The Tactical Traveler


Are You Ready to Spend Miles for Merchandise?
If you doubt that frequent-flyer programs are undergoing profound structural changes, then consider the latest move from the Delta SkyMiles plan: Effective March 9, Platinum Medallion members will be able to select hotel, car-rental or merchandise awards as an alternative to airline seats. The Medallion Marketplace is a tacit admission that there are no longer enough free seats to go around, even for elite members, but SkyMiles managing director Jeff Robertson also insists that there is "a decent population of Platinum members who don't want more seats, they want an alternative way to use their miles." A former American Airlines executive, Robertson says that he "truly" believes "it's time to open up redemption opportunities" and "offering merchandise adds real choice." Robertson wouldn't discuss the mileage cost of the merchandise, but says it will be competitive with offers from Diners Club Rewards and American Express Membership Rewards. It may surprise you to learn that he expects as many as 30 percent of the miles that SkyMiles Platinum members redeem will soon be used for merchandise and non-airline travel. But he's also a realist and says that the best dollar-value redemptions "will still be SkyChoice" unrestricted-level awards for international business-class seats. When Medallion Marketplace launches next month, Platinum Medallion members will be able to view options and claim the awards here.

Ho, Hum. Southwest, JetBlue, AirTran Expand Again
The expert analysts who claim that 2006 will be the year of the legacy carriers are missing two things: No legacy carrier will make money (again) and alternate airlines continue to expand across the route map. This week's announcements continue the trend. AirTran Airways adds another route from Chicago/Midway on May 9, when it launches two daily nonstops to Charlotte. AirTran will then add two more routes from Baltimore/Washington on May 25. There will be three daily flights to Detroit/Metro and two daily flights to Milwaukee. At Southwest Airlines, a new daily flight between Las Vegas and Orlando begins on April 28. Then, on May 25, Southwest begins service between Chicago/Midway and John Wayne/Orange County. JetBlue Airways continues to expand at a breakneck pace. There will be four new routes in May, including a daily flight between Washington/Dulles and Las Vegas; daily service between Boston and Phoenix; and two daily flights between New York/LaGuardia and Orlando. All those flights begin on May 3. Then, on May 23, JetBlue will launch four daily flights between its New York/Kennedy hub and Portland, Maine.

The War Over Toronto's Island Airport
For an airport that hardly anyone uses, Toronto/City Centre on Toronto's downtown island has certainly caused a big fuss. And it's all over the plans of entrepreneur Robert Deluce to launch a new carrier called Porter Airlines. Beginning this fall, Deluce expects Porter to fly from City Centre to destinations within 500 miles of Canada's most important city. Immediately after announcing the creation of the airline earlier this month, however, one of Deluce's companies, which owns the terminal building at City Centre, served an eviction notice on Jazz. Jazz, of course, is the Air Canada commuter carrier that offers the only existing service at City Centre, five weekday roundtrips to Ottawa. Jazz has had no luck appealing Deluce's eviction order to the Toronto Port Authority (TPA), the federal agency that runs the airport. So it intends to "suspend" its Ottawa flights for a month beginning next Wednesday, March 1. The nasty fight between Deluce and Air Canada is layered atop strife between the TPA and Toronto mayor David Miller, who wants control of City Centre. And that fight is further complicated by the anti-development activists who oppose Porter's new flights and expansion of service at City Centre.

New Hotels Here, There and Everywhere
The Pan Pacific hotel in San Francisco has been sold and the new owners say they will rebrand the hotel soon. The 338-room high-rise is also slated to receive a $10 million renovation. Radisson SAS has opened two new properties: a 211-room hotel in Birmingham, England, and a 121-room tower in Dubai. A second tower is under construction in Dubai. Orient-Express Hotels has taken over the 33-room Casa de Sierra Nevada, a boutique property in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. The troubled convention-center hotel in Myrtle Beach may be converted to condos. The 402-room property opened as a Radisson in 2003 and became a Sheraton last year. But the city-financed property has been losing millions and members of the Myrtle Beach City Council want to stop the madness and covert the property to condos in the coming years.

No Feds, Please, We're South Dakotans
Private screeners are now in place at the airport in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Sioux Falls is the first airport to go private since the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) took over screening nationwide in 2002. Only five other U.S. airports operate with private screeners and they were all part of a pilot program established at the same time as the TSA. The so-called "opt-out" plan that Sioux Falls is using is open to all U.S. airports, but no other facilities have gone private, primarily because liability issues have never been settled. Hyatt Hotels will soon offer Diamond tier members of its Gold Passport program free membership in Clear, the only currently approved "registered traveler" program. Clear operates only in Orlando, Florida.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Elite members of US Airways Dividend Miles take note: Your 2005 status has been extended. Originally due to expire on Tuesday (February 28), the Elite status program has been stretched for a month or two while US Airways sorts out the merger of Dividend Miles with the America West FlightFund program. Topeka/Forbes Field, which hasn't had commercial air service for almost two years, gets back on the national route map next month. Allegiant Air says it will launch two weekly flights to Las Vegas on March 24. A start-up called US Helicopter wants to connect two New York airports--Kennedy and LaGuardia--to two heliports in Manhattan. The service hopes to launch next month with one-way fares starting at $139 each way. Flight time would be about 10 minutes each way.

Copyright 1993-2006 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.