Ontheroad

Joe Brancatelli is editor and publisher of JoeSentMe.com, a
non-commercial Web site for business travelers.

NEED TO KNOW

Credit cards only when you buy plane tickets: The surprise bankruptcy of Frontier Airlines last month was caused by a sudden demand for additional "holdbacks" from the carrier’s credit card processor. And the bankruptcy should be a reminder that the only safe way to buy a plane ticket is to use your credit card. Put away your debit card. Forget PayPal. Ignore any other payment system an airline suggests you can use. It’s credit cards. Period. Why? The Fair Credit Billing Act requires credit card companies to remove a charge if an airline tanks before you can use your ticket. But you don’t have that protection if you use your debit card, a check, PayPal, cash or any other payment method. If your airline tanks and you haven’t paid with a credit card, you go to the end of the unsecured creditors’ line and you’ll never see your money again. What’s this got to do with Frontier? The airline’s credit card processor, First Data, was obviously concerned that Frontier might stop flying, so it decided to hold back a greater share of Frontier’s credit card receipts as a partial offset against potential cardholder claims. Frontier is asking its bankruptcy judge to stop First Data from increasing its holdbacks.

HOTEL BEAT

More hotels open in more important places: Westin has opened a 210-room property in Huntsville, Alabama. The lakeside hotel is part of the Bridge Street Town Center that is located within Cummings Research Park, the second-largest technology park in the country. … Marriott has opened a 245-room Courtyard hotel in Hong Kong. The harborfront property is located on Hong Kong Island near the Macau Ferry Pier. Rates start around US$200 a night. … A 97-suite Cambria Suites hotel has opened at Savannah Airport on Y. Johnson Hagins Drive. … St. Regis has opened a 299-room property in Singapore. … Joie de Vivre renovated the former Radisson in Sunnyvale, California, and reopened it as the 124-room Domain Hotel. If you think that name is Silicon Valley cute, consider this: The hotel’s restaurant is called Bytes. … Crowne Plaza has hoisted its flag on the Brock Plaza hotel in Niagara Falls, Canada. … The Hawaiian island of Molokai is basically out of the tourist business. The 22-room Molokai Ranch and the 18-hole Kaluakoi Golf Course have both closed after the owners feuded with local residents, most of whom oppose tourism development.

AIRPORT REPORT

Frontier shrinks and Southwest grows in Denver: Bankrupt Frontier Airlines is dumping service to five cities from its hub in Denver. In the next 45 days, the carrier will drop flights to Sioux City, Iowa; Jacksonville, Florida; Little Rock; Memphis; and Tulsa. All of the service was operated with commuter jets. Meanwhile, Southwest is growing again in Denver.

Beginning on June 4, it will launch two daily nonstops to Portland,
Oregon, and two daily nonstops to Indianapolis. … Clear
registered-traveler lanes have opened in Salt Lake City. But officials
at Atlanta Hartsfield have decided not to launch registered-traveler
service after all. Instead, it will add four new security checkpoints
available to all travelers. … Dewar’s Clubhouse, a golf-and-scotch bar, has opened in the Central Concourse in Honolulu. And a Gordon Biersch restaurant and brewery will open in the Ewa Concourse next month. … New Orleans
car renters take note: A $5 airport-imposed fee will be applied to all
airport rentals. The funds will be used to build a consolidated
car rental facility.

FLY RIGHTS

Very much ado about a very minor travel problem: About
three in ten flights run late on an average day, lost-luggage rates are
skyrocketing, service is deteriorating, the fare structure is a
mess and everyone worries about the financial health and safe operation
of the nation’s airlines. So what does the Department of Transportation tackle? Denied-boarding compensation, which affects just one in
every 10,000 fliers. Effective this month, fliers who are involuntarily
bumped will receive $400 if they do not reach their domestic
destination within two hours of the original arrival time or their
international destination within four hours of their original schedule.
If the delay is longer, the payment is $800. If there is a silver
lining in this otherwise irrelevant decision, here it is: The bumping
rules now apply to flights with as few as 30 seats. (The old rules
didn’t apply unless you were booked on an aircraft with more than 60
seats.) That means virtually all commuter flights are now subject to
the involuntary bumping rules. By the way, a reminder: These rules do
not apply in voluntary-bump situations where you agree to give up your
seat.

WALLET WATCH

Fares and surcharges soar, rules tighten: First,
the fare hikes and surcharge jumps: Led by United Airlines, the Big Six
carriers increased fuel surcharges by another $10-$20 round trip. And
here’s the big other shoe: United, American and Delta have imposed an
across-the-board 3-5 percent fare increase, which increase ticket
prices by as much as $70 round trip. Now the rules changes: United also
raised the change fee on domestic tickets to $150 and the international
change fee to $250. Most carriers immediately matched. Carriers have
also restored Saturday-stay rules to almost all of its lowest-priced
fares. … Given the rampaging price of oil, even discount carriers like
Southwest and JetBlue have been forced to react. Southwest Airlines
said that it would raise fares by $3-$10 one-way on flights operating
between June 13 and August 17. And JetBlue Airways will charge for a
second checked bag starting on June 1. The fee will be $20. … Finally,
another revenue-generating idea from US Airways: The airline will
charge $5-$30 per segment for a seat assignment in so-called "Choice
Seats"
in coach. It’s similar to the program launched by Northwest
Airlines
two years ago. Elite members of the US Airways Dividend Miles
program are exempt from the charge.

LIFE WITH LAPTOP

Get that icky stuff off your hard drive: A
federal appeals court in San Francisco has ruled that Customs agents at
the airport don’t need any evidence of wrongdoing to search the
contents of a passenger’s laptop, thumb drives and other storage
devices. The theory supported unanimously by the court’s three judges:
A laptop is luggage and Customs agents don’t need evidence of
wrongdoing to search luggage because it is the equivalent of a border
search. (The Supreme Court previously ruled that luggage searches at
the airport are the equivalent of border searches.) All of this would
be a fascinating legal argument in and of itself, but keep this in
mind: The case began in 2005 when a Customs agent stopped a traveler on
his return from the Philippines and asked him to turn on his computer.
The agent then found images he believed to be child pornography. The
flier was arrested for transporting child pornography and traveling to
the Philippines to have sex with a minor.

Read more "On the Road with Joe Brancatelli" at
roadwarrior.orbitz.com.

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Copyright 2008 by Joe Brancatelli. Licensed by contract for Orbitz use.

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