The Tactical Traveler

FOR AUGUST 5, 1999


This week: Watch for end-of-the-month flight delays; more fare highs and phony lows; major hotels are shifting brand flags; Autogrill buys HMS Host; Swissair deals on flights to Basel; and more.

COUNTER INTELLIGENCE: The End-of-the-Month Shuffle
The rules of the road change all the time and here's a new one: Whenever possible, avoid flying during the last week of the month. What's the rationale for this new rule? Massive flight cancellations at the end of each month have been playing havoc with business travelers' schedules. The most recent example: more than 100 canceled flights during the last few days of July in Charlotte, a USAirways hub. During other months this year, however, the end-of-the-month schedule shuffle has affected American at Dallas, TWA at St. Louis, United in Chicago and every other major carrier in at least one of its hubs. What's causing all the flight cancellations at the end of each month? Primarily, the cascade effect of flight delays throughout the month, which cause employees to exceed their legal and contractual monthly duty times. In other words, pilots and flight attendants waste so much "on duty" time waiting out flight delays during the month that they have no work time remaining for flights scheduled for the last few days of the month. Faced with the crew shortages, airlines cancel the flights. Of course, flight delays aren't the only reason for the end-of-the-month cancellations. Labor squabbles at several airlines have led disgruntled employees to refuse overtime assignments they might otherwise have been able to legally accept. Maintenance problems build up during the month and contribute to last-minute cancellations, too.

CYBERTRAVELER: All the News That's Fit to Aggregate
Several weeks back, I mentioned a terrific news website called 1st Headlines, which draws material from more than 150 print and broadcast sources around the world. Now 1st Headlines has gotten better by adding a special travel page. 1st Headlines Travel [] aggregates travel news from at least 58 newspapers, websites and broadcast operations in the United States and the United Kingdom. The material is sliced and diced by destination, by columnists (including, ahem!, yours truly), and by breaking news. There's also a search function. Don't miss this one. 1st Headlines Travel is just a week old, but it may already be the best travel news site on the web.

DOLLAR WATCH: More Fare Highs and Phony Lows
The real news: The American Express Airfare Index, which tracks prices in 215 U.S. city pairs, reports that the Typical Business Fare paid in June was $970 roundtrip. That's 7 percent higher than in June, 1998. The phony news: the Northwest-initiated fall fare cut for leisure travelers announced on Monday and immediately matched by other carriers. The 25 percent average reduction is hardly a fare cut at all. First of all, airlines raised leisure fares by 11 percent during the year. Second of all, the price reductions are absurdly inadequate given the weak bookings that airlines are experiencing for fall travel. A word to the wise: ignore this phony "sale" and wait. Look for another fare sale, with substantially lower prices, right after Labor Day.

IN THE LOBBY: Flying the (New) Flags
Check you itineraries, fellow flyers. Some big-name hotels you may have recently visited have abruptly changed flags. In Beverly Hills, for example, the Hotel Nikko was acquired by Forte Hotels and rebranded the Le Meridien Beverly Hills. In Philadelphia, the Ritz-Carlton has been renamed the St. Regis, a brand operated by Starwood, the company that owns the hotel building. And lastly, in New York, a 208-room hotel on Central Park South has adopted its fourth name in 24 months. The old Ritz-Carlton, which became the Luxury Collection in 1997 and the Westin in 1998, was last month renamed the Central Park Inter-Continental. Westin will continue to manage the nearby Essex House and Inter-Continental will continue to manage its mid-town hotel, the Inter-Continental New York. The 478-room Westin hotel in Stamford, Connecticut, has installed in-room safes that the company says will accommodate laptop computers. The Regency Hotel in New York is opening a 150-seat nightclub called Feinstein's at The Regency. Rosemary Clooney is scheduled to open the club on October 5. The Kerry Centre, the new Shangri-La hotel in Beijing, opens this month. The introductory rate of $126 a night includes continental breakfast and is valid from August 28 until November 30.

ON THE FLY: Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Autogrill, the Milan-based firm which operates the snappy Autogrill restaurants on the Italian Autostrada and in Italy's airports, is acquiring Host Marriott Services, which oversees food courts in more than 200 U.S. travel plazas and airports. Together, the two firms will operate at 76 airports, 609 travel plazas, 66 shopping malls and 21 railway stations. United Vacations now offers business-class seats on its packages to Beijing, Shanghai, Tokyo, Kyoto, Bangkok and Singapore. Prices start at $3,149 and include: roundtrip business-class seats, airport transfers, five nights of hotel accommodations, and taxes.

DEAL BOARD: A Deal by the Numbers
Swissair (800-221-4750) has posted a $330 roundtrip fare for flights between Newark and Basel. Why $330? The flight is operated with an Airbus A-330. The fare is valid for travel between August 12 through December 15. Tickets must be purchased by August 27.

This column originally appeared at

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