The Tactical Traveler



This week: shopping the "Christmas markets" throughout Europe; turning frequent-travel points and miles into presents; a good reason to skip that inflight meal this holiday season; where the strong U.S. dollar makes travel a great gift; and hotels cut their rates for the holiday season.

Business travelers rarely have the time or inclination to shop on the road, but frequent flyers to Europe know it's the time of the year to make an exception. All throughout Europe in the weeks before Christmas, charming and quirky "Christmas markets" pop up in town squares and parks. They almost always house booths, kiosks and stalls of independent crafts people and artisans. The markets date back hundreds of years and are holiday staples in Central and Eastern European towns. You'll also find them in Belgium, France and Italy. The offerings vary from market to market, of course, but savvy frequent flyers will find bargains everywhere: tree ornaments, local jewelry and crafts, stocking stuffers, small pieces of furniture, and even specialty foods and fashions. Need to know the location of the Christmas market in the city you're visiting? Check with your hotel concierge; he'll probably even have a few tips on the kiosks with the best goods. And make sure to bring your shopping list and leave a little room in your carry-on bag.

MILES AND POINTS: Turning Points and Miles into Presents
For almost as long as there have been frequent-travel programs, there have been people claiming frequent-travel points and miles are the nation's second currency. But it's only now that you can actually exchange the second currency for goods and services that you can give as presents. Several major hotel frequent-stay plans have mailed catalogs that allow you to exchange points for gifts. is now up and running and it permits you to pool points and miles from seven frequent-travel programs into free magazine subscriptions and merchandise discounts of 10 or 20 percent. And don't forget American Express Membership Rewards and Diners Club Rewards. Both offer an extensive array of presents you can acquire with points. One example: the Bose Wave Radio, which is never discounted and sells everywhere for $349. It's available from the Diners Club catalog for 58,000 Club Rewards points.

DOLLAR WATCH: The Gift That Keeps on Giving
Giving your family or that special someone the gift of travel is a noble sentiment. But do it right: Plan the travel somewhere where the Almighty Dollar is on a rampage. That's the gift that keeps on giving because the strong dollar makes shopping, dining and accommodations in that country all the more affordable. That allows you to give the gift of a longer trip or a more elaborate holiday than you could otherwise afford. So where is the dollar almighty? Canada, of course, where the beleaguered Canadian dollar is only worth about 65 U.S. cents. That makes a luxury hotel in Toronto or Montreal, or a ski lodge in British Columbia, a gigantic bargain. Another good choice: any of the 11 European nations whose currency is tied to the plunging Euro. The Euro has declined about 30 percent since it was introduced less than two years ago, making most of the continent's great places incredible bargains. And don't forget Australia, either. The Australian dollar has lost about a fifth of its value since January and is now selling for about 52 U.S. cents.

ON THE FLY: Holiday Travel News You Need to Know
Want a good reason to skip that inflight meal this holiday season? A survey conducted by concluded that the average airline coach dinner contains a staggering 1,054 calories. That's about half of a full day's suggested intake and about as many calories as a Big Mac, medium fries and a strawberry sundae. Virgin Atlantic Vacations (888-937-8474), the travel-package arm of Virgin Atlantic Airways, is knocking 20 percent off the price of its Thanksgiving weekend packages to London. The bundles, from November 23-27, include airfare, three night of lodging, taxes, breakfast and other extras. Prices start at $499 a person. San Jose International Airport is offering free rides to the airport during the holiday season. The program, operated in conjunction with VTA Light Rail and Caltrain, operates through January 2. More information is available at the San Jose website. Traveling in a wine-producing region this holiday season? Check out a wine shop and pick up a supply of good vintages that aren't normally exported out of the area. They make excellent and unique holiday gifts for friends and business associates back home.

WEEKLY WONDER: 'Tis the Season for Hotel Discounts
For the most part, business travelers are home for the holidays until after the New Year. That means hotels are stuck with a surplus of empty rooms on most nights until the first week of January. The solution? Slash the dickens out of the nightly room rate and hope travelers check in. One spectacular example: the swanky, all-suite Rihga Royal Hotel (800-937-5454) in New York. From December 22 through January 7, accommodations are cut to $199 a night. The hotel usually charges $495 a night. All the big chains will get into the rate-slashing frenzy, too. So don't make a reservation anywhere before asking about their special holiday rates.

This column originally appeared at

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