The Tactical Traveler


It's Ba-a-a-ck! The World's Worst Business-Travel Deal
Right on schedule, United Airlines has reintroduced what may be the world's worst business-travel deal: The United Elite Prepaid Travel Card. Like a similar promotion last year, United wants you to pay in advance for travel in increments of $5,000, $10,000 or $20,000. What do you get for the interest-free loan? United gives you instant Premier, Premier Executive or 1K status. The drawbacks? For starters, United isn't even offering the 5 percent discount on travel purchases that last year's prepaid card offered. Then there's the fact that United isn't really giving you anything you wouldn't earn anyway. Five transcontinental roundtrips, which cost about $1,000 each on a walk-up basis, earn you the same Premier status without paying United in advance for the privilege. Finally, there's this little fillip: You'll pay a ferocious penalty if you don't use all of your prepaid investment. If your unused balance on February 28, 2007, is less than $250, you'll receive a "refund" in the form of a highly restricted travel certificate and must wait eight weeks for it to be delivered. And if your unused balance exceeds $250, you'll lose 50 percent of the cash value, pay a $100 processing fee and then wait 12 weeks for a refund of the rest. You can check out this car-wreck of an offer at United's Prepaid Card site.

Who's Out, Who's Confused and Who's Just Nuts…
ATA Airlines exited bankruptcy on Tuesday (February 28) after about 14 months under Chapter 11 protection. The carrier has repositioned itself as a vacation carrier serving routes largely dictated by Southwest Airlines, which lent the carrier millions and now code-shares with it. … Northwest Airlines released its 2005 numbers this week and they are gruesome, including a net loss of $2.6 billion. Also notable: Maintenance expenses increased by $72 million because Northwest had to bring in third-party help to replace the carrier's striking mechanics. And, as I mentioned last week, Northwest fell to the bottom of the on-time rating after it replaced the mechanics. … The New York presence of Delta Air Lines this spring is foggy after the carrier released a schedule that showed massive cutbacks at LaGuardia and Kennedy airports. Then the airline claimed the whole exercise was a mistake. What is clear, however, is that Delta is pulling down serious amounts of New York-to-Florida capacity where its loss-plagued Song division competes with JetBlue Airways. Also gone: service from Kennedy to a few small cities in the south. … Malaysia Airlines isn't bankrupt yet, but the carrier is bleeding cash and will make huge service cuts. The airline's managing director says Malaysia loses money on 114 of 118 domestic routes and about half of its international service.

Hey, LA! That Big Car Is Called a Bus.
Incongruous as it sounds, the agency that runs Los Angeles International says it will launch bus service between LAX and Amtrak's Union Station. The 20-mile run begins March 15 and is free until March 30. After that, rides will cost $3 each way. Buses will run every 30 minutes during the day and hourly overnight. The airport authority claims that the ride will take about 45 minutes. … Trial runs are scheduled for Terminal 3 at Manila/Aquino airport by the end of this month. A variety of operational and legal tangles have kept the terminal mothballed since its completion almost four years ago. All international carriers are eventually supposed to move from Terminal 1 to Terminal 3.

The New Hotels Just Keep Coming
Westin has opened a high-rise, 336-room hotel in the Ballston area of Arlington, Virginia. … There are two new international hotels of note this week. The first is the Villa Kennedy in Frankfurt. It's a 163-room luxury property from by Rocco Forte, who has been opening super-deluxe hotels around Europe. The other is from Hong Kong-based Shangri-La, which has opened a 180-room, 124-acre resort about 40 minutes from the airport in Muscat, Oman.

On Second Thought…
Shortly after the United States "won" the war in Iraq in 2003, KLM announced that it would begin flights to Baghdad. That never happened. And here's another service that isn't happening: Austrian Airlines has scuttled plans to launch flights to Erbil, located in comparatively stable Kurdish northern Iraq. The airline previously announced its intention to begin flying between its Vienna hub and Erbil on March 12. … Caracas travelers take note: A long-simmering aviation dispute between the United States and Venezuela--not to mention recent political tensions--threatens to shut down flights from Delta, American and Continental. Venezuelan regulators originally demanded that Delta and Continental end all service to Caracas yesterday (March 1) and it planned to limit American Airlines to three daily flights. Venezuela has now pushed the deadline back to March 30.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
US Airways is ever-so-slowly reversing its previous decision to outsource its telephone-reservations and customer-service operations to Asia and Central America. Outsourcing the call-center functions infuriated travelers who said they could not understand the English spoken by the overseas workers. Elite-level Dividend Miles calls are already being handled by U.S.-based workers again. … Southwest Airlines is now selling some flights operated solely by ATA Airlines. The ATA flights also qualify for Rapid Rewards credits. … Frontier Airlines will make its first foray into Canada this spring. The Denver-based carrier will launch two daily flights to Calgary on May 25. … Nantucket visitors take note: a Cape Cod business executive says he will launch Nantucket Shuttle to fly the Hyannis-Nantucket route. He claims fares will start as low as $30 each way.

You Just Can't Make This Stuff Up…
Remember Mirabel, the white elephant of an airport that Montreal spent more than C$500 million to build a generation ago? Touted as "the airport of the future" when it opened in 1975, the distant aerodrome was a disaster and despised by travelers. So what's to become of the now-deserted "airport of the future"? The Montreal Airports Authority has announced a deal with two private developers and they will turn Mirabel into an amusement park. According to the developers, they will build geodesic domes to house a gigantic aquarium; an indoor beach; a fitness center; movie theaters and big-screen video games; restaurants and shops; and an "aquatic-themed disco/karaoke with laser/video." Gee, it sounds like the amusement park of the future…

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