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Friday, September 2, 2005 - Page updated at 03:48 PM

Katrina likely to affect travelers for months to come

Travelers will feel the effects of Hurricane Katrina for months to come, experts are predicting.

Expect dramatic fare increases in the next few days, says Joe Brancatelli who publishes the online newsletter, Joe Sent Me, for business travelers.

"Jet-fuel prices soared more than 20 percent after Hurricane Katrina passed and now supply is stretched because refinery capacity has been reduced,'' he said in his latest posting today, noting that United Airlines raised prices by $10-$30 per roundtrip on Wednesday evening.

Will other airlines follow? Brancatelli says it's likely, but Terry Trippler, an airline analyst for CheapSeats.com, says so far, "no one has filed the across the board substantial increase that one would expect to see given the fuel price and availability situation.''

The New Orleans airport is expected to be closed to commercial traffic for upwards of three months. In the interim, Baton Rouge, about 70 miles away, is the closest alternate.

Travelers heading overseas will also feel the effects of a weaker dollar due to the storm. The U.S. dollar dipped today against most major currencies as traders took stock of the damage. The euro traded at $1.25, up from $1.23 on Monday, when Katrina hit the Gulf Coast. The British pound rose to $1.84 from $1.83.

Turn miles and points to hurricane relief

Hotels and other travel-related businesses announced plans to help hurricane victims. For example, InterContinental Hotels Group said it would allow its Priority Club rewards members to donate their points to help hurricane victims.

Points will be converted into cash by InterContinental and pledged to the Red Cross Hurricane Relief Fund. IHG said it will match all contributions up to a maximum of $125,000. Details are at www.ichotelsgroup.com.

Also, United Airlines will allow people with frequent-flier miles to donate them to a "charity miles" program. "Many relief organizations send personnel and volunteers to assist in the affected region, and the donation of miles will help defray their expenses," says a description of the program on the United Web site (www.united.com).

Check with your own hotel/airline provider to see if it offers a donation plan.

The Travel Industry Association of America, a trade group, is setting up a job bank (www.katrinajobs.org)to help displaced workers find new jobs.

"With so many hotels, shopping and gaming attractions, restaurants and other travel-related businesses devastated by the hurricane, our industry was particularly hard hit," said Roger J. Dow, TIA president.

Most recent statistics show the travel industry in the affected areas in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama accounts for $18.3 billion in business annually, with some 260,000 travel industry-related jobs.

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company


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