The Tactical Traveler



This week: Air fares rise a bit as oil prices skyrocket; Delta and US Airways launch flights to each others' hubs while Delta and Continental both want to fly to Berlin; Vienna and Tel Aviv get airport rail links; United slashes domestic flights and increases international service; American charges $250 for international upgrades; and much more.

COUNTER INTELLIGENCE: As Oil Jumps, Air Fares Begin to Rise
As oil prices have surged past what the pundits are fond of calling the "psychologically important" $50-a-barrel level, some airline fare hikes are finally beginning to stick. Southwest Airlines raised one-way fares about $3 each in about 100 markets over the weekend. And led by American Airlines, the Big Six has managed to add about $10 each way to some fares in the last week. But here's the real question: Why haven't prices risen even faster given the spiraling price of oil and the attendant jump of jet-fuel costs? One theory: Low-fare carriers are refusing to raise prices and are willing to take a short-term hit on their earnings to increase the pressure on the Big Six, who are gushing red ink and increasingly unable to manage their Byzantine fare structures as they hurtle toward bankruptcy and insolvency.

AIRPORT REPORT: Delta and US Airways Play Hub Games
It's not like bankrupt US Airways and hanging-on-by-their-fingernails Delta Air Lines don't have better things to do, but, you know, boys will be boys. Last Friday Delta announced that it would begin flying regional jets (RJs) between New York/LaGuardia and US Airways' hub in Charlotte on December 1. It will also launch Charlotte service from New York/Kennedy on January 31. Hours later, US Airways said it would respond in kind by launching RJ flights from its Washington/National hub to Delta's Atlanta hub. That service begins February 6. ... Vienna International has a new mass-transit link to downtown Vienna. The City Airport Train runs every 30 minutes on the 16-minute run to Vienna's City Air Terminal. The cost is €9 one way or €15 roundtrip. ... The Ben Gurion Airport train link to Tel Aviv is now open. The train station is at the airport's unfinished new terminal, so passengers will have to take a bus from the existing terminal. ... London travelers take note: The Underground link to Terminal Four at London/Heathrow shuts down on January 7 for an 18-month construction project. If you insist on taking the tube, you'll have to get off the Picadilly Line at Hatton Cross and take a shuttle bus.

INTERNATIONAL ITINERARY: Wilkommen! Bienvenue! Welcome!
Desperate to find places where they can fly profitably, the Big Six keep hitting on the same cities, which naturally means there probably won't be any profit after all. Delta Airlines announced last week that it was going to fly nonstop between New York/Kennedy and Berlin beginning on May 2. This week Continental Airlines announced it would fly between its Newark hub and--you guessed it!--Berlin, effective July 1. Ah, life is a cabaret, my friends. ... Speaking of Continental, it says it will also begin flying between Newark and Belfast, Northern Ireland, on May 26 and between Newark and Hamburg, Germany, on June 9. ... Manchester, England, gets more service in coming days. British carrier bmi, which already flies to the city from Chicago and Washington/Dulles, will add three weekly flights from Las Vegas on October 31. The next day American Airlines launches seasonal daily service to Manchester from its Miami hub. ... Speaking of American, it has cut business-class fares on some of its Latin American flights. It now offers four new business-class fares based on an advance purchase of up to 14 days. One example: the current unrestricted business fare between Dallas/Fort Worth and Caracas, Venezuela, is $1,624. Business-class seats now cost as little as $478 with a 14-day advance purchase or $578 with a 3-day advance purchase.

IN THE LOBBY: New Hotel Openings of Note Around the World
Omni has opened a 730-room resort in Orlando. The Omni ChampionsGate has 70,000 square feet of meeting space, a 10,000-square-foot spa and two 18-hole golf courses. ... Hyatt has opened a 142-room hotel in Zurich. The Park Hyatt Zurich is a rarity: a new building in the city's dense and compact business district. ... The Soho Hotel has opened on Richmond Mews in London. The 85-room boutique property is from the company that operates Number 16, a well-regarded London hideaway.

MILES & POINTS: Got Upgrades? If You Do, You're Paying More
American AAdvantage members using miles to upgrade from most low-fare international tickets will now also pay a fee of $250 each way for the privilege. The surcharge is effective on December 1. ... United Mileage Plus members who believe that securing 2005 elite status--or kicking up to a higher elite level--is in their interest can do it faster if they are willing to pay. United says paying a $150 fee will permit travelers to earn double elite qualifying miles on flights taken between October 25 and December 15. Travelers need to register for the program. ... Delta SkyMiles members can now earn miles at Boscolo Hotels, an Italian chain. ... Travelers who focus on earning miles to claim Hawaii awards, take note: Aloha Airlines, a United partner, launches nonstop flights between San Diego and Maui on December 15. And Delta says it will begin Maui nonstops from its Salt Lake City hub on May 1.

ON THE FLY: Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Bankrupt and clueless United Airlines now has a new strategy for survival: Slashing domestic capacity by 12 percent and increasing international service by 14 percent. The theory is that overseas flights generate a higher fare premium because there is less competition from low-fare carriers. One can only guess that United's braintrust, such as it is, doesn't follow the news. The international low-fare movement began several weeks ago when Aer Lingus restructured its coach- and business-class fares. ... Speaking of brainless wonders, Air Canada emerged from bankruptcy last week with a strategy of rebuilding the airline around vast fleets of regional jets (RJs). Air Canada obviously envies the financial success that the U.S. Big Six is generating with RJs. ... It took US Airways a couple of weeks after announcing that it would charge a $10 fee for travelers buying tickets at the airport, but the airline finally realized that Delta Air Lines isn't imposing the charge. That put US Airways' East Coast Shuttle service--which relies on walk-up, at-the-airport bookings--at a huge competitive disadvantage with the Delta Shuttle. So on Monday US Airways was forced to rescind the charge for Shuttle flights.

This column originally appeared at

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