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 The Tactical Traveler

joe A BUSINESS-TRAVEL BRIEFING
FOR SEPTEMBER 29, 1999


BY JOE BRANCATELLI

This week: AMEX expects modest hikes in airfare, rental car and meal prices and larger increases in telecom costs in 2000; the “hidden” value of Diners Club cards; a traveler takes Northwest Airlines to small-claims court and wins; “call-back” plans cut international phone costs; airlines upgrade fall schedules; and more.

BY THE NUMBERS: AMEX PREDICTS HUGE HIKE IN TELECOM COSTS
American Express [http://www.americanexpress.com] expects airfares to rise 2-3 percent next year. Car rental and meal prices will increase by about the same amount. And while lodging costs will jump by about 5 percent, Amex predicts next year's big wallet whacker will be telecom. Prices for T&E-related telecommunications costs will increase by as much as 8 percent next year. That includes prices paid for wired (traditional telephone), wireless and cellular, and Internet communications.

COST CUTTERS: THE HIDDEN VALUE IN THE FORGOTTEN PLASTIC
Business travelers far too often forget about Diners Club [http://www.citibank.com/dinersus/] and thus lose out on a card larded with hidden value.

For the $80 annual fee, Diners Club offers as many as 62 days to pay, double the payment "float" offered by American Express. There's also " a serviceable dining program which offers 20 percent off the tab at hundreds of restaurants. Diners Club's car-rental protection is also superlative: It offers "primary" collision insurance on any car rented with the card; in other words, Diners Club will pay for any damage to the vehicle. Amex offers "secondary" coverage that doesn't kick in until after your personal insurance is exhausted.

But the two best features of Diners Club is the lounge-access program and Club Rewards, the card's extraordinary mileage plan. Diners cardholders get unrestricted free access to 80 airport lounges around the world. Club Rewards offers one frequent-flyer mile for every dollar spent. Better yet, miles are transferable into the programs sponsored by [ital]every[ital] major U.S. carrier. Diners also offers frequent bonuses, including 12,000 miles for new members and double miles for buying a Dell computer and accessories by December 31.

BEST OF THE WEB: LAWSUITS AND INTERNATIONAL-CALLING SCHEMES
One trick frequent international travelers use to cut phone costs is "callback" plans. Callbacks are sophisticated schemes that essentially allow you to pay lower U.S. rates for calls that originate overseas. Dozens of firms are in the business; most are linked at Yahoo's Callback Page. … Maybe you can't sue city hall, but you can sue an airline--and win!--when they violate the law. Read about how one traveler, who happens to be About.com's Europe vacation expert, beat Northwest Airlines in small-claims court.

ROUTE WATCH: AIRLINES UPGRADE FALL SCHEDULES
Airlines upgrade their fall/winter schedules beginning late in October and this year is no exception. Here is what's on tap: Sabena [http://www.sabena-usa.com] launches Washington/Dulles to Brussels service five times weekly beginning October 31. … Virgin Atlantic [http://www.virginatlantic.com] adds daily flights between Chicago/O'Hare and London/Heathrow on November 1. … Also on November 1, TWA [http://www.twa.com] will add nonstop daily service from San Juan to five cities: Los Angeles, Fort Lauderdale, Orlando, Santo Domingo and Aruba. TWA is also upgrading service from New York/Kennedy to Cairo and Riyadh. There are now weekday nonstops to the Egyptian capital with continuing service to Saudi Arabian capital. … United [http://www.ual.com] begins nonstop daily service between Los Angeles and Melbourne, Australia, on December 4. … Meanwhile, Qantas [http://www.qantas.com] launches Kennedy-Los Angeles-Sydney flights on October 31. The same-plane service will operate three times weekly. … Japan Airlines [http://www.japanair.com] starts thrice-weekly service between Kennedy and Saő Paulo/Guarulhos on November 2. … Southwest [http://www.southwest.com] is adding 15 new nonstop flights, including service between Orlando and Phoenix; Orlando and Chicago/Midway; and Phoenix and Portland, Oregon.

This column originally appeared at skymalltravel.com.

Copyright © 1999-2010 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.