reports, from a group called United for a Fair Economy directly at its Web site. ... The Yahoo! news feed on airlines has moved. The service posts a 24/7/365 flow of newspaper and wire-service reports as well as airline press releases.

IN THE LOBBY: Starwood Slashes Elite-Member Benefits
The travel industry continues its futile attempt to turn business travelers into dumb consumers. The latest example: Effective January 1, the Starwood Preferred Guest program will not extend elite-level benefits to Starwood Elite customers who have the nerve to book a reservation virtually anywhere but through Starwood. You can read the entire absurd policy at the Starwood Preferred Guest Web site. By the way, Starwood (and Hilton HHonors) already refuses to give program points for most stays booked through third parties. ... Hotels keep changing the name on their doors with mind-numbing rapidity. Two examples: The two-year-old Wingate Inn in South San Francisco, less than a mile from San Francisco International, has just been converted into an 89-room Holiday Inn Express. And the Lexington Hotel in the City Square development in downtown Phoenix has been converted to a 156-room Hilton Garden Inn.. ... The Hilton Scranton & Conference Center has opened in Scranton, Pennsylvania. The property has 175 rooms and 26,000 square feet of meeting space.

INTERNATIONAL ITINERARY: London's May Fair Hotel Changes Hands
London's storied May Fair hotel, which most recently has been operated as an InterContinental, was sold earlier this week for $181.5 million. The buyer: the privately owned Edwardian Group, which now has 11 hotels around the British capital. Edwardian, which operates as Radisson Edwardian, says it will immediately launch a long-overdue renovation of the West End hotel. The plans include construction of a new wing for the 289-room property, first opened in 1927. This is all in addition to the US$150 million or so the chain has invested in upgrading its other London properties, which include the Hampshire, the Berkshire, the Vanderbilt, the Radisson Edwardian at Heathrow Airport and the Sussex, a 100-room boutique hotel that Edwardian opened in June near Marble Arch. Why all this investment when London has a surplus of rooms and nightly rates have been dropping? "The London market has been soft, but we're confident demand will pick up next year," says Declan Lott, Edwardian's new executive vice president of sales for North America. Edwardian is also expanding beyond London and will open a new hotel in Manchester next year.

ON THE FLY: Business-Travel News You Need to Know
United Airlines has joined four of the Big Six in climbing down from the use-it-or-lose-it ticket policy. Like American, Delta, Continental and Northwest, United now permits you up to one year to reschedule and reuse your nonrefundable tickets. That means US Airways, which launched the idiotic policy last August, now stands alone in demanding that travelers reschedule travel when they cancel a flight or lose the entire value of the ticket. ... The major U.S. carriers are resisting changing their walk-up fare structure, but more airlines in Europe are now getting the message. Finnair next week scraps advance-purchase rules and will offer a simplified roster of fares. Meanwhile, Swiss, the struggling successor to Swissair, says it will be lowering fares on all intra-Europe flights. ... Speaking of fares, business travelers in Hawaii are complaining about a shortage of seats and skyrocketing prices on inter-island flights. The two local carriers, Aloha and Hawaiian, have a federal exemption to coordinate schedules. Since the policy went into effect after 9/11, inter-Island service has been slashed and walk-up prices have jumped to about $90 a segment from around $55. The situation is further complicated by long security waits for the short (25-to-50 minute) flights.

This column originally appeared at

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