The Tactical Traveler

The otherwise moribund Diners Club has maintained a loyal core of frequent business travelers because of the card's notable conveniences: up to 60 days to pay; a superior program for accruing miles in frequent-flyer programs; and nearly full-value primary car-rental coverage. And after Diners' corporate parent, Citigroup, flopped with two recent launches--the horrendous Diners Montage and Diners Carte Blanche cards--business travelers were thrilled to hear that Diners would align with MasterCard. The MasterCard hookup would rectify Diners' major drawback: the pitiful number of places where it was accepted in the United States. But leave it to Citicorp to flub even this can't-miss opportunity. As Diners began dropping its first wave of MasterCard material on the 1.5 million remaining Diners cardholders in recent weeks, business travelers quickly noted what was being lost. Diners Club will eliminate the 60-day payment cycle for personal cardholders and replace it with a 25-to-30 day window. It will raise the fee for foreign-currency transactions to 3 percent from 2 percent. And the future of the card's primary car-rental coverage remains in doubt. A Diners Club official I spoke to this week insisted that the primary coverage would be retained--Diners currently covers most rentals for up to $50,000--but she could not or would not address specifics and the all-important fine print. So read the fine print carefully when your Diners MasterCard arrives in the late spring. Diners may be substantially reducing the dollar value and/or scope of its car-rental coverage, too.

United Airlines remains the 800-pound sumo wrestler on routes to Hawaii, especially for business-travelers looking to cash miles for free trips to paradise. But alternate carriers continue to look for their niche. … For example, bankrupt ATA Airlines, which has a long history of flying package tourists to Hawaii, is growing. It will launch daily service between Las Vegas and Honolulu on April 3. It will also begin three weekly summer flights from Los Angeles to Lihue, Kauai, on June 12. A weekly San Francisco-Lihue flight begins on June 11 and two weekly nonstops between Los Angeles and Kona start on June 12. … Meanwhile, North American Airlines, best-known as a carrier that operated flights for El Al on some U.S. domestic routes, is excited by Hawaii, too. It began flying in November to Honolulu and Maui from Oakland. Now it plans to add a weekly Oakland-Lihue flight on April 3 and a weekly Oakland-Kona flight on April 8. … All this activity is forcing bankrupt Aloha Airlines, which had been expanding quickly on mainland routes in recent years, to shuffle its service. It will drop Hawaii flights from Burbank (April 3) and Vancouver (April 11). In their place will be a daily nonstop from San Diego to Honolulu and five weekly flights between Orange County/John Wayne and Honolulu. Both services begin April 3.

If you ever wondered why even the most sympathetic observers of US Airways are constantly infuriated by the serially bankrupt carrier, consider the latest lunacy in Fort Lauderdale. You will recall that last August the company introduced Fort Lauderdale as its new "Caribbean and Latin America gateway." Despite a host of obvious difficulties--American's huge Latin hub in Miami just a few miles down the road, the complexities of running an international operation out of Fort Lauderdale, the recent departure of the executive who conjured up the Fort Lauderdale strategy and the simple fact that US Airways never served many of the new Latin destinations before--US Airways nevertheless launched the bulk of the new service just two weeks ago. Well, guess what? A huge chunk of it will disappear in May. The airline will unceremoniously dump flights from Fort Lauderdale to San Salvador, Panama City and San Juan. Also gone: feeder flights from Newark to Fort Lauderdale and three of the daily flights to Fort Lauderdale from US Airways' Philadelphia hub. And then there's this tidbit: The government's latest Air Travel Consumer Report was released this week and it pinpointed US Airways Flight 435 as January's most-delayed flight. It was late 93.5 percent of the time in January and the average delay was 62 minutes. Where does Flight 435 fly? Between Philadelphia and Fort Lauderdale, of course.

Without rehashing the specifics, you do know that Hilton Hotels and Hilton International are two otherwise separate hotel firms that share a name, right? Good, because that explains the separate tracks that two iconic Hiltons are on in Chicago. The Palmer House Hilton, currently owned and managed by the Beverly Hills-based Hilton Hotels Company, is now on the sales block because the U.S. Hilton believes the cost of upgrading and maintaining the historic 135-year-old property at 2005 standards is prohibitive. Across town, however, the gracious, but tatty, Drake Hotel is owned by London-based Hilton International. After failing to sell it for $80 million in 2003, Hilton International now says it will renovate the 84-year-old property. The company spent $45 million to tart up the 537-room hotel in 2003 and will spend another $15 million in the next two years. Frankly, it doesn't sound like nearly enough.

American Airlines flyers take note: The airline has quietly raised checked-luggage fees on most international flights. The free baggage allowance has been reduced to 50 pounds per bag from the former limit of 70 pounds. Checked bags weighing more than 50 pounds and less than 70 pounds now cost $25 each. … Horizon Air, the commuter-carrier subsidiary of Alaska Airlines, is reducing seat pitch on its fleet of Q400 turboprops. Four more seats are being squeezed into the 70-seat planes, thus reducing legroom to 32 inches from the current 33 inches. … You've undoubtedly heard about DING!, the new software product from Southwest Airlines. Download and install it and Southwest will automatically send you not-ready-for-public-consumption short-term fare deals. But do you really want to give an airline direct access to your computer or laptop? … American Airlines and Japan Airlines now offer interlined, electronic ticketing. … The Big Six successfully raised some discounted domestic fares by as much as $20 roundtrip over the weekend.

The Mount Airy Lodge, one of the best-known resorts in the Poconos, has been closed since 2001. But a new owner has purchased the 1,200-acre property and apparently hopes to turn it into a slot-machine casino. But first he has to clear out the detritus. There'll be an auction this weekend (March 5-6) and, as they say, everything must go: signs, cutlery, dishes, beds, televisions, furniture, paddle boats, the nine-hole miniature golf course and, yes, those famous heart-shaped tubs that appeared in so many cheesy television ads for "beautiful Mount Airy Lodge." About 80 of the tubs are available, so step right up…

Copyright © 1993-2005 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.