The Brancatelli File

joe YOUR Qs, MY As


June 2, 1994 -- Here are my answers to your questions.

Every time I fly, I always seem to get the middle seat or a seat that doesn't recline. Is there any way I can find out in advance where the good seats are on a particular aircraft?
Seat configuration not only varies by aircraft and by airline, it even varies among the same types of plane on a carrier's fleet. If you must know the details, pick up the Airline Seating Guides. The U.S. edition has 150 seating charts for all major domestic airlines, and the overseas edition contains 250 charts for 46 international carriers. Each chart also notes the seats with the most leg room, seats with limited movie view, and seats with limited recline. The pocket-sized quarterly publication costs $15 (domestic) or $17.50 (overseas) and is available from Carlson Publishing Company (310-493-4877).

I'm on the road so frequently and at such odd hours that I often can't reach anyone on the telephone. Am I fated to be out of touch forever?
The widespread availability of voice mail and answering machines has gone a long way toward keeping travelers in touch on the road, but AT&T recently forged the final link in the chain: the True Messages service. It allows you to record a voice message at any time, then schedule it for automatic delivery to whomever you want, whenever you wish. For more information on the service, call 800-TRUE-123.

I've been told by more frequent business flyers that the airlines are about to make major changes in their frequent-flyer programs. What is really happening?
Beginning next year, most airlines will raise the "price" of a free, domestic roundtrip ticket to 25,000 miles from 20,000 miles. That change has received the most publicity because the 20,000-mile award is the most popular one. But most business travelers accumulate their miles to earn better and more costly rewards, and that's where the real news is. In some cases, the airlines will double the miles required to claim awards such as first- and business-class tickets to Europe and Hawaii. If you have you eye on a particular award, you're probably best to claim it now. Depending on the airline, awards you claim now are valid for up to three years.

I've just been assigned a new territory to cover. I've gotten economic development information and economic information about the area with no trouble, but reliable travel facts are hard to find. Any suggestions?
Every state and most cities and counties have state-funded travel information centers that provide a wealth of valuable free information. The data is usually skewed to leisure travelers, but salespeople can glean useful information from the material, too. Check for the listings under "Convention and Visitors Bureau."

I've noticed that nonrefundable airline tickets are dramatically cheaper than standard coach seats. Like most business travelers, however, I sometimes need to change or cancel a trip. Is there any way to use nonrefundable tickets and not get burned if my plans change?
When airlines first introduced low-priced nonrefundable fares, the tickets really were nonrefundable. You used them on the flights and days you booked, or you lost your money. Now, however, airlines do allow changes to most nonrefundable tickets if you pay a fee of $35-$50. But the rules for changing reservations differ from airline to airline, so check before you buy.

My first European sales trip was ruined when my hotel turned out to be lacking in most of the facilities I needed to do business. Worse, my travel agent assured me this was a "first class" hotel. Are all European hotels this far below American expectations?
No. Your trip was ruined by semantics. A "first class" hotel overseas is actually a moderately priced property, not a top-of-the-line hotel aimed at business travelers. The 10-level rating system used by the Official Hotel Guide, the bible for most travel agents, ranks the best hotels as "superior deluxe," followed by "deluxe, then "moderate deluxe," and "superior first class." A property considered "first class" is actually at the middle of the quality scale.

This column originally appeared in Selling magazine.

Copyright 1993-2008 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.