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Michael Bennett is the former Senior Producer of the Travel Channels west coast operations and is currently a travel writer for Savoy and Black Enterprise Magazine. Michael is the host of Globetrotting on BET's BET on Jazz Network. For travel question write to Michaelbman2002@netzero.com
Read the fine print


A couple of weeks ago I caught myself channel surfing during the 10 and 11pm newscasts. As a travel expert, I of course, was particularly interested, in what else, travel stories.

It was widely reported that United and American airlines were drastically reducing prices on several flights. Good news, we all get to save a little money. What disturbed me most was the second half of the report about the Saturday night stay requirement. It was reported that United and American, were both lifting this restriction effective September 5, 2001. Call me cynical, but something just didnít sound right.

That means all you reporters and producers who fly Monday through Friday to cover stories would qualify for the same low-ticket price as if you extended your trip to include a Saturday night stay. The Saturday night stay requirement has been around for years. Itís the airlines way of imposing higher ticket prices on business travelers to drive up profits. Removing this requirement could save you or your news organization several hundred dollars per ticket. Why would the airlines publicize something that could essentially put them out of business?

Well, in the words of Paul Harvey, "now for the rest of the story." Unfortunately, what was reported a few weeks ago is confusing at best and in fact you probably wonít qualify for those lower fares after all. Thatís the bad news. The good news, there will be plenty of other airfare bargains between Labor Day and Thanksgiving to leave most reporters, producers and consumers jumping for joy. So letís set the record straight on what this means to you news professionals traveling for business or pleasure in the coming weeks.

Letís start with the story that most organizations reported. On August 9, United Airlines announced they were cutting fares to key markets and removing the Saturday night stay requirement. There were two major omissions from the story.

First, the fare reduction only applied to routes flown to and from Chicago to eight "key markets," including Los Angeles, New York and Washington DC. It was also assumed by many that the price cuts applied to all routes and for every flight to and from those "key markets." Wrong again. The fare reduction applied only to selected flights in the eight "key markets." In other words, some flights to Los Angeles, New York and Washington DC qualify, others do not.

Why did United start cutting prices? There are two very important reasons. First, the sharp drop in business travel has drastically cut into profits for all the airlines. By reducing fares and eliminating the Saturday night stay requirements United is in effect offering a very attractive price to business travelers to gain market share. But the second, and most important reason United offered the deal has to do with competition from low-cost carriers flying in and out of Chicagoís Midway Airport. America Trans Airway (ATA) has been offering cheaper prices on many of its routes for sometime. In an effort to gain back market share United slashed prices. Well, not to be outdone, American Airlines also cut prices and lifted the Saturday night restriction on many, if not all of the same routes as United. Continental, Delta and US Airways at last check were planning similar moves. United, American and the other major carriers wonít start their price reductions until September 5, after the heavily traveled Labor Day weekend.

There are several pages of restrictions that come with these flights, including a seven-day advance purchase requirement. If you can plan your business trips through Chicago in advance this could be a great way to save money. If you must fly to cover a breaking story, chances are it wonít be in Chicago and you wonít get seven days notice. The bottom line in all of this, the airlines are suffering as business travel continues its sharp decline.

Over the next few weeks the airlines will be issuing lots of press releases about lower prices. Remember, these are highly restrictive in nature and are designed to get good publicity for the airlines. Will there be good bargains? Absolutely, just read the fine print. An empty seat is lost revenue the airlines will never recover. Rather than fly half-empty planes the airlines will reduce prices to encourage business passengers to fly. That means bargains, bargains and more bargains. Itís definitely a buyers market.

If you plan to fly in the coming weeks and you get at least seven days advance notice, my advice to you is shop around and be flexible. On the other hand, if you get stuck flying at the last minute, try the low-cost carriers like, ATA and Southwest. Those lower fares offered by the major airlines with all the restrictions may NOT be the bargain you were hoping for after all.
 



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