The Tactical Traveler

FOR APRIL 21 TO MAY 5, 2005
Everything's Up-to-Date in Tampa and Las Vegas
As traffic approaches and surpasses the pre-9/11 levels, airports have resumed building and expanding. The fruits of some of that labor ripened this week at Las Vegas' McCarran International and Tampa International. At McCarran, a $125 million expansion of Concourse D has added 11 new gates and new retail and dining locations. The 140,000-square-foot expansion will be used by JetBlue, Continental and Alaska airlines. In Tampa, the new Airside C facility offers free Wi-Fi Internet access, four restaurants and lots of windows and artwork. The $135 million facility is the new home of Southwest, Spirit, Midwest and Independence airlines. If your itineraries include Tampa and Las Vegas in the next few weeks, check with the affected airlines to confirm their gate locations.

How to Make Ameniti Work for You
I discussed the pros and cons of joining Ameniti, United Airlines' "luxury travel" club, several weeks ago in The Brancatelli File. United unleashed another round of direct-mail and E-mail promotions this week, however, so you've been filling my inbox with requests to assess the program. Let me repeat what I explained last month: The $295-a-year club is generally a waste of money unless you can score the 25,000-mile bonus to join. United has been testing membership promotions: some offer no bonus miles for joining, some offer 10,000 Mileage Plus bonus miles, but the best deal includes a 25,000-mile inducement. The benefits of Ameniti itself are pretty slim: 2-for-1 travel on United, but only if you buy an outrageous full-fare ticket; Gold level membership in Starwood's Preferred Guest frequent-guest plan; a pair of passes to Red Carpet clubs; a one-year subscription to Conde Nast Traveler; free wine, beer or coffee from a direct marketer; and some heavily restricted upgrade offers. I estimate the value of the practical benefits of Ameniti--the booze, the club passes and the magazine subscription--at about $75. Which means that you'd essential pay $220 to earn 25,000 miles. That's slightly less than a penny a mile, which is not a bad price if you want the miles. If you're interested in Ameniti here's the link to the 25,000-mile joining bonus.

Is the New Champion of 'Velcro' Hotels in Kansas City?
You know what a "Velcro" hotel is, right? It's a property that continually changes brand affiliations. Historically, the champion of Velcro properties has been in New York, where the Hotel Pennsylvania has been a Statler, a Hilton, a Ramada and a Penta and is again called the Hotel Pennsylvania. Now there's a new challenger: the 28-story hotel at 1301 Wyandotte Street in Kansas City. Opened in 1970 as a Holiday Inn, the hotel then became an Americana and later an Omni. It has recently been running as a Doubletree. The 388-room property becomes the Radisson Kansas City next month. … Speaking of brand shifts, the aging Sheraton City Centre in downtown Cleveland has become a Crowne Plaza Cleveland City Centre. The 1,300-room behemoth is undergoing a $2 million renovation. … The Kona Surf Hotel on the Big Island of Hawaii was closed for more than four years, but it reopened earlier this month as the Sheraton Keauhou Resort. The 521-room property has undergone a two-year, $70 million restoration.

Say Goodbye to Two More Carriers
Hellas Jet will stop flying on May 10. The Athens-based low-fare carrier was started to capitalize on the Olympics boom that never quite materialized. … Ryanair, the European discount carrier, has been testing a hand-held entertainment system similar to the unit offered by some U.S. carriers. The airline now says that passenger response has been so poor that the system won't be deployed after all. … Airkenya/Regional Air, which offered flights between game parks in Kenya and Tanzania, has stopped flying. It was also a British Airways franchise, so check with BA if you are using the British carrier for a safari holiday. … Airport workers in Spain say they will strike on April 29 and May 4, the first and last days of a traditional long weekend. … Tel Aviv travelers take note: Substandard fuel supplies grounded many flights at Ben Gurion Airport this week. If you're flying to Israel, check with your carrier for an update.

Fly-Over Terrorism Bursts Into the Headlines
There was lots of pontificating earlier this month when KLM Flight 685 to Mexico City returned to Amsterdam after it was denied the right to fly over U.S. territory. Denial of "fly-over rights" is an extraordinary event and a lot of critics, with some justification, accused U.S. security officials of paranoia. But this time, at least, the government had legitimate reason for concern. At least one of the two Saudi passengers on board the KLM flight had been previously deported from the United States. Both had attended the same flight school as 9/11 hijacker Hani Hanjour. And both were denied entry into Britain several days after the plane returned to Amsterdam. The passengers, who are brothers, claimed they were en route to Mexico to visit their ill father, a retired Saudi government official. U.S. government sources admit that the Saudis' explanation also seems true. As a result of the incident, the U.S. government now wants advance notification of all passengers on board the approximately 500 daily flights that fly over U.S. soil each day. The foreign carriers involved are resisting. … Two government reports this week criticized the Transportation Security Administration, its management, its spending and the efficiency of airport screeners. That led Rep. John Mica (R-FL), chairman of the House aviation subcommittee, to insist that the nation should return to private screening. … Warning: New security procedures in Dublin Airport have led to long delays at the screening checkpoints.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Amtrak now says that its high-speed Acela train service in the Boston-Washington Corridor will be off-line until the summer. The service, which has been plagued by reliability issues since its launch in December, 2000, has faulty brakes. … WestJet, the Canadian discount carrier, now offers online check-in. … President Bush says that he has ordered a review of a new policy that would require all travelers to carry passports when they travel to Mexico, the Caribbean or Canada. The program is currently scheduled to be implemented in phases beginning January 1.

As the Fare Plunges…
Someone should take note of this historical fact: The new floor for transcontinental fares is now $69. That new low was reached on Monday when Independence Air launched still another fare sale and pegged the price of its nonstops from Dulles to Seattle, Los Angeles and San Jose at $69 one-way. (More details of the sale are on the Airlines Steals and Deals page.) Earlier this year, Independence offered transcon fares as low as $79. Last year, it was JetBlue Airways offering $89 fares. One other note: The current Independence Air sale pegs connecting coast-to-coast fares via Dulles at $99 one-way. That's something of a record, too.

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