The Tactical Traveler

FOR AUGUST 19, 1999


This week: Breaking the stranglehold of frequent flyer plans; two more credit cards increase their secret fees; what business travelers want from hotels; Iridium goes bust; British Midland bargains in Europe; and more.

COUNTER INTELLIGENCE: Break the Frequent Flyer Stranglehold
Everybody hates their airline sometime and often your anger rises to the level where you'll actually consider shifting carriers. Then you remember: change airlines and you lose your elite frequent-flyer status, your hard-earned upgrade privileges, and all the other little perks you get for being loyal to the carrier you now despise. But you may be able to break the stranglehold. Call a competing airline's frequent-flyer service center and ask to speak to a supervisor. Or call the competing carrier's station manager at your home-town airport. Explain the situation and your dissatisfaction with your current airline. Tell the supervisor or station manager you'd be willing to switch airlines [ital]if[ital] they grant you on-the-spot elite status in their frequent-flyer program. Make sure you have several recent statements available to prove your status and travel patterns on your current airline. You'll be surprised how often you'll get your perks and privileges matched by a competing carrier eager to win your business.

CYBERTRAVELER: Sit Down and Vote
Crystal Airways, a Florida-based company trying to raise funds to launch service, is asking potential customers to vote on the type of seats it should install. Surf to Crystal's site [] to view photographs of the prospective airline's prospective seats and to cast your ballot.

DOLLAR WATCH: Two More Fee Increases
The list of credit- and charge-card companies jacking up their foreign-transaction fees increased this week when Diners Club and the Chase Continental OnePass card joined the parade. Diners and Chase have each doubled their fee to 2 percent of foreign transactions charged to the cards and converted to U.S. dollars. The Diners change becomes effective September 18; Chase's increase is effective for billing cycles ending after September 30. As reported in the April 29 edition of Tactical Traveler, American Express, Citigroup (which issues the American AAdvantage card), First Chicago (United's MileagePlus card) have already raised their fees.

IN THE LOBBY: Hotels and Business Travelers
What are business travelers asking hotels for these days? For the answer, I checked in with Bob Dirks, senior vice president of marketing at Hilton Hotels Corp. "What we're hearing today, right now, is an overwhelming request for high-speed connectivity in the rooms," he says. "Business travelers are checking in with their laptops and they want to work." In response, Dirks says Hilton hotels are testing both wireless and wired solutions. The wireless network allows guests to connect at speeds 10 to 50 times faster than a typical modem. The wired program, called "OverVoice," permits travelers to use one telephone line for a simultaneous voice conversation and a data connection of up to 10Mbps. Both programs are already available in selected Hilton properties and will be widely available early next year. "We believe we're in a leadership position on connectivity and, obviously, we see it as a short-term advantage for Hilton," Dirks explains. "But, eventually, it'll be the cost of entry if you want to compete for the business of business travelers."

ON THE FLY: Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Iridium, the first company to market with a handheld satellite-phone, filed for bankruptcy protection last week. The company blew millions on off-target advertising, then failed to make enough handsets available or ensure the service was reliable. Kiwi International, which hasn't flown since March, may be at the end of the road. The court-appointed trustee of the Newark-based carrier said Tuesday he had been unable to find investors to get the airline flying again. Failing a last-minute rescue, the company will liquidate its remaining assets. Don't think for a moment that "air rage" is something that happens only to passengers. The Sydney Morning Herald recently reported that two Qantas captains got into a pushing and shoving match after a disagreement over landing priority at Melbourne Airport. Eight Marriott hotels are switching to the Wyndham brand. Included in the switch are Marriotts at Roanoke Airport in Virginia and DFW Airport in Texas; Key West, Florida; Syracuse, New York; and Colorado Springs. Flight delays have become so onerous in Chicago that both major carriers with an O'Hare hub have written letters of apology to their most-frequent flyers. American Airlines asked passengers to "overlook our poor performance" and "give us another chance." United Airlines went so far as to offer some travelers a bonus of 2,500 miles.

THE WEEKLY WONDER: Europe's Business-Class Bargain
British Midland (800-788-0555) has slashed business-class fares between its London hub and many European destinations. Fares are one-way and require a seven-day advance purchase, but changes are permitted and refunds available. The fares are $159 (to seven destinations in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland); $259 (to Paris, Frankfurt and five other cities) and $359 (to cities such as Prague, Stuttgart and Warsaw). The fares are valid through December 19.

This column originally appeared at

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