British Airways Sale & Freebie Hotel Nights
British Airways(tel. 800/247-9297; www.britishairways.com) is having one of their periodic sales that along with some pretty competitive fares throws in up to two free nights at select hotels in London or elsewhere in the United Kingdom. The best deals are available for departures from late October through late March with higher rates for earlier and holiday travel. The terms of this sale allows for a generous 11-month maximum stay as opposed to the more standard 30 days, and also includes decent deals to Manchester, Newcastle, Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Aberdeen, all on sale through October 3.
Severe Turbulence Hits Europe
As Europe's two weakest national airlines topple, a cluster of only slightly stronger second-string players totter toward an uncertain future.
The shakedown of Europe's ailing legacy airline industry that has been anxiously anticipated since the European Union deregulated air transportation over 10 years ago has finally reached full force. Stoked by surging -- albeit now falling -- fuel prices and further fueled by the fallout from global financial turmoil, stock market meltdowns and general political pandemonium, a perfectly awful storm has formed in the skies over Western Europe. The chaotic situation changes almost hourly, but the overall consensus seems to be that once this all blows over only a handful of survivors will be left standing without crutches, as the number of national airlines gets whittled down from a dirty dozen or so to the all-too-familiar Big Three multinational groupings.
Most dramatically, the long-running soap opera of Alitalia's drawn-out downfall seems to have sputtered to a dead end as last-ditch rescue efforts faltered on Friday. This appears to seal the Italian flag-carrier's fate by leaving it no other options but to pack up and fly blind from bankruptcy straight into insolvency. Of course, nothing in Italy is truly over until the famous fat lady sings, and while the Pope prays in earnest but to no apparent avail, Prime Minister Berlusconi may yet engineer an eleventh-hour miracle in the shape of yet another batty bail-out. At this point, however, the company is so deeply mired in debt and controversy that not even divine intervention will likely save it from certain death.
Around the same time, a stage across the Adriatic went dark as the final curtain fell on a Greek melodrama starring stodgy state-owned Olympic Airlines. Unlike the tangled webs and tortuous plots of Rome, full of conspiracies, betrayals, and a few assassination attempts, this is more a tame tale of benign euthanasia in Athens. An agreement has been put in place to put the airline out of its misery and put a stop to years of wrangling and illegal subsidies. Nevertheless, even after numerous privatization failures, a fairly Olympian optimism still prevails that in the spirit of classical tragicomedy has the airline staging a comeback some time next year after a much-needed makeover, armed with a better script, a respectable repayment plan and a preposterous new name -- Pantheon Airways. Airline to the Gods? Yes, the Gods must surely be laughing right now!
Entirely unrelated to the unrelenting gush of orders, threats and fines pouring forth from the hard-nosed, stony-hearted bureaucrats of the European Commission in Brussels, the hometown flyboys at Brussels Airlines have thrown themselves into what may best be described as an arms-length embrace of two reluctant partners as they rushed to sell a sizable stake to Lufthansa. Not the whole caboodle, mind you, not even half, but just 45% for now, as proof of prudent German salesmanship -- or brinksmanship -- in these tumultuous times.
Brussels Airlines is itself the child of previous failures and mergers, the drastically downsized reincarnation of deregulation's first victim, Belgian's venerable but troubled Sabena, that somehow ended up with Sir Richard Branson of Virgin fame as its new stepfather, thanks to a messy but presumably immaculate conception. Earlier in the decade Swissair made an ill-advised attempt to rescue Sabena from the abyss but was instead dragged down with it and has since been taken over by none other than Lufthansa, somehow bringing everything full circle. Just as Swiss International, or simply Swiss, as it is now called, continues to operate independently under the new ownership, Brussels Airlines is expected to do much the same, proving that even when Lufthansa makes a whole-hearted commitment it's still a rather hands-off arrangement.
Meanwhile, down Vienna way the pending sale of Austrian Airlines is proceeding in a more orderly fashion as befits such solid and stolid Central European merchant traditions. Merely because it's looking to make a good deal and a handsome profit doesn't mean that it's necessarily going to sell itself to the highest bidder. Currently topping the short list of suitors, Russia's S7 Airlines, formerly known as Siberia Airlines and known to few people outside Novosibirsk by any name, have emerged as the dark horse of the dating circuit. It's no secret, though, that Lufthansa is viewed as just the right white knight in shining livery that everyone hopes will ride in at the last moment with a wandering eye and a fat wallet to deliver the Austrians from tough love in an much colder climate.
Circling high above this mating dance like a voracious vulture, Air France seems to have successfully digested KLM Royal Dutch after swallowing it wholesale a couple of years ago and could be getting hungry for another winged tidbit. It actually tried to chow down Alitalia before it realized the old crow was mostly skin and bones and too many feathers, so it will take a lot of little sparrows to fatten up this lovebird for the future. Merging with merging Delta-Northwest to make a really big Franco-American omelette is reportedly Air France's favorite pie -- or quiche -- in the sky, but so far Congress is not about to crack the ostrich egg and make that wet-lease dream come true.
Far up north, another hastily arranged winter wedding is in the works as Scandinavian Airlines, the struggling semi-privatized, semi-comatose carrier of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden and the fourth-largest airline group in Europe that includes ill-fated Spanair among others, tries to cozy up to Lufthansa, these days everyone's Casanova of choice who may itself be getting a bit bogged down in the role of Big Daddy to its booming brood of travel-related companies, already the size of a small army.
Frontier Sale: Grand Junction & Wichita
Frontier (tel. 800/432-1359; www.flyfrontier.com) is currently offering some great fares between Denver and both Grand Junction and Wichita. These sale fares are good for Monday through Thursday travel (plus Saturdays). All purchases must be made by September 30, with travel to be completed by November 19. Fares require a 10 day advance purchase, and include:
Fall Fares to Australia
Thinking of taking a trip down to Australia this fall? We've come across some great fares on United (tel. 800/241-6522; www.united.com), for at least $100 less than Qantas and the rest of the gang. These fares are generally available from late October and onward. Here's a little sample of what we've found so far:
- Atlanta to Sydney $1,349, including all taxes
- Boston to Sydney $1,342, including all taxes
- Chicago to Sydney $1,274, including all taxes
- Denver to Sydney $1,246, including all taxes
- Los Angeles to Sydney $1,022, including all taxes
- New York to Sydney $1,192, including all taxes
- Orlando to Sydney $1,342, including all taxes
- San Francisco to Sydney $1,022, including all taxes
- Seattle to Sydney $1,223, including all taxes
- Washington DC to Sydney $1,376, including all taxes
Additional Reporting by Bo Borre and Tracy W. Stewart
George Hobica is a syndicated travel journalist and blogger whose website, www.airfarewatchdog.com, tracks unadvertised airfare wars and fare sales, including the most helpful and always updated Top 50 Airfares.