The Tactical Traveler

Mother of Mercy, Is This the End of the Free Upgrade?
Free upgrades, the most coveted perk of the elite levels of the Big Six frequent flyer programs, are rapidly going the way of the dodo. Several months ago, US Airways began charging for international upgrades to its first-row seatbeds that it once gave to elite Dividend Miles flyers. United Airlines says that it hopes to triple the revenue it generates from selling upgrades in 2007. That, of course, will cut into the supply of seats available free for elite Mileage Plus members. And American Airlines has announced that it will all but eliminate free mileage-funded upgrades to Hawaii. Beginning March 1, American AAdvantage members who want to use a mileage award to upgrade a discounted-coach seat to Hawaii will also be required to pay $150 each way. Only travelers who buy a full-fare coach seat will still be able to use an upgrade award without a cash co-pay. And that's not all: Effective March 1, American will also increase to $300 the one-way fee to use a mileage award to upgrade an international seat. The international upgrade charge on discounted coach seats is currently $250 each way.

Do You Know the Way to LA Airport? Which One?
Sounds simple, right? When you go to Los Angeles, you go to Los Angeles International. Well, not anymore. The folks who run the Los Angeles airport system, which includes Palmdale and Ontario, have decided to slap the Los Angeles name on those airports, too. The newly named LA/Ontario is dominated by Southwest Airlines. If you can't place LA/Palmdale, don't worry. It doesn't even have commercial flights yet. Speaking of name games, Winnipeg has added "James Armstrong Richardson" to its name. Richardson founded Western Canada Airways in 1926 and WCA was the first airline to fly from Winnipeg. ... One more airport name game: Greek officials are furious that Skopje Airport in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia is renaming itself after Alexander the Great. The Greeks consider Alexander part of their heritage; Greece has also barred the country from calling itself simply "Macedonia" because the northern part of Greece is already called Macedonia. And as vain as all this sounds, it is very serious business in the fractious Balkans. Meanwhile, back in the world of actual airport changes, Milwaukee has opened a $9.5 million expansion at Concourse D of General Mitchell Airport. The major improvement: ground-level boarding gates for Midwest Connect commuter flights.

They Changed Their Flags in Suburban San Francisco
A new year is bringing lots of flag changes in the suburban San Francisco Bay area. The hotel formerly known as the Wyndham Garden Hotel Pleasanton has undergone a $4 million renovation and is now the 141-room Sheraton Pleasanton. Also in Pleasanton, the 244-room Crowne Plaza is converting to a Marriott after a $12.5 million renovation is complete. Meanwhile, in Emeryville, the 275-room Holiday Inn has become a Hilton Garden Inn after a $17 million redo. The Ritz-Carlton Chicago hotel has closed its formal dining room, prosaically known as the Dining Room. It was one of the city's best restaurants, but the room has been converted to banquet space. The Asian Hotel Alliance and the Global Hotel Alliance have merged. The new Global Hotel Alliance now comprises 186 hotels in 39 countries and includes brands such as Kempinski, Marco Polo, Omni, Pan Pacific and Dusit Thani. The six-month-old, 46-suite Qasr al Sharq in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, will become the first Waldorf-Astoria Collection hotel outside the United States.

The Chaos Continues in the Caribbean Skies
The Caribbean skies have always been chaotic and you shouldn't expect calm in 2007. The first big change is the demise of BWIA, the long-troubled flag carrier of Trinidad and Tobago and one of the few large carriers in the region. It died December 31 and was reborn on New Year's Day as Caribbean Airlines. The airline is a fraction of its former self. Meanwhile, two carriers based in Antigua, Caribbean Star and LIAT, are talking merger. Starting February 1, passengers will be able to book one ticket for flights on both carriers. A full merger will probably follow in several months, together with a sharp reduction in flights on routes where the two carriers currently compete. Finally, troubled Air Jamaica has scrapped its first-class cabins. In their place will be a so-called Executive Business Class. The airline is promising better seating and meals, use of airport lounges and a three-checked-bag allowance. Continental Airlines has completed the installation of on-demand audio-video systems on its fleet of 41 Boeing 757s. The planes fly international routes from Continental's Newark hub.

What You Missed During the Break
Unlike most end-of-year breaks, when news is scarce, the end of 2006 and the first days of 2007 generated a lot of things you need to know on the road. So here goes. Slovenia switched to the euro on January 1. It is the first addition to the Eurozone since the currency was introduced in 2002. Two new nations joined the European Community. Bulgaria and Romania are now EC members. A wide-ranging smoking ban is now in effect in Hong Kong. The ban covers restaurants, public spaces, schools and workplaces. It also bans smoking at beaches, public parks and sports grounds. Germany has raised its value-added tax by 3 percent. It is now 19 percent. Passengers on an Aeroflot flight on December 28 from Moscow to Geneva foiled an attempted hijacking. Varig is out of the Star Alliance. It will join Oneworld at the end of the month.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Airfares are rising again. Led by American Airlines, the Big Six pushed through a $5-$20 one-way increase on many routes over the Christmas holiday. Then Southwest Airlines bumped its fares $2-$3 each way yesterday (January 3). Delta Air Lines and its Comair commuter division have dodged a strike for another month. The airlines and their pilots have given themselves until February 2 to come to a new agreement. Australia will adopt the U.S./Canadian/EC rules for carry-on lotions and potions on March 31. American Airlines and Royal Jordanian will begin code-sharing on March 25. Enterprise Rent-A-Car has opened four branches in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Enterprise will open at San Juan's airport later this year. Air Canada will switch to in-flight music channels programmed by XM Radio beginning on March 1. If you wondered why you didn't see an in-flight magazine on your Northwest Airlines flight last month, blame Denver Nuggets superstar Carmelo Anthony. He was the subject of the cover story, but was suspended during December after a brawl between the Nuggets and the New York Knicks. Northwest chose to pull the magazine from circulation after the suspension.

Another Mickey Mouse Move from United Airlines
United Airlines has initiated another shuffle of top management and the new body in the chair marked "vice president-Customer Experience" is Barbara Higgins. She comes to United after an 18-year career at Disney, including posts at Disneyland Paris, Hong Kong Disneyland and Walt Disney World. Normally, I'd be impressed with those credentials, but after reading Will Allen's blog about his family's Christmas visit to Orlando, I'm not so sure. After all, does United really need another executive from a company that melts down during busy holiday periods and then tells customers they should have known better than to come during busy holiday periods?

Copyright 1993-2007 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.