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 The Brancatelli File

joe THE STATE
OF THE ROAD


BY JOE BRANCATELLI

May 28, 1998 -- Now that summer has unofficially begun, it is time to voice every business traveler's fondest seasonal hope: Maybe, just maybe, we can stay at home a bit more this summer.

Except for that frigid period between early January and March, frequent flyers are never so sedentary as in the summer. Call it seasonal torpor or a simple trick of the mind, but living your life on the road never seems as foolish and draining as it does in the summer. So, as best as we are able, we stay home.

While we're at home--and home, I admit, is a relative concept for those of us who live on the road--we have a chance to think. Which is why I want you to think about these items. Consider these observations my first State of the Road report to business travelers.

THE RISE OF THE WEEKEND WARRIOR
Saturday used to be a blissful day to fly. Since most of our frequent-flying comrades moved heaven and earth to get home on Friday evening, Saturday was the quietest day of the business-travel week. Airports were empty, planes were empty and flying was almost a pleasure. Just for the quietude, I'd often fly home from a business trip on Saturday morning. Sometimes, I'd even start a trip on Saturday night to miss Sunday evening's gotta-get-there-for-my-Monday-morning-meeting rush.

No more. Last-minute Internet fares are so attractive that they have given rise to a new class of traveler. These "weekend warriors" arrive at the airport on Saturday for their cheap excursions, fill up the planes, clog the airport lounges and bars and make Saturday flying a burdensome nightmare. You've never been quite so uncomfortable as when you're sharing a flight with a planeload of fractious families flying off to grandmother's house for the weekend.

I don't begrudge leisure travelers these low weekend fares, but I know when I'm beaten. Business travelers might as well cross Saturdays off their list because it is now the worst single travel day of the week.

THIS PLASTIC IS FANTASTIC
The first airline "affinity" credit cards were a fairly bland affair: Take the card, pay the inflated annual fee and the outrageously high interest rate and get frequent-flyer miles. But I can't help but notice that the new British Airways Visa card from First USA ushers in the next generation of affinity cards.

The new BA card offers a practical short-term benefit (a five-month interest rate of 4.9 percent), great introductory inducements (the $65 annual fee is waived for the first year you can earn as many as 15,000 bonus miles in BA's Executive Club) and a wonderfully frivolous kicker (you can choose one of five card designs).

Meanwhile, Chase Manhattan Bank, which used to handle the British Airways credit card, went out and got the business of Continental Airlines. While the Chase Continental OnePass Card isn't flashy, it offers one solid benefit: unlimited mileage. Most affinity cards cap the number of miles you can earn in one year. Not the Chase OnePass card. You earn a mile for every dollar of purchases. Period.

CONNING US WITH CODE-SHARES
The airlines keep telling us how useful code-share agreements are for business travelers. But their actions fall so far short of their bilious rhetoric that it would be laughable if it weren't so pathetically sad.

You know the hype about "seamless service," whereby code-share airlines operate as if they are one carrier? Star Alliance code-share partners United and Lufthansa have a strange idea of what constitutes "seamless." In June, Lufthansa moves into the gleaming new Terminal One at Kennedy Airport in New York. Will United move with its German partner? Of course not. United flights at Kennedy operate from Terminal Six, across the airport and a long, tortuous bus ride away.

And how about the conceit that code-share airlines offer the same service and amenities? Say hello to Continental's newest code-share partners: Air China, the detestable, government-run carrier of mainland China, and Aeroflot, the bumbling successor to the state-owned monolith of the erstwhile Soviet Union.

And then there's the matter of the reciprocity of the airlines' airport clubs. The airlines say code-share partners allow travelers to use all the clubs of the allied carriers as if the lounges were a single, integrated network. Not only isn't that true, the airlines now bleed us white for the dubious privilege. United, for example, recently doubled its annual fee for membership in the Red Carpet Club to $400. Why the big increase? So many Star Alliance travelers were using their reciprocity privileges that United felt compelled to thin out its membership ranks by increasing the price. Northwest also increased its fee to $400 for worldwide membership in its WorldClubs.

Stay tuned, fellow travelers, it's going to be an interesting summer.

This column originally appeared at biztravel.com.

Copyright 1993-2004 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.