The Tactical Traveler



This week: Marriott shuffles its frequent-stay plans; airlines up the discount ante; the carriers add more international routes; an introductory bargain at Hilton's new hotel at Boston/Logan; and more.

COUNTER INTELLIGENCE: Marriott Shuffles Frequent-Stay Plans
The war of the lodging behemoths is heating up, and, as predicted two weeks ago in The Brancatelli File, the weapon of choice will be the frequent-stay plans. Marriott, whose loyalty programs are considered the largest and most effective in the lodging industry, has fired the first shot. The company announced Tuesday that it will fold the smaller Marriott Miles plan into the company's much larger Marriott Rewards program. Marriott Miles offers guests miles in a number of airline frequent-flyer programs. Marriott Rewards offers points, which can be converted to free hotel rooms and vacations. Effective October 4, the new Marriott Rewards plan works like this: Travelers who desire Rewards credits will receive between 5 and 10 points for every dollar spent at 1,650 Marriott properties. Guests who prefer frequent-flyer credits will earn up to three miles per dollar spent. The miles can be earned in--and directly deposited to--the frequent-flyer programs operated by eight major U.S. carriers, Air Canada, British Airways and more than a dozen other international airlines. However, "double dipping," which is offered in the Hilton HHonors program, will not allowed in the new Marriott plan. Marriott Rewards members must choose wither miles or points when they make a reservation or when they check in.

ON THE FLY: Business-Travel News You Need to Know is offering triple miles in its new frequent-flyer program for all charters booked by December 31. Austrian Airlines is dropping its cooperation with Swissair and the Qualiflyer frequent-flyer plan to join the Star Alliance. Austrian is also bailing on its code-share with Delta Air Lines after August 5, 2000; it is switching to United, one of the key Star Alliance partners. JetBlue Airways, based at New York's Kennedy airport, has received Transportation Department certification and exemptions from Kennedy's slot controls. The start-up says it will launch all-coach service early next year.

DOLLAR WATCH: Airlines Up the Discount Ante
When the airlines launched their phony fall fare sale back in August--just 25 percent off prices that they raised by 11 percent--I advised flyers to hold off and wait for better, and more reasonable, discounts. As predicted, the deals improved on Tuesday. The sale launched by Delta Air Lines were substantially better than the August sale for the same travel period (until December 15) with similar restrictions (Saturday stay and 14-day advance purchase). This sale knocks fares on the nation's busiest route, New York-Los Angeles, down to a realistic $358 roundtrip. Most other carriers matched Delta's initiative and all are offering additional discounts for booking tickets directly from their proprietary websites. Meanwhile, Delta has rolled out the next generation of Internet-only pricing. Its "Fan Fares" offers discounts on travel to cities hosting sporting and cultural events. Some examples from this weekend: Indianapolis travelers were offered a $198 roundtrip fare to San Diego see football's Indianapolis Colts play the San Diego Chargers; St. Louis flyers were pitched a $98 roundtrip to Cincinnati see baseball's St. Louis Cardinals play the Cincinnati Reds; and Dallas travelers were offered a $158 roundtrip fare to Washington/National to see the San Francisco Ballet at the Kennedy Center. Subscribers to Fan Fares must be members of Delta's frequent-flyer program. Travelers receive a weekly Email offering fares that are generally valid for outbound travel on Saturday and return travel on Monday or Tuesday.

INTERNATIONAL ITINERARY: Business Slows, New Routes Speed Up
Business is soft and the outlook is grim on most international routes, so what are the airlines doing? Adding new service, of course. Here's what's on the board: Sabena launches Washington/Dulles to Brussels service five times weekly beginning October 31. Virgin Atlantic adds daily flights between Chicago/O'Hare and London/Heathrow on November 1. Also on November 1, TWA will add nonstop daily service from San Juan to five cities: Los Angeles, Fort Lauderdale, Orlando, Santo Domingo and Aruba. United Airlines begins nonstop daily service between Los Angeles and Melbourne, Australia, on December 4. Qantas launches New York/Kennedy-Los Angeles-Sydney flights on October 31. The same-plane service will operate three times weekly. Japan Airlines starts thrice-weekly service between New York/Kennedy and Sa Paulo/Guarulhos on November 2.

THE WEEKLY WONDER: Boston for Beans
Hilton opened a lavish new hotel at Logan Airport on September 15 and is offering a special "opening rate" of $169 a night until October 15. The 600-room Hilton Boston Logan Airport (800-HILTON-1) is on the grounds of Logan and directly connected to all terminals. Meanwhile, the Sheraton Boston (800-325-3535) has completed a two-year renovation has posted a weekend "Renovation Celebration" rate of $129 a night between November 21-January 16. The 1,181-room hotel is adjacent to the Prudential Center in Boston's Back Bay.

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