The Tactical Traveler

FOR MAY 4, 1998


This week: Shooting the currency gap to lower Asian fares; Bib at his best on the Web; mergers, monopolies and frequent flyer programs; fighting the power; putting on the Ritz (Carlton) for less; and more.

COUNTER INTELLIGENCE: Shoot the Currency Gap to Lower Fares
Ten months after Thailand devalued the baht and triggered the Asia/Pacific financial crisis, the airlines still haven't closed the currency gaps in their fare structures. For instance, a one-way, business-class seat on a flight from Chicago to Sydney costs $3,766. Yet a Sydney-Chicago ticket costs just 4,550 Australian dollars or $2,935. That's a one-way savings of more than $800. There are similar currency gaps elsewhere around the Pacific Rim: Los Angeles-Bangkok in business class costs $1,169, but Bangkok-Los Angeles costs just $981 (37,800 baht); San Francisco-Seoul runs $1,204, but Seoul-San Francisco costs just $925 (1,246,200 won); and Newark-Kuala Lumpur runs $2,200, but Kuala Lumpur-Newark costs just $1,781 (6,680 ringgit). How do you shoot the currency gap and pay the lower prices? On unrestricted fares, buy one-way tickets to your Asia/Pacific destination, then purchase the return flight in local currency. If you fly on roundtrip and advance-purchase fares, ask your travel consultant about pricing your itinerary in devalued Asia/Pacific currencies.

CYBERTRAVELER: 'Bib' at His Best
There is no truth to the rumor that I use the same personal trainer as Bibendum, the puffy-bodied Michelin corporate mascot who quite literally has spare tires around his middle. But check the resemblance between me and 'Bib' for yourself by surfing over to the snappy Michelin web site ( Bib is at his best here: Lots of Michelin's famed maps and guides, useful tips for world travelers, interactive driving directions and computer-mapping programs, and a stunning display of those artsy Michelin posters from early in the century. Also worth visiting is the on-line trinket shop that stocks hundreds of cool Michelin collectibles and souvenirs. You can buy a year's worth of stuff, have it sent home, then never worry about returning from a business trip and answering the question, "What Did You Bring Me?"

MILES & POINTS: Mergers, Monopolies and Frequent Flyer Prorgams
The airlines have shown their hand while they scheme to create their anti-competitive domestic alliances. More than code-sharing, the airlines are betting that linked frequent-flyer programs will convince business travelers to fly the carriers that forge a particular alliance. American thinks it'll win US Airways customers (and vice versa) because American AAdvantage and Dividend Miles will link. Delta and United believe the fusion of SkyMiles and MileageP lus will ensure loyalty to their cabal. Ditto Northwest, Continental, and America West as they cobble together their programs. If the Gang of Seven is correct and business travelers can be led around by their mileage plans, the ironic and inevitable result is this: The end of frequent flyer programs altogether. These monopolistic alliances might mean better frequent-flyer earning and redemption options in the short term, but, eventually, the airline market will become so concentrated that the carriers won't need to woo us with loyalty schemes. After all, why would monopoly-status airlines offer loyalty inducements after they've wiped out the competition?

It's money-where-your-mouth-is time. Several struggling, smaller carriers are pioneering new routes and they'll need your support to survive. On May 15, for instance, Kiwi International (800-JET-KIWI) launches non-stop flights between Newark and Niagara Falls, New York, which is convenient to both Buffalo and Toronto. Three days later, Pro Air (800-939-9551) starts nonstop flights between Philadelphia and Detroit's close-in City Airport. Also on May 18, AirTran (800-AIRTRAN) kicks off nonstop service from Atlanta to Bradley International Airport in Hartford, Connecticut. Use 'em or lose 'em, fellow travelers.

THE WEEKLY WONDER: Putting on the Ritz (Carlton) for Less
Swanky hotels such as the 34 links in the Ritz-Carlton (800-241-3333) chain routinely offer price inducements during the summer. This year is no exception. From May 23 to September 7, you can be putting on the Ritz at "Visa Summer Promotion" rates when you reserve and pay for your room with a Visa credit card. At the low end of the sale scale, nightly rooms are going for just $63 in Kuala Lumpur, where the Ritz-Carlton opened just in time for the currency-inspired collapse of business travel to the Malaysian capital. Prices are also low in the blistering summer sun: $109 in the California desert community of Rancho Mirage, $118 in Phoenix, and $119 in Palm Springs. Cityside, Visa rates range from $115 (weekends in Kansas City) to $275 (weekdays in Boston and San Francisco).

This column originally appeared at

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