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 The Tactical Traveler

joe A BUSINESS-TRAVEL BRIEFING
FOR DECEMBER 14, 1998


BY JOE BRANCATELLI

This week: Plunging Asian currencies mean cheaper electronics; an 'old-fashioned' travel Web site; will carry-on luggage rules move the market?; a tiff over tipping; and more.

COUNTER INTELLIGENCE: Buy It Now--Or Later
The Asian currency crisis has proven to be a dual windfall for computer buyers. As Asian currencies plummeted, component prices declined precipitously. And Asian manufacturers moved low-priced machines into the U.S. market because Asian buyers were crippled by recession. The result? Entry-level desktop computers are now selling for about $600--and that includes a monitor and a printer. Notebook machines start at $1,000 and manufacturers such as IBM offer stunningly effective models for around $1,500. So should you buy now? Absolutely. Everything electronic is dirt cheap. Of course, with no end to the Asian crisis in site, prices will continue to drop in the weeks and months ahead, too. So you'll save by buying later. The one exception to this charming state of affairs: Apple, which hasn't passed its cost savings on to users. As a result, Macs now cost almost twice as much as comparable Windows machines.

CYBERTRAVELER: Just an Old-Fashioned Web Site
In the beginning, the World Wide Web belonged to the volunteers, travelers who built Internet travel sites for love, not money. Want to see how these volunteer sites contribute to the fabric of the Web and the dialog on travel? Point your browser to "Traveling With Ed and Julie" (http://home.kc.rr.com/twenj/), a fun guide to Rome, Switzerland, Bavaria, and Colorado. Oblivious to the dictates of time or money or marketing demands, Ed and Julie indulge their passion for travel to these four places. Who are Ed and Julie? According to their own site, they are "middle-aged Americans from the Midwest who enjoy writing and travel. A business woman and retired business executive...Why these pages? So much of the fun and lore we've gained on our trips has come from generous sharing of others. It's payback time, and web publishing makes it possible."

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Can Carry-ons Move the Market?
Last week's edition of The Brancatelli File covering the state of carry-on bags generated an avalanche of reader E-mails. Most readers expressed anger at the United, Delta and other airlines in the "crack-down" camp. A few expressed a dissenting view. A couple hurled invective my way. Most interesting, however, was the fact that about a third of the E-mails specifically mentioned that the traveler had switched their business away from United and Delta and to American and Continental, two carriers enforcing a less rigid set of carry-on rules. "I talk with my airfare," one outraged traveler wrote. "United's policy is asinine and I have switched to American even though I have [Mileage Plus] Premier Executive credentials. I haven't regretted it. I find American a better airline all around and the staff more professional." Watch this one closely, fellow travelers. Business travelers are usually loathe to voluntarily change carriers once they've reached elite frequent-flyer status. But if American and Continental pick up market share, a climb down from the inflexible carry-on standards imposed by United and Delta won't be far behind.

DOLLAR WATCH: A Titanic Tiff Over Tipping
So you take a party of favorites to a restaurant and the dining room automatically adds its standard "large party" tip to the bill. But what if the service stinks? Do you have to pay the mandatory gratuity? Attorney Richard Fischbein thinks not. His party of 18 recently rang up a bill of about $2,500 at a Manhattan steakhouse and an 18 percent gratuity of $353 was automatically added. Unhappy with the service, Fischbein demurred. "I told them: You guys didn't give us good service. You don't deserve the 18 percent. I'm not going to pay it," he said. The restaurant apparently responded badly. Waiters surrounded Fischbein, blockaded the door, and called the police. But the cops refused to arrest Fischbein and told him he didn't have to pay the tip. Fischbein, best known as the attorney for the estate of murdered rap star Tupac Shakur, has responded with a $7 million lawsuit against the restaurant and some of its staff.

THE WEEKLY WONDER: A Safety Refresher Course
The more frequently we travel, the more quickly we become blase about safety. It's inevitable, but it's wrong. To the rescue comes "Have a Safe Trip," a slim, easy-to-digest tip sheet. It's a quick refresher course on safety for business travelers. Produced by American Express Travelers Cheques, the guide is broken down into eight segments and each offers bullet points of common sense precautions. Get it free from American Express Public Affairs, The Travelers Cheque Group, American Express Company, 200 Vesey Street, New York, NY 10285-4815.

This column originally appeared at biztravel.com.

Copyright 1993-2007 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.