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Fare Traps...

Meetings & Conventions: Planner's Portfolio March 1998 Current Issue
March 1998 On TravelPLANNER'S PORTFOLIO:

On Travel


Fare Traps...Fave Chains...Limited Service

Use hidden-city and back-to-back tickets at your own risk

Still using those ticketing loopholes? Many airlines are taking a harder look at people who book hidden-city flights and back-to-back tickets, but Continental upped the ante in December. The carrier threatened to reprimand its OnePass frequent flyer program members if they are found to be repeat offenders. They face a variety of penalties, depending on the severity of the individual case, including losing accumulated miles or being kicked out of the program altogether. "We want to make our OnePass members aware of the kind of practices we discourage," says Continental spokesperson Karla Villalon. "The ticket is a contract -- the idea is to use it as it's intended."

Both ticket tactics are used by flyers to save money, and both result in unused portions on the trip. Say you're flying from Newark to Dallas. With a hidden-city fare, you could book a cheaper flight to another city that connects in Dallas along the way and only use the Newark-Dallas part of the ticket. Back-to-back tickets are generally used when you won't have a Saturday night stayover on your trip, causing the airfare to be more than twice the price of two roundtrip tickets that do include the Saturday night stay discount. So you buy two roundtrip tickets, one with Dallas as the original destination for the outgoing flight and the other with Newark as the original destination for your homecoming, using only half of each ticket.

So far, other airlines are not saying they will go as far as Continental, perhaps for fear of losing their frequent flyers to other mileage programs. Most would handle it the way they would handle any flyer, frequent or otherwise, who is caught using one of the money-saving tactics: Take away the ticket and make them pay full fare.

Can't get no satisfaction. In its February issue, Frequent Flyer, M&C's sister publication, released the results of its second annual guest satisfaction survey, which puts upscale hotels under the microscope. The study, conducted with J.D. Power and Associates, found that business travelers are happiest with Renaissance Hotels (now a branch of Marriott that operates as a separate chain), which takes over the number-one spot from Westin. Westin came in a respectable second, while Hyatt and Marriott tied for third. Several chains were ranked below average in the study: Crowne Plaza, Doubletree, Hilton, Omni, Radisson, Sheraton and Wyndham.

The study, based on 8,067 individual evaluations of the 11 chains by frequent business travelers, also explores the factors that contribute to overall guest satisfaction. Ranking the importance of each factor, 28 percent of the respondents said the guest room itself is the most important, followed by the arrival process (20 percent); price/value (19 percent); services and amenities, which includes hotel security and security staff, frequent guest and flyer programs, and wake-up calls (13 percent); the departure process (12 percent), and food and beverage (8 percent).

An interesting footnote: Nearly four out of five guests with a problem complained, but only 59 percent of the incidents were resolved -- "a significant opportunity for improvement," according to Stephen C. Goodall, president of J.D. Power.

Soon, the rest will be replaced by robots. Been wondering why you're not seeing as many staff members in hotels? According to the Coopers & Lybrand Lodging Research Network (www.lodging research.com), U.S. properties are running successfully with fewer employees than in the past. The fountain of lodging-industry information reports that in 1996, 73.5 workers were used per 100 occupied rooms, down from 79.6 in 1990. Bjorn Hanson, chairman of Coopers & Lybrand's lodging and gaming group, attributes the drop to three factors: productivity improvements put in place to counteract the "brutal" hotel economics of the early '90s, technological improvements (like registration kiosks in the lobby and in-room checkout) and the rise in limited-service and extended-stay hotels.

Armchair traveling. When you want a voyage of the imagination, read Geraldine Brooks' Foreign Correspondence (Doubleday, New York City). A writer for the Wall Street Journal, Brooks fed her wanderlust as a child in Sydney, Australia, by collecting pen pals around the world. After years of traveling the globe, she decided to track down her old pals, and she chronicles that emotional journey here.

Looking for an offbeat tour? Karen Axelrod and Bruce Brumberg have updated Watch It Made in the U.S.A.: A Visitor's Guide to the Companies That Make Your Favorite Products (John Muir Publications, Santa Fe, N.M.), which gives tour information on 290 factories that make everything from Crayola crayons to Louisville Sluggers. *

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