The Tactical Traveler

FOR AUGUST 17, 1998


This week: Bomb-scare scares; getting to the airport via the Web; robber barons of the air; the shape of a Sheraton-Westin loyalty program; Christmas in Lapland; and more.

An unfortunate side effect of the tragic bombing of two U.S. Embassies in East Africa last week is the spate of phony bomb threats aimed at airlines, airports and hotels. In one 48-hour period last week, there were threats aimed at the Hilton International hotel in Nairobi, Kenya, a Cyprus Airlines flight en route to London, and a British Airways flight preparing for departure from Jersey in the English Channel. Thankfully, all the threats were hoaxes, but they forced the evacuation of the Nairobi hotel, the diversion of the Cyprus Airlines flight, and the closure of the Jersey airport. There's nothing a traveler can do to avoid the disruptions and inconveniences caused by the hoaxes. But you'd be well advised to plan your schedule with enough downtime to deal with the inevitable delays created when authorities check out these threats.

CYBERTRAVELER: The Web Way to the Airport
The bad news: there is no all-inclusive Internet resource about airports. The good news: there seem to be dozens of contenders trying to build the ultimate airport database. You can find some of the basics at some of the world's leading airports at either Quickaid ( or Airports International ( Both offer up alphabetical airport links that lead you to a grab bag of home pages: airport-maintained sites; odd, single-page data sheet; and the occasional home-grown report. A third site, Aviation Internet Resources (, offers essentially the same material in a searchable format. And a fourth site, Airwise (, promises "independent" information on airports, but its links invariably serve up bare-bones facilities information and airport press releases.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Robber Barons of the Air
About a dozen years ago, Frequent Flyer magazine ran a cover story about business-travel airfares asking, "Are They Trying to Pick Our Pockets?" The cover illustration showed a woman's hand deftly picking a wallet out of the back pocket of an unwitting frequent flyer. Within days of the cover's appearance, Delta Air Lines pulled its advertising from the magazine and claimed Frequent Flyer was sullying the image of the airline industry. I couldn't help but think of the pick-pocket incident last week when the news broke that Delta and United had raised business-travel fares on many routes where either carrier is the sole competitor of Northwest Airlines. Northwest is facing a pilots' strike on August 29 when a federally mandated, 30-day "cooling off" period expires. The United and Delta fare increases, loaded into the reservations computers a few days after the strike deadline was set, are in the $10-$50 range. One example: Northwest and United are the only nonstop carriers in the Detroit-Denver market. Each carrier had been charging an unrestricted one-way fare $631, but United has raised its fare to $661.

MILES & POINTS: The Shape of Sheraton-Westin
Sheraton and Westin, both now owned by the Starwood real-estate investment trust, will jettison their proprietary frequent-guest programs on January 1 in favor of a company-wide plan. Planning for the new program is still incomplete, says Hoyt W. Harper, the executive in charge of the new frequency plan, but he did offer some general answers to my specific questions. The program will issue credit for stays at "close to 99 percent" of the properties flying one of Starwood's six flags: Sheraton, Westin, Four Points, Ceasars World, St. Regis/Luxury Collection and the new W chain. There will be no charge for membership (Sheraton Club International once charged an annual fee). The program, says Harper, will offer "flexible currency," a euphemism meaning you can either accrue credits in the Starwood program or convert your hotel stays into airline frequent-flyer miles. "Elite" status will be based on total spending as well as the number of times you stay at a Starwood properties. The reward chart will include free hotel stays at all six chains; vacation packages, offered with and without airline tickets; and the miles-conversion option. "We may even add a merchandise component," he says. When will travelers get a look at the program specifics? "Shortly after Labor Day," promises Harper.

THE WEEKLY WONDER: Christmas in Lapland
It's a hot and sticky August and you're working much too hard for the summer, so think about Christmas. Specifically, Christmas in Finnish Lapland, where there really are reindeer and Santa Claus is reputed to reside. A tour operator called Norvista (800-677-6454) is offering six-day Lapland packages (December 22-27) starting at $1,999 for adults and $589 for children. The packages include roundtrip airfare on Finnair; accommodations and most meals; activities such as visits to Santapark and reindeer farms; snowmobile excursions, and sleigh rides. There is a $100 discount for travelers who book before September 30.

This column originally appeared at

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