The Tactical Traveler

FOR MAY 31, 2000


This week: Flat-rate cell-phone calling plans cut the cord on high hotel guestroom fees; “BizTravel Guarantee” ensures “quality of service” for select airlines; Zion National Park bans private autos; Mojave National Preserve bids farewell to "world's loneliest phone booth"; America's Best Beaches; worker shortages at top theme parks threaten visitor service; and more.

COST-CUTTERS: The Cell-Phone Solution
Fed up with the high fees hotels charge to make a phone call from a guest-room telephone? Consider an alternative: your own cell phone equipped with a nationwide flat-rate calling plan. Until recently, costly roaming, long-distance and air-time fees made wireless phones a luxury on the road. Not anymore. Most of the major wireless phone companies now have flat-rate calling plans that eliminate all the fees. The AT&T Digital One Rate plan (, for example, starts at $60 a month while the Nextel all-inclusive program ( starts at about $70 a month. Meanwhile, the Verizon Wireless Single Rate plan( start as low as $35. Besides operating as an alternative to your hotel-room phone, using your wireless handset on the road allows you to give out a single telephone number to reach you wherever you travel.

BEST OF THE WEB: Where No Website Has Gone Before ( is going where no website has gone before: it is guaranteeing not only the quality of its own service, but the service of five selected airlines. The "Biztravel Guarantee" ( covers American, Continental, USAirways, British Airways and Air France. Buy a ticket on one of those carriers from the website and will refund you $100 if the flight is 30 minutes late, $200 if the flight is an hour late, and will refund the ticket price if the flight is more than two hours late. Any flight canceled on the day of departure will also result in a total refund. There are also refunds for late or lost baggage and incorrect seat assignment.

PARKS WATCH: Latest News for the Busiest Season
Memorial Day is the metaphoric start of the summer travel season, and that means travelers will flood into the national parks. Here's what's new and noteworthy in the National Park System ( At the Cape Hatteras National Seashore (, the famed, striped Cape Hatteras lighthouse has reopened after being moved 1,600 feet inland. When the lighthouse originally went into service in 1870, it was 1,600 feet from the ocean--but 130 years of erosion had brought the structure to within 150 feet of the water. … Zion National Park ( has banned almost all private automobiles. Visitors must now take shuttle buses to the visitors center and be ferried along the route through the red cliffs of the six-mile Zion Canyon. … The "world's loneliest phone booth" has been removed from Mojave National Preserve ( Located deep in the desert, literally in the middle of nowhere, the pay-phone booth was installed in the 1960s to accommodate miners. In recent years, however, the isolation of the telephone drew hordes of curiosity seekers. "It proved to be a novelty [but] the increased traffic had a negative impact on the desert environment," the Park Service said last week.

VACATION STATION: The Best Beaches and the Worst Service
Stephen Leatherman, better known as "Dr. Beach," has released his annual list of America's Best Beaches ( According to Leatherman, a professor at Florida International University, Kaunaoa Beach on the Big Island of Hawaii is the nation's finest. In fact, Hawaii beaches took four of the top five spots: Poipu Beach Park (Kauai) was No. 3, followed by Hanalei Beach (Kauai) and Kaanapali (Maui). St. Joseph Peninsula State Park in Florida snagged the second spot. … The state-run museums of Italy (, notorious for sporadic openings, have instituted new hours. All will now stay open until 11pm on Sundays and bank holidays; more than 100 in major tourist areas will remain open late on Saturdays, too. … Don't expect quality service at the nation's most popular theme parks. Almost all report severe worker shortages and many have pressed existing employees into working extraordinary amounts of overtime. "People are working seven days straight," one theme-park executive said recently. "We're getting people who are burned out because they are working so much overtime.”

This column originally appeared at

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