The Tactical Traveler



This week: Cutting the cost of airport lounges; the site from Diners Club; the Grand Alliances of Spring look small now; Chicago is my kind of hotel town; Florida without flying; and more.

COUNTER INTELLIGENCE: Cutting the Cost of Clubbing It
Airlines are breathless when they announce the opening of a new airport club or a reciprocal-use agreement with one with their partner carriers, but speechless when it comes to explaining that you pay the freight via dramatically increased annual membership fees. United Red Carpet and Northwest WorldClubs, for example, bumped their worldwide annual fees this year to the record-high $400 level. The American Admirals club network charges $350. Continental Presidents Club, which had charged a relatively modest $150, raised its annual fee to $225 on September 1. Even with this rate inflation, club membership remains the best single deal in business travel. But there's no reason to throw financial caution to the wind. Many travelers are better off joining Priority Pass (800-352-2834). The private program grants you access to a network of about 200 airport lounges around the world--far more than any single airline club system offers. Among the participating Priority Pass clubs are TWA Ambassadors, America West Clubs, and domestic WorldClubs. The price: $295 a year for Prestige Level, which permits unlimited access to any and all Priority Pass clubs.

CYBERTRAVELER: The Site from Diners Club
Persistent rumors have it that Citicorp, which owns the U.S. franchise of Diners Club, is about to launch one more marketing blitz to re-establish and rejuvenate the charge card in the United States. While you wait, screen the old Danny Kaye movie, The Man from The Diner's Club, or surf on over to the elegant Diners Club web site ( The site is clean, well articulated, and targeted directly at business travelers. You'll find easy access to global weather, currency conversions, language translations, travel-health tips, and other options. There's also a solid collection of business-travel related links.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Grand Alliances, Small Payoffs
Remember the Grand Alliances of spring, when American was going to code-share with US Airways, and United was going to share with Delta, and Northwest and Continental were going to go merrily into the code-share hall of fame? Notice how none of them have come to pass? The Delta-United deal was undone by Delta pilots after Delta management refused to give them representation on the board of directors. So they've settled on a frequent-flyer link-up. American and US Airways have linked loyalty programs and airport clubs, but haven't even broached a code-share alliance yet. And the Northwest-Continental deal, stuck in neutral due to regulatory approvals, doesn't even have a frequent-flyer deal in place yet. But beware these seemingly small payoffs. The frequent-flyer links alone may help the airlines achieve their goal of reducing our choice of competitive carriers. After all, even without code-shares, the frequent-flyer agreements force us to choose between our hearts, which long for a competitive, free-for-all marketplace, and our heads, which says we should fly partners to maximize our loyalty-program payoffs.

IN THE LOBBY: My Kind of Hotel Town
Chicago is my kind of hotel town, with literally hundreds of grand dames, luxury pleasure palaces, quirky local boutiques, and four or five branches of the major national brands. If you can't find a hotel you love in Chicago, you probably don't belong on the road. To this cornucopia of lodging delights, add the House of Blues Hotel, due to open October 1, and the Hotel Monaco, scheduled to open its Art Deco doors on November 10. The 367-room House of Blues (800-23-LOEWS) is managed by Loews and includes a bowling alley, a 25,000-foot health club, a marina, and the adjacent House of Blues nightclub and restaurant. Meanwhile, the Hotel Monaco (800-397-7661) is being carved out of the old Oxford House Hotel. Managed by Kimpton, the San Francisco-based group of boutique properties, the 192-room Hotel Monaco will be a duplicate of its sister properties in San Francisco and Seattle. Nightly rates at both properties start at $125 and both are designed by Cheryl Rowley, who recently turned Chicago's dour Bismarck into the snazzy Hotel Allego.

THE WEEKLY WONDER: Florida Without Flying
Hertz (800-654-3131) begins shifting its New York/New England fleet to Florida on Wednesday and it'll give you a break on the rental rate if you help them move the iron south. "Florida Drive-in" program rates range from $14.99-$21.99 a day and $74.99-$109.99 a week with unlimited mileage from September 23 through December 13. The strings: pick up a car from 30 New York or New England locations, drop it at a Florida station, and one-way rentals cannot exceed eight days.

This column originally appeared at

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