United Airlines last week began selling a prepaid travel card that gives its holders instant access to elite-level benefits.
It doesn't come cheap, however.
It's called the United Mileage Plus Elite Prepaid Travel Card and costs $5,000 for premier level, $10,000 for premier executive level and $20,000 for 1K (100,000-mile) benefits.
Cardholders, in effect, pay for travel upfront. They also get 5% ticket discounts and perks such as priority check-in and access to Economy Plus seating with extra legroom. Cardholders' elite status will expire Feb. 28, 2006.
Randy Petersen, editor and publisher of InsideFlyer magazine, said the card might be worth it for some high-mileage business fliers. The main benefit, he said, is that cardholders can earn bonus miles from the start. But he said buyers should be cautious because of the expiration clause.
Others were more dubious.
Tim Winship, the editor and publisher of FrequentFlier.com, said: "The whole thing doesn't hold much water from a value standpoint."
In other airline news:
* Aloha Airlines suspended its service between Burbank and Reno on Tuesday and said it would end all operations out of Burbank on April 3. The Hawaii-based airline, which recently filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, will expand service to Hawaii starting April 3 at John Wayne Airport in Orange County and at San Diego International Airport.
* Song, the low-fare carrier that Delta Air Lines launched in 2003, will begin flying nonstop between LAX and New York's JFK airport on May 1. There will be seven daily round trips.
The move represents a challenge to low-fare competitor JetBlue, which flies to JFK from Long Beach.
* Alaska Airlines on Feb. 17 will begin nonstop flights between LAX and Loreto, Mexico, in Baja California. The flights will operate on Sundays and Thursdays.
Riverboat again afloat in Northwest
The 161-passenger Columbia Queen will be back cruising the rivers of the Pacific Northwest in April after a three-year absence.
The boat stopped sailing in late 2001 after American Classic Voyages, the parent company of its original operator, filed for Chapter 11 reorganization. A new Seattle-based company, Great American River Journeys, bought the boat last summer and refurbished it.
Starting in mid-April and continuing through November, the Columbia Queen will offer seven-night round-trip sailings out of Portland, Ore. It will sail on the Columbia, Snake and Willamette rivers in Oregon, Idaho and Washington state.
Published fares, which include onboard meals and most shore excursions, start at $1,669 per person, double occupancy. Discounts are available for initial sailings and early booking. (800) 901-9152, www.greatamericanriverjourneys.com.
Canyon hotel gets a makeover
EL Tovar Hotel, the grande dame of Grand Canyon lodges, is getting a makeover for its 100th birthday this year. The $4.5-million renovation will require the hotel, on the Arizona canyon's South Rim, to be closed through April 13. El Tovar's 78 guest- rooms will get new furnishings and carpeting; bathrooms will get new floors, tubs and other fixtures. (888) 297-2757, www.grandcanyonlodges.com.
-- Jane Engle