The Tactical Traveler

FOR MAY 11, 1998


This week: Don't go back to the counter; deciphering the rules of the road; the statistical state of affairs; lodging perfection in Chicago; big deals Down Under; and more.

COUNTER INTELLIGENCE: Don't Go Back to the Counter
Just when you thought the airlines couldn't do anything more to annoy you, they've decided to eliminate advance-boarding passes. Northwest stopped issuing advance-boarding passes months ago, and now United, American, and TWA plan to do the same beginning June 1. The reasons the airlines give are bogus: increased security requirements, the rise of electronic ticketing, or, according to United, a way to "improve" customer service. While you're pondering the delicious irony of an airline eliminating a useful, much-loved customer amenity to improve service, don't lose sight of the big issue: avoid the ticket counter at all costs. If you're checking luggage, use the curbside check-in. If you're carrying on, get your boarding pass at your airline club, or go directly to the gate, then get your boarding card at the podium.

CYBERTRAVELER: Deciphering the Rules of the Road
Business travelers rarely pay attention to the Contract of Carriage, the antiquated document that passengers allegedly agree to observe when they purchase a ticket. Usually, you can't even find the complete contract. (Airlines are required by law to have copies at all ticket counters; try asking to see it some time.) Unfortunately, the contract is important. Even though it is blatantly anti-passenger, the contract is often our last line of defense against the airlines, which have a nasty habit of violating the convenant whenever something goes wrong with a reservation, a cancellation, a delayed flight, a fare, or a seat assignment. So surf on over to the Rules of the Air site ( constructed by Terry Trippler, a former airline executive. The site untangles the fine print in the contract. It also does a terrific job of analyzing and explaining the obscure, and often proprietary, ticketing rules enforced by more than a dozen major carriers. You'll be amazed at how carefully the airlines stack the deck against travelers.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: The Statistical State of Affairs
Want statistical proof that the domestic alliances planned by seven of the major U.S. carriers are anti-competitive and monopolistic? The deal between United (20.8 percent of the U.S. market) and Delta (17.5 percent) would control 38.3 percent of the nation's traffic. The American (19.2 percent) alliance with US Airways (7.6 percent) would command a 26.8 percent market share. And the combination of Northwest (12.6 percent), Continental (8.2 percent) and America West (3.2 percent) would yield a 24 percent share of market. Do the math, fellow flyers: if approved, the three alliances would control 89.1 percent of the U.S. market. Aren't those the kind of numbers that led the outraged citizens of the United States to rise up against the 19th Century railroad robber barons? Isn't this the kind of market concentration that has us all railing against Ÿbergeek Bill Gates and the wizards of Windows?

IN THE LOBBY: Lodging Perfection in Chicago
What astonishes me most about deluxe, over-the-top, super-premium hotels such as the luxury links in the Four Seasons, Mandarin, Peninsula, and Ritz-Carlton chains is how often a slovenly street kid like me can find the flaws and chinks. At $300 or $400 a night, I expect fanatical attention to the dreary details and slavish devotion to my rather pedestrian personal requirements--and I am frequently disappointed. Such is not the case at the Fours Seasons Chicago (312-280-8800). A recent stay on a sold-out night with a big-deal wedding in the ballroom confirmed what a lot of people believe: This is surely the best business-city hotel in the United States. The Four Seasons is the address to impress in Chicago, the public rooms are gloriously decorated and blissfully serene, and the service, food, fitness facilities, and guest rooms all but perfect. One simple example: after ordering a room-service meal and being promised delivery in 18 minutes, it arrived, perfectly prepared, in 11 minutes. Every weary, cynical, too-often disappointed business traveler should stay at the Four Seasons Chicago at least once.

THE WEEKLY WONDER: Big Deals Down Under
Too few travelers and too much capacity has travel suppliers serving Australia and New Zealand scrambling to offer bigger and better deals during the off season Down Under. Buy two tickets on Air New Zealand (800-262-1234) to Auckland or Sydney and you'll get a three-night Royal Caribbean cruise to Mexico. Buy two from Qantas (800-227-4500) to Sydney, Melbourne, or Auckland and get a five-night hotel stay. And Abel Tasman Tours (800-727-1626), a respected specialist in South Pacific travel, is offering packages that include: flights Down Under from Los Angeles or San Francisco, six nights of lodging, and city tours. Prices from all three start from about $900 a person. Flights must be booked by May 31 and travel completed by mid-September.

This column originally appeared at

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