The Tactical Traveler

Be Prepared to Pay More for Free Hotel Nights
Earlier this year, Hilton HHonors raised the number of points required to claim free nights at hundreds of its hotels. Hilton didn't raise prices per se, but increased the effective cost of a free night by placing the affected properties in higher redemption categories that require more points for a free stay. Now some other chains are responding in kind. Hyatt Gold Passport has created a new tier of redemption--Category 5--that charges 18,000 points for a free night. That's 3,000 points more than Hyatt's current highest price and about two dozen of Hyatt's best hotels have been placed in the pricier tier. The new category applies to stays claimed after December 29; click here to see the new Hyatt award chart. And watch for Starwood Preferred Guest to announce its new tier--Category 7--in the next few weeks. This new tier will charge 30,000 points for a free night in low season and 35,000 Starpoints during high season. That's a 10,000-point bump from Preferred Guest's highest existing category. Starwood will also be upgrading many other hotels by at least one category, which, like the Hilton move, will increase the effective cost of a free night at those properties.

The Dollar Plummets on World Currency Markets
If you thought exchange rates for the U.S. dollar couldn't get much worse, think again. The greenback has been plummeting in value in recent days against the euro, the British pound, the Japanese yen and many other major currencies. It now costs about US$1.32 to get one euro, very close to the record low recorded 18 months ago. The British pound was commanding about US1.96 on Thursday afternoon, a rate that hasn't been seen in more than 14 years. The dollar has also dropped to about ¥116. … The Internal Revenue Service has set the 2007 vehicle-reimbursement rate at 48.5 cents per mile. That's four cents higher than the 2006 rate. … Italy has scrapped a proposed tourist tax that would have been imposed on all visitors. The tax would have been US$6.40 for each day spent in Italy.

From Russia With Hate…and Radiation
If you've only been peripherally following the radiation-poisoning death of the former KGB spy Alexander Litvinenko and the three British Airways aircraft apparently tainted by his murderers, pay more attention. According to the list of affected flights posted on the BA Web site, several operated as code-shares with American Airlines. Others flew as code-shares with Oneworld alliance partners such as Cathay Pacific, Iberia, Qantas and Finnair. None of the affected flights, which operated from October 26 to November 29, were transatlantic segments, but many were connections from London/Heathrow to major European destinations. … Silverjet, which hopes to launch all-business-class flights in January between Newark and London/Luton, has received approval to begin selling tickets. Introductory fares at the Silverjet Web site are $1,798 roundtrip.

Get That Hotel Scorecard Out Again
The endless string of hotel openings and brand shifts continues apace. Here's what's new this week. The 220-room Wyndham Milwaukee Center becomes an Intercontinental hotel on January 1. The hotel has recently been renovated. … Meanwhile, the Intercontinental Dubai has switched brands and is now called the Radisson SAS. The 287-room, 30-year-old property on Deira Creek is ancient by Dubai standards. … The first Embassy Suites hotel in Mexico has opened. The 162-suite property is located on the Reforma in Mexico City's financial district. … Four Seasons has opened a 270-room property in Westlake Village, California, about 45 minutes from downtown Los Angeles and Los Angeles International Airport.

What's Happening on the Road in December
Two underserved airports--Trenton, New Jersey, and Gary, Indiana--get a big bump in service this month. On December 18, Delta Air Lines launches regional-jet service from the New Jersey capital to both Boston and Atlanta. And a start-up public-charter airline, SkyValue brings flights back to Gary on December 15. There will be flights to Phoenix/Mesa, Las Vegas and three Florida destinations. … Two underserved destinations--China and India--get more flights this month. China Southern Airlines on December 8 launches four weekly flights from New York/Kennedy to Shanghai/Pudong. Meanwhile, Lufthansa adds three weekly Frankfurt-Kolkata flights on December 1 and Eva Airways starts three weekly Taipei-Mumbai flights on December 10. Both carriers offer easy connections to the India flights from their respective U.S. gateways. … Travelers looking for more service to Latin America get their wishes fulfilled this month. Continental launches weekly nonstops from Newark to Roatan, Honduras, on December 16. On the same day, Delta begins four weekly flights from Los Angeles to Guatemala City and a weekly flight to Liberia, Costa Rica. On December 17, Delta adds two weekly LAX-Managua, Nicaragua, flights. … Also notable this month: Delta launches daily nonstops between JFK and Accra, Ghana, and American Airlines begins regional-jet flights from JFK to Halifax, Nova Scotia. … Finally, a historical note: The Treaty of Utrecht in 1713 gave Britain ownership of Gibraltar "in perpetuity." Spain and England have been fighting over the practicalities of British suzerainty ever since. And it won't be until 293 years later--December 16, to be exact--that there will be an air link between Spain and Gibraltar. Iberia launches a daily flight between Madrid and Gibraltar on that day. A note to readers: Travel Calendar is a new feature in Tactical Traveler and will appear in the first column of each month.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Southwest Airlines has raised fares between $3 and $10 each way and the increase was matched by legacy carriers on the routes where they compete. The $3 increase applies to flights up to 1,000 miles while the $10 bump applies to longer hauls. … Starting Tuesday (December 5), British Airways changes the rules for getting assigned seats. Previously, the carrier offered a small pool of seats to travelers buying tickets on a first-come, first-served basis. Now only travelers buying full-fare tickets will be permitted to secure assigned seats at the time of purchase. All other travelers will be allowed to choose seats 24 hours before departure. For complete details on the new policy, click here. … A government snafu--Homeland Security Department bureaucrats missed a filing deadline--has pushed back the day when travelers must have a passport to enter the country by air from Canada, Mexico, Bermuda and the Caribbean. The new date is January 23, delayed from January 8. … United and American airlines are each offering 25,000 bonus miles for flying three roundtrips in certain fare categories before January 31. To register for the American offer, click here. To register for the United offer, click here.

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