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SHORT ATTENTION SPAN THEATER
By Joe Brancatelli
November 11, 2010 -- Look, I know your attention is starting to wander. Holidays are looming, you're planning your escape strategy and looking forward to a few weeks off the road.
It's natural. It's been another very odd year on the road and you're surely fed up. Unless you feel the need for a mileage run, you crave downtime. Maybe you can count the number of trips you have left on the fingers of one hand. That is a good thing. From here to New Years, whatever is left is a slog. It's just a matter of grinding it out.
So consider this an installment of Short Attention Span Business-Travel Theater. Each one of the items below is worth its own column. But we'll cover them all fast so we can spend the rest of the weekend thinking of something other than business travel.
CREDIT FOR NOTHING AND YOUR BONUS MILES FOR FREE
The level at which banks dominate airline frequent flyer programs and, indeed, the airlines themselves, can't be overstated. United Airlines wouldn't have survived if not for Chase, which issues the Mileage Plus credit cards. American Express, which issues the Delta SkyMiles cards, was Delta's financial firewall during its bankruptcy. And Citi, which handles the American Airlines cards, cut a couple of deals that helped keep American out of Chapter 11 earlier this decade.
Which goes a long way toward explaining why you are seeing these insane bonus offers if you take a frequent-flyer aligned credit card. The cards are insanely profitable for the banks, so they are anxious to prop up the airlines and get you to move your charges to an airline-fronted credit instrument. If the cost of getting you to move your spending to another card is a hefty bonus of miles, so be it.
In October, for example, Citi offered 75,000 or 100,000 bonus AAdvantage miles if you took one of three flavors of Citi-issued card. And the deal is back again, with only some minor changes. Surf here for the current offer: 75,000 bonus miles if you charge $4,000 to the card in the first six months. Citi will even waive the annual fee for the first year. And while last year's 100,000 bonus miles for taking a British Airways Visa card from Chase is gone, Chase is back with another promotion: 50,000 bonus miles. It's 25,000 for your first purchase and another 25,000 miles for spending $2,500 in the first 90 days. There is a $75 annual fee, but a new perk: no foreign exchange charges, which will save you as much as 3 percent on overseas purchases. The information is here.
Now miles are not currency, but they often mimic currency markets. So it's inevitable that these kinds of bonuses mean that awards will eventually cost more. The inflationary cycle is a fact of life, both in money and in miles. But right now you can grab some terrific award deals, especially internationally, in January and February. Many good seats are still available at restricted-miles levels. Grab your bonus and cash it for an award before economic reality sets in.
IS THERE LIFE AFTER DEATH FOR CLEAR AND REGISTERED TRAVELER?
Private-enterprise "trusted traveler" plans were baked into the post-9/11 legislation that also created the Transportation Security Administration. But dogged TSA resistance and repeated blunders by the journalist-turned-security-entrepreneur Steven Brill destroyed the Clear registered-travel program last year. So it is at least notable that Clear came back from the dead this week, opening at Orlando, the same airport where registered-traveler programs were first tested.
Clear has a new Web site and new owners, but it's also making some of the old mistakes. The new home page makes the specious claim that Clear members will "speed through airport security." They won't. Just like the old Clear, members will jump most security lines, but there is absolutely no security bypass. You still have to go through the full security regimen just like any other traveler. And the new Clear has overpromised in other areas, too. Its October reopening in Denver didn't materialize and resumption of service there now seems a while off.
Substantively, there are some differences between the old Clear and the new Clear, too. Unlike the old Clear, the new program won't have assistants to help you with your carry-on load and there is no firm guarantee that you will go to the front of the security lines. On the other hand, however, the new Clear says that its picture-ID membership cards serve as acceptable identification and members won't have to deal with TSA document checkers. The new Clear also promises a fast, simple application process and says that it will reopen at a dozen airports in the next year.
Another nice gesture: Members of the old Clear program can have their membership reinstated for their full term at no charge. Click here for that information.
I'LL SHOW YOU MINE IF YOU SHOW ME YOURS DEPARTMENT
I'm a big fan of Web-based passenger initiatives that strive to convince an airline that it's headed in the wrong direction. But I'm hugely suspicious of Web sites that boast of "consumer advocacy" yet do not disclose the sponsors and hide the names of the site's owners from Internet databases. So make what you will of AirTranSOS, an anonymous site that claims it wants Southwest Airlines to change its mind about some aspects of the pending AirTran Airways acquisition. Southwest says that it will eliminate AirTran's business-class cabins and assigned-seat policy and AirTranSOS.com claims that it speaks for passengers who oppose both changes.
Who is behind AirTranSOS and what do they really want? Who knows? The only contact point, at the end of the site's initial press release, is a blind E-mail address for something called Interflight Global. It is not a consumer-advocacy group at all and certainly doesn't represent passengers. According to the claims at Interflight Global's Web site, the company is a "full service capital intermediary and business logistics advisor to the aviation and aerospace industry." I don't know what that means, either.
AirTranSOS wants you to sign a petition, but requires you to give them your name and your E-mail address. My advice? Regardless of what you think about Southwest's plans for AirTran, I wouldn't give up my name or E-mail address until the site's sponsors give up theirs.
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ABOUT JOE BRANCATELLI Joe Brancatelli is a publication consultant, which means that he helps media companies start, fix and reposition newspapers, magazines and Web sites. He's also the former executive editor of Frequent Flyer and has been a consultant to or columnist for more business-travel and leisure-travel publishing operations than he can remember. He started his career as a business journalist and created JoeSentMe in the dark days after 9/11 while he was stranded in a hotel room in San Francisco. He lives on the Hudson River in the tourist town of Cold Spring.
THE FINE PRINT All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property and responsibility of Joe Brancatelli. This material may not be reproduced in any form without his express written permission.
This column is Copyright © 2010 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2010 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.