The Tactical Traveler



This week: Airline upgrade programs let you buy coach and fly first; airlines help fund airport renovations to accommodate skyrocketing air traffic; Arlanda Express high-speed rail link opens at Stockholm’s Arlanda Airport; Internet titans battle for your online travel bookings; and more.

COST CUTTERS: Buy Coach, Fly First
Want to pay coach, but fly in first? Just ask. You'd be surprised how many airlines will allow an automatic upgrade from a full coach fare--and you'll be shocked to learn that several carriers have structured programs specifically to accommodate passengers looking to escape the confined confines of coach.

At TWA, the plan is called FirstUp. Book a full-fare coach seat on domestic connecting flights through TWA's St. Louis hub, or pay full fare on most nonstop flights out of New York/Kennedy, and you'll automatically be confirmed in first class. Northwest offers ConnectFirst[]. Pay the full-fare coach price for any domestic itinerary connecting at the airline's major hubs--Detroit, Minneapolis or Memphis--and you'll be confirmed in first.

Upgrade programs are often available internationally, too. Malaysia Airlines offers an automatic one-class upgrade whenever you pay a full fare and Northwest has recently rolled out ConnectFirst Asia, an upgrade scheme for its extensive Asian route network.

AIRPORT REPORT: The High Cost of Progress
Air traffic is skyrocketing--600 million people flew last year and federal authorities expect the number to reach 900 million by 2007--and airports are straining to keep up. There is good news: New terminals, gates and facilities are in the works. But there's also bad news: Progress comes with a high price tag and the cost will eventually show up in ticket prices.

What's on tap? Delta Air Lines says it will provide $335 million of the estimated $386 million cost of renovating Terminal A at Boston's Logan Airport. Construction is expected to begin in 18 months and be completed by 2004. … At Kennedy Airport in New York, American Airlines is committing $1.3 billion for a new terminal that will have four concourses and 56 gates. The airline broke ground on the 2.2 million-square-foot facility last week, but construction won't be complete until 2006. … In Chicago, aviation authorities now say the cost of a plan to add two new terminals and two customs facilities at O'Hare International in Chicago has nearly quadrupled to $3.7 billion. The city estimated the project at $1 billion when it announced the plan in February.

Meanwhile, a business center with an 80-seat theater and 21 meeting rooms has opened at London City Airport, the vest-pocket facility in the Docklands area of the British capital. And Stockholm's Arlanda Airport is scheduled to get its long-awaited high-speed rail link to downtown effective November 24. The Arlanda Express [] will connect the airport and Stockholm Central train station four times an hour. The 20-minute nonstop journey will cost about US$15 one-way.

BEST OF THE WEB: Clash of the Internet Titans
The battle for control of your travel bookings is turning into a clash of the Internet titans. Several weeks ago, American Airlines, which already controls Travelocity, unveiled plans to buy Preview Travel, another major travel site. In response, four airlines--United, Northwest, Delta and Continental--last week joined forces to announce a "multi-airline travel portal" to offer online access to airline, hotel, and car-rental booking. The carriers claim the site, as yet unnamed, will be independently managed and will launch in the first half of 2000. And not to be left behind, Expedia, created by software colossus Microsoft, raised more than $72 million last week by selling 14 percent of its shares to the public. What's all this mean for the traveling public? In the short term, probably more discounts and special offers as the travel-site giants compete for your attention. However, expect the discounts to be available only at selected sites, thus making the task of finding the best deals and the lowest fares harder and more time-consuming than ever before.

This column originally appeared at

Copyright © 1999-2010 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.