The Tactical Traveler

FOR MARCH 22, 1999


This week: Scoring the lowest fares; Gold Bond stamps return as a hotel-loyalty program; the price gap between business-travel cities large and small; the Asia outlook; United discounts Boston-London fares; and more.

The major U.S. airlines raised prices last week for the second time this year. The latest bump, 1 percent on business tickets and 3 percent on leisure fares, brought 1999's across-the-board increases to 3 and 7 percent, respectively. Then they promptly got into a small fare war when Southwest Airlines launched a nationwide fare sale. If all these fare gyrations confuse you, join the crowd. In this period of pricing flux-as mentioned in previous weeks, there's also a profusion of companion fares, two-for-one deals, and short-term promotions-there's just one way to insure you're getting the best available fare. Just keep asking about prices before you book. Dogged persistence will lower your fare. There's no guarantee you'll always score the lowest fare on a particular route, but there are a few tried and true gambits to use: ask for fares on flights several days or several hours before or after your original flight times; check the prices on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, the days when traffic is lightest; ask about discounts on early-morning or night-owl flights; inquire about upgrades to first class on connecting flights; compare prices over competing hubs; and always ask if discount or start-up carriers fly to your destination.

CYBERTRAVELER: Points and Stamps
Ever wonder what happened to Gold Bond Stamps, the precursor to frequent-flyer programs and other loyalty-marketing schemes? Well, Gold Bond, founded in 1938, became the Carlson Companies, which now own the Radisson, Regent and Country Inns chains, T.G.I. Friday's restaurants and a slew of other travel and entertainment firms. And as if to bring the $22-billion firm back to its roots, Carlson has introduced Gold Points Rewards. Gold Points members receive 10 points for every dollar spent at most Radisson, Country Inns and Friday's restaurants and the program, at least for now, very much resembles a frequent-travel loyalty plan. Regular Carlson guests and diners would be well advised to check out the new Gold Points website ( for more details.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Big Cities, Big Bills
Where you travel in the United States has a dramatic influence on how much you spend on the road. That's the inescapable conclusion of a new analysis of travel prices compiled by Runzheimer International, the number crunches of record in the business-travel field. At $380 per day, New York City is the most expensive place in America for a business traveler to book a single-occupancy room and three square meals. That's almost four times as much as a room and three meals costs travelers in Davenport, Iowa or Moline, Illinois. At $102 per diem, the Quad Cities region around Davenport and Moline are the nation's least expensive places to travel on business. In between, according to Runzheimer, is the Silicon Valley around San Jose, California, which, at $284 per diem, is now even most costly than Chicago ($281), San Francisco ($269), Boston ($256) and Miami ($249). At the low end of the scale are Fayetteville, North Carolina ($103); Macon, Georgia ($105); Billings, Montana ($109); and Salem, Oregon ($110).

DOLLAR WATCH: Airfare Follies
If you think a day in New York is overpriced at $380, then consider the 45-minute flight between Chattanooga and Atlanta. At $3.11 per mile for the 107-mile route, the mind-boggling unrestricted walk up fare is $333 one way and $666 roundtrip.

IN THE LOBBY: The Asia Outlook
More than 18 months after the devaluation of the Thai baht ignited Asia's unprecedented currency and economic crisis, some observers believe the metaphoric rock bottom has been reached. To answer the question of what's happening in Asia, we checked in with Robert Hutchinson, senior vice president of marketing for Shangri-La Hotels, which manages 36 properties in the region. "Business is good in China. It's looking up," he says. "The domestic economy is growing and they haven't devalued." In fact, Shangri-La, which has 14 hotels throughout China, continues to expand there. A new Shangri-La hotel debuted in Shanghai last summer, a Shangri-La is due to open in Harbin this week, and another is scheduled to open in Wuhan next month. A Shangri-La in Beijing's Kerry Centre is due in September. Elsewhere, says Hutchinson, business in the Taiwanese capital of Taipei is "good. Singapore is okay and it's not too bad in the Philippines. But I'm not really ready to say any place else is truly picking up. The Asian situation probably bottomed out last year, but I wouldn't look for the first really good signs until the third or fourth quarter. Maybe."

WEEKLY WONDER: Boston Bargain
United Airlines' new Boston-London service launches April 4 and it's a sign of the saturated U.S.-U.K. market that the introductory fare is $99 one way, or about half the price of a shuttle flight between Boston and New York. United's $198 roundtrip fare is valid for travel between April 4 and May 31. The restrictions: seven-day advance purchase and a Saturday-night stay. The capacity-controlled fare is nonrefundable. For more information: 800-241-6522.

This column originally appeared at

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