Barnett on Business Travel



October 7, 2004 -- You have questions about the bewildering world of travel today and I have answers. It's my take on an old parlor game. Call it Clueless.

Question: Why aren't ex-airline bosses like Steve Wolf, who ruined US Airways; Leo Mullin, who absolutely destroyed Delta; and Jim Goodwin, who piloted United into bankruptcy, charged with Grand Theft Airline? Why aren't they forced to disgorge the millions and millions they got paid in salaries, benefits, perks, options, deferred compensation and golden parachutes?

Answer: Because they all had boards of directors who rubber-stamped their decisions, approved their compensation packages and got fat fees and free lifetime airline passes for keeping their mouths shut. Legally, that gave the SkyGods immunity to be stupid and arrogant and line their own pockets at the expense of their employees, pensioners, shareholders and the traveling public who suffer from a less competitive marketplace every time another airline goes down. Show me one director of any currently troubled airline who stood up and questioned the CEO's flight plan and I'll send you a free drink coupon valid on PeoplExpress.

Question: Whatever happened to Don Carty, the American Airlines CEO who was ousted for silently sneaking bonuses to AA's top brass while demanding rank-and-file employees give back part of their wages?

Answer: He's slated to become non-executive chairman of the board of Hawaiian Airlines. That carrier has been flying in bankruptcy and is currently managed by a court-appointed trustee. The airline's parent company has recapitalized with Carty's help and the trustee supports the parent company's plan of reorganization to take Hawaiian out of bankruptcy.

Question: Why do major hotel chains like Marriott, Hilton and Starwood almost always charge guests for in-room high-speed Internet access at their priciest brands, but give it gratis at their lower-priced brands?

Answer: Because they figure that business travelers who will pay higher rates to check into their top-of-the-line hotel brands won't squawk about an extra $10 to $20 for high-speed access. But they're dead wrong. It's an annoyance and a niggling gouge.

Question: Why do hotels levy a steeper rate for a room on their private "club floor," then charge for a cocktail in the club lounge? And why it is usually the same price as you pay in the hotel bars downstairs? Isn't that blatant double-dipping?

Answer: The answers are greed, greed and yes. The "pour cost"--the wholesale price of an ounce and a quarter of liquor, the cost of a clean glass and ice cubes--is maybe 50 cents and the hotel chains could write that cost off to goodwill. Ritz-Carlton, Four Seasons and the club-floor lounges of most Asian and many European hotels do not nickel-and-dime guests for a drink. Still, hotels that don't want give it away could charge $2 or $3 for a libation and still make a 400-to-600 percent profit instead of gouging guests for eight or nine bucks.

Question: Why do the Big Three car rental companies--Hertz, Avis and National--charge three to four times more than their lesser-known competitors for the same car on the same day in the same city?

Answer: They've spent more on advertising over the years, are better known and do offer time-saving "counter bypass" programs like Hertz Number One Club Gold and National Emerald Aisle. If you do opt to pay for a pricier car rental, be sure you add in the airport-access fee, the auto-registration fee and the surcharges to help finance the city's new football stadium that you will probably never visit. Then decide whether it's wiser to consider Enterprise or some local brand. After all, a four-door Dodge is a four-door Dodge and if you can save $30 to $35 a day, why be influenced by a name brand?

Question: What do I do with my US Airways frequent-flyer miles?

Answer: Redeem them and take a free trip immediately. Bankrupt US Airways is a member of Star Alliance. While it is still flying, Star's other members--United, Lufthansa, Air New Zealand, Air Canada and All Nippon Airways to name a few--will honor miles with a free ticket as described in the US Airways Dividend Miles award chart. If the airline sinks into Chapter 7 and disappears, the miles are worthless. Star members are under no obligation to accept them.

This column originally appeared at

Copyright 2001-2004 by Chris Barnett. All rights reserved.