The Tactical Traveler

FOR OCTOBER 14, 1999


This week: Europe's off-season crunch; how to win a classic roadside diner; fares rise again; Pan Am is back in the air--again; a new all-suite property near MIA; and more.

COUNTER INTELLIGENCE: Europe's Off-Season Crunch
Europe's off-season for travel begins next week and will be in full swing by November 1. In most years, this would also signal the start of the easiest period to claim frequent-flyer awards for free tickets to major continental destinations. Not so this year. In fact, it's going to be difficult to claim a seat--especially in business class--on many European routes. Among the domestic airlines with virtually no European availability for the next few weeks are USAirways and Continental. International partner carriers such as Alitalia, Sabena, Swissair and Air France are also near capacity. "We're booked solid for most of late October and early November," the award agent at one U.S. carrier admitted to a customer last week. "But not just reward seats. I can't find paid seats in the inventory, either." A spot check at another U.S. airline reveals that a few business class seats are available, but only at the higher priced, unrestricted levels. What's causing the glut? Many airlines lift blackout restrictions on Europe travel beginning October 15 or November 1 and early-bird award seekers snapped up the first available seats months ago. Moreover, the lowest prices for off-season tour packages to Europe are effective beginning November 1, so bargain-hunting vacationers have filled up the coach cabins during the first few weeks of the month. Where can you use your miles? London seems wide open, as do many destinations in Southeast Asia. There also are a good supply of premium-class award seats to Latin America.

CYBERTRAVELER: Awards and Rewards
Anxious to register your opinion on the world's best frequent-travel plans? Then cast your ballot in the "Freddies," the awards fandango that is part of Randy Petersen's growing empire of frequent-flyer-related matters. The ballots for the 12th annual competition are available at the Freddies website []. Meanwhile, if you want to win something for yourself, check out the American Diner Museum []. It's raffling off a hand-made reproduction of a 1940s Worcester-style diner booth. Tickets are $10 each. The wood-and-formica booth is valued at $2,000 and the drawing will be held on November 28.

MEDIA WATCH: A Roundup of Noteworthy News
Scott Thurston of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports an Atlantic Southwest Airlines flight made an unscheduled stop in Asheville, North Carolina, to accommodate the schedule of former Atlanta mayor Andrew Young. That delayed the flight and its passengers for almost an hour. Young sits on the board of directors of Delta Air Lines, which owns ASA. Jay Campbell of Bridge News serves up an insight into why airlines are so keen to have you book your flights at their proprietary website. Campbell interviewed TWA president Bill Compton, who said the airline's costs on web-generated tickets are $25-$30 less than a those purchased through a traditional travel agent. Frequent Flyer magazine has published its annual business-class review. The section dissects the business-class cabins of 48 carriers and offers comparisons of seat configuration, width, pitch, and recline. The report is also available at the Official Airlines Guide website. The October issue of Reader's Digest has dubbed E.G. "Bud" Shuster the "Prince of Pork" and "the most powerful Congressman you never heard of." The Pennsylvania Republican is chairman of the House Committee on Transportation, which has jurisdiction over many portions of the nation's commercial aviation infrastructure.

ON THE FLY: Business Travel News You Need to Know
Major U.S. carrier have raised fares for advanced-purchase, leisure-travel tickets again. This week's increase is the fourth across-the-board fare bump of 1999; depending on the route, prices are now 14-17 percent higher than this time last year. America West may be close to displacing Northwest as the nation's worst carrier. According to the August's Air Travel Consumer Report [], released last week by the Department of Transportation, America West was dead last in on-time performance, had the highest rate of passenger complaints, and rated seventh of the ten major carriers in lost bags and denied boarding. The report also debunked the perception that major airlines are bumping passengers at a scandalous rate. For the first six months of 1999, only 1.15 passengers in 10,000 were involuntarily denied boarding. That's just 29,213 flyers out of a total of 254.7 million travelers. Pan Am resumed scheduled service last week with flights between Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and Orlando/Sanford, Florida. The company is now owned by Guilford Transportation, a railroad company that bought the bankrupt carrier last year. United Airlines has begun selling miles to travelers looking to "top off" their MileagePlus [] accounts. United is selling miles at the industry average of 2.5 cents each.

A 156-unit Summerfield Suites Hotel (305-269-1922) is scheduled to open Friday near Miami International Airport. "Grand Opening" rates at the property are $89 a night for a one-bedroom suite and $119 for a two-bedroom unit. The rates include breakfast and are valid until December 15.

This column originally appeared at

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