The Tactical Traveler



Bitter experience has taught me a lesson: always have a back-up hotel room booked at the airport during the snow season. When you're on the road, snow falls and blizzards are less of a hassle if you've got a hotel room booked in case flights are canceled and the airport shuts down. While other snowbound frequent flyers scramble for rooms and are reduced to sleeping on chairs at their departure gate, you'll have a warm and cozy place to spend the night. How to do it? Before leaving home or checking out of your hotel, check the forecast. If snow is predicted, make a reservation for a hotel room at your departure airport. Most hotels will hold a room until at least 4 p.m without charge if you guarantee the reservation with a credit card. If it snows and you're stuck at the airport, check into the room and relax. If not, fly away. But be sure to cancel your reservation, both as a courtesy to the hotel and to ensure your credit card won't be billed for the unused room night.

CYBERTRAVELER: Fares, Fair and Otherwise
It runs more than 40 pages, but spend time with the Domestic Airline Fares Consumer Report, now available at the Transportation Department web site ( The blizzard of data, which covers the first quarter of 1998, is sliced and diced by route distance, by city pair, and by individual market. Among the things you'll learn: the average one-way fare was $273 on the 264-mile route between Chicago and Cincinnati, but only $79 on the 296-mile route between Chicago and Columbus, Ohio; and the 1,124-mile trip between Boston to Minneapolis averaged $423, but the 1,124-mile flight between Denver and Detroit averaged $264. Oh, you'll also learn that you probably don't want to live in Wichita, Kansas. Travelers there bore the two largest year-over-year increases in average fares. Prices from Wichita to Denver jumped 223 percent while fares to Chicago leapt 137 percent.

AT THE AIRPORT: To the Incumbents Go the Flights
A frightening story ran on the Associated Press wire just days before Election Day. Written by Washington correspondent Philip Brasher, the piece details how major airlines cater to the whims of key Washington legislators. Take Senate minority leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota, for example. Northwest recently slashed fares throughout his home state and United launched jet service from Chicago to Sioux Falls. Senate majority leader Trent Lott of Mississippi got his, too. Northwest recently began jet flights to Gulfport, which just happens to be near Lott's home town of Pascagoula. Want more? Minnesota Rep. Jim Oberstar is the senior Democrat on the House Transportation Committee and Duluth is the largest city in his district. Until recently, Duluth's only jet service was to Minneapolis. But American now flies to Chicago and Northwest flies to Detroit. Airlines have also been adding service to Alabama, home state of Sen. Richard Shelby, chairman of the transportation subcommittee. There's little doubt about why the carriers fashion their route maps in this manner. As Brasher's story explains, United had flown between Sioux Falls and Rapid City, South Dakota, at the request of Larry Pressler, chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee. United dropped the route after Pressler was defeated in 1996. But Northwest picked up the route earlier this year, another nod to the powerful Daschle.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Consulting the Oracle
Airline "experts" usually fall into three categories: oblivious syncophants, paid shills, and securities analysts whose insight ends at the next quarterly report. And then there's Morten S. Beyer, the tart-tongued chairman and chief executive of MBA Inc., an aviation-consulting firm. His insights twit the conventional wisdom, he has the gift of historical perspective, and he's a champion of a rational transportation system that includes reasonable fares and fair returns for airlines. Much of what you'll find in Beyer's MBA Aviation Oracle is arcane and aimed at the industry, but frequent flyers would be well advised to spring for the $195 annual subscription fee. The monthly's stories, charts and observations go a long way to explaining why the airline world works as it does--and why it doesn't work as it should. Get more information by phone (703-847-6598).

THE WEEKLY WONDER: Booking in a Winter Wonderland
The "Winter Interludes" package at more than 20 Kempinski hotels in Europe, the Middle East and Asia slice rates as low as $84 during the winter. The package also include some nice perks, including free use of health clubs and a 5 p.m. check out. Valid from December 5-20 and January 2-February 28, prices range from $84 (Hotel Zografski in Sofia, Bulgaria) and about $117 (Hotel Gravenbruch near Frankfurt) to $263 (Hotel Baltschug in Moscow) and about $300 (Hotel Royal Monceau in Paris). For more information, call 212-687-8600.

This column originally appeared at

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