The Tactical Traveler


The Bureaucrats Open the Skies to Canada and Ireland
The inevitable--open skies between nations so airlines can fly to and from whatever destinations they please--has come a lot more slowly than logic would dictate. That's because aviation deals between nations are treaties that must be negotiated at the highest level and, for the United States at least, must also be approved by the President. But we are making some progress. A decade after the United States and Canada first began opening the transborder skies, for example, the bureaucrats of both nations have finally agreed to fully liberalize the aviation sector. Beginning next year, U.S. and Canadian airlines will be free to fly to and from each other's territory without restrictions on frequency, aircraft or prices. Progress, albeit much less dramatic, has been made between the United States and Ireland. The annoying Shannon restriction--the Irish government has long insisted that airlines operate one flight to Shannon for every flight to Dublin--is slowly being phased out. The new ratio is one flight to Shannon for every three flights to Dublin. And beginning next year, Aer Lingus gets the right to fly to three new U.S. cities. That's good news because Aer Lingus has revolutionized fares between the U.S. and Ireland, slashing walk-up business-class prices by more than 50 percent from the four U.S. cities it serves.

AirTran Moves in on Washington/Dulles
The bankruptcy of Independence Air and the real possibility that the carrier will soon disappear hasn't been lost on AirTran Airways. Just days after Independence filed last week, AirTran announced new service from Washington/Dulles, the hub Independence shares with United Airlines. Beginning January 4, AirTran will operate twice-daily flights to Orlando. Four daily Dulles-Boston flights begin on February 15. AirTran will use its two-class Boeing 717s on the Dulles flights. Two of Canada's alternate carriers, WestJet and Zoom Airlines, are adding Hawaii service. On December 9, WestJet will launch five weekly flights between Vancouver and Honolulu. On December 17, it will add two weekly flights from Vancouver to Maui. Zoom begins a weekly flight from Toronto/Pearson to Honolulu on December 17, too. Midwest Airlines begins daily service between Kansas City and Tampa on December 15. The new flights will offer Midwest's Signature Service on Boeing 717s.

Need Holiday Stress? Check the Big Six Holiday Sale.
Never let it be said that the Byzantine fare structures employed by the Big Six should go a day without a "fare sale." This week's model, labeled the Holiday Sale, covers just 41 days, November 28 and January 8. And it's sure to create all kinds of stress for travelers unlucky enough to be on the road during the holiday season. Fares start at $178 roundtrip (Chicago to New York) and $238 for transcontinental flights during the so-called "low" period dates. There are also at least two other buckets of sale dates and prices are as much as $120 more. If you can figure out any of this lunacy, tickets must be purchased by November 28. And just to complicate prices even more, each fare period in this 41-day window has separate minimum-stay rules. The dollar continues to gain against major international currencies. It is now selling at $1.17 against the euro, $1.72 against the British pound and ¥119 against the Japanese yen.

What's New What's Reflagged What's London
And never let it be said that hotel industry leaves weird activity to the Big Six airlines. Consider this: LXR Luxury Resorts, a new chain of about two dozen upscale hotels created from some Wyndham and formerly independent properties, has invented a new brand: London. That's right, London. So the Bel Age in Los Angeles is being renamed the London LA and the Righa Royal in New York is becoming the London NYC. Both properties will have restaurants created by Gordon Ramsey, the London-based superstar chef. The hotels will remain open under their existing names until LXR gets around to finishing the renovations. Le Meridien has opened a 327-room hotel in Shanghai. Guestrooms at She Shan Shanghai offer 42-inch flat-screen televisions, CD/DVD players and high-speed Internet access. Opening rates start at US$89 a night. Also new: The 222-suite Westin Trillium House in Collingwood, Ontario, which is about 90 minutes from Toronto. What's reflagged? Doubletree now operates the former Wyndham hotel at Newark Airport. Sofitel is taking over the Westin Philippine Plaza in Manila. The 603-room property will fly the Westin flag until December 31, then become a Sofitel in 2007. The hotel will renovate and operate as an independent in the interregnum. And Crowne Plaza gets the former Hilton Southbury in Connecticut. The switch takes place on New Year's Day.

Pay More, Get Less Is the Mantra for 2006
The merger of US Airways and America West means a major restructuring of the combined carrier's new Dividend Miles program. The America West FlightFund will be officially folded into Dividend Miles next spring, but many America West partners are going even sooner. So take note: December 31 is the last day FlightFund members can earn miles on British Airways flights. Also gone: the FlightFund partnership with Northwest Airlines. The last day for earning credit on Northwest flights is March 31. The mileage partnership with Hawaiian Airlines lasts until June 14. Award travel on all three partners using FlightFund miles must be claimed by December 15. Delta's SkyMiles program will be losing even more value next year. Delta is upping the unrestricted SkyChoice award for business-class seats to Europe to 250,000 miles. The current cost is 180,000 miles. The only reason this is worth reporting is that it's better than the insane end-of-the-year "mileage run" strategy. United Mileage Plus members can earn elite qualifying miles by using their Mileage Plus credit card. If you register and pay a $50 fee, spending $10,000 on the card between November 20 and December 28 earns you 5,000 elite qualifying miles. Spend $5,000 and earn 2,500 elite qualifying miles.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Thai Airways is struggling to fill its new New York/Kennedy-Bangkok nonstops, but it is nevertheless plunging ahead with another ultra-long-haul route. Beginning December 2, the airline begins Airbus A345-500 nonstops between Los Angeles and Bangkok. Delta Air Lines is shuffling its Shuttle service again. It has switched to MD-88s on the New York/LaGuardia-Boston and LaGuardia-Washington/National routes. At the moment, the planes are configured with two classes. They will eventually be converted to one-class service. Radisson Hotels says it will offer free high-speed Internet access in guestrooms at all properties in the Americas by January 1. Radisson SAS properties internationally already offer free Internet. Speaking of connectivity, Singapore Airlines launched Connexion by Boeing in-flight Internet service on its Singapore-Frankfurt-New York/Kennedy route. The service includes live television feeds of CNBC, Eurosport, BBC World and MSNBC. Based on in-flight usage, Singapore charges between $7.95 and $29.95 for the Internet service.

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