The Tactical Traveler

FOR NOVEMBER 6 TO 13, 2003


This week: The hotel card key scare; Northwest and Air Canada fiddle with their frequent-flyer plans; Spirit Airlines adds more flights; Hilton says we're not getting enough sleep on the road; Continental's complaint rate is almost double the industry average; and much more.

Never underestimate the Internet's ability to frighten the hell out of business travelers. An E-mail making the rounds claims California law-enforcement agencies are probing what hotels encode on the programmable card keys that operate guestroom locks. The claim is that hotels are placing a guest's credit-card numbers and other sensitive information on the magnetic stripes of card keys and that unscrupulous hotel employees are using card readers to steal the identity of travelers. Well, there is a kernel of truth in there somewhere. Hotels do have the capacity to encode virtually anything on a card key. But almost none of them put anything more than check-in and check-out times on the cards. And no California agency is probing card keys. But if you're concerned, take the easy way out: Don't return the card key to the front desk when you check out. Hotels couldn't care less if you return them.

ALTERNATE INTINERARY: Spirit Steps Up the Service
Spirit Airlines is ratcheting up its service next week and that's notable because most of it is point-to-point flying, not flights connecting a hub. On November 13, it resumes its daily seasonal nonstop service between Atlantic City and West Palm Beach. It will also resume twice-daily flights between Fort Lauderdale and Washington/National and add a daily nonstop route between Myrtle Beach and Fort Lauderdale. ... AirTran launches daily nonstop flights to San Francisco from its Atlanta hub on November 12.

IN THE LOBBY: I Understand If You Fall Asleep While Reading This
Hilton Hotels has released some of the results of a two-month-long sleep study that it conducted on business travelers earlier this year. The results shouldn't surprise you: Business travelers don't get enough sleep. Sleeping less than six hours a night significantly reduces a traveler's performance, the study concluded. The worst time for sleep: the night before a trip, when travelers average just five hours of shut-eye. In fact, the study says, travelers lose an average of eight hours of sleep on a business trip. ... A series of construction and inspection delays continues to plague the Westin Casuarina Hotel in Las Vegas. The $80 million resort, built on the site of the former Maxim, was originally expected to open in July. Then it was due to open at the end of last month. But the property remains closed; guests who were booked into the property have had to relocate. ... A 251-room Mandarin Oriental is scheduled to open in New York next Saturday (November 15). The property is located on 20 floors of the newly constructed Time Warner Center at Columbus Circle. The hotel has posted opening rates at a stratospheric $595 a night, but is offering a second night free until December 31.

MILES & POINTS: Good News From Northwest, Bad News From Air Canada
Northwest Airlines says its WorldPerks program will continue to offer full credit toward elite status on all Northwest fares. That puts Northwest in opposition to new policies adopted by code-share and marketing partners Continental and Delta airlines. But WorldPerks members do not get off unscathed. Northwest is offering only 50 percent credit for Continental flights that qualify for WorldPerks elite credit. On the other hand, all Delta fares will now earn full WorldPerks elite credit. In other changes, Northwest is raising the cost of some awards for upgrades and travel to Hawaii. For complete details on the changes, click here. ... The news isn't as good for Air Canada Aeroplan members. Many Tango flights will now receive only 50 percent of elite-qualifying miles. For complete details on the changes, click here. ... Southwest Rapid Rewards is ending its policy of offering double credit for tickets booked on the Internet. Starting January 1, Internet tickets will receive only 1.5 credits. Beginning July 1, tickets booked online will earn only one credit. ... Delta Air Lines is offering a 15 percent bonus on American Express Membership Rewards points converted to SkyMiles until December 15. Registration is required. And Northwest is offering a 25 percent bonus on Diners Club Club Rewards points converted to WorldPerks by November 30. Registration is also required.

ON THE FLY: Business-Travel News You Need to Know
So much for the boast of Continental Airlines executives that its service is better than any of the other Big Six carriers. According to the government's latest monthly Air Travel Consumer Report, Continental had the highest rate
of consumer complaints of the 17 listed carriers. Its complaint rate of 1.31 is almost double the industry average of .71. ... London/Heathrow faces another 48-hour strike by baggage handlers beginning November 14. The job action would affect more than a dozen airlines, most of them Asian and Middle Eastern carriers. ... Montreal/Dorval airport will be renamed for former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau on January 1.

This column originally appeared at

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