The Tactical Traveler



This week: the high cost of charging your tax bill to earn miles; Toronto's new terminal opens on April 6; Supreme Court Justice Scalia plays fare games; a Four Seasons opens in Provence; a Mandarin Oriental opens in Washington; Boeing prices its in-flight Internet service at $15-$30 a flight; a Web auction for Concorde memorabilia; and much more.

COUNTER INTELLIGENCE: The High Cost of Getting Miles for Taxes
By now you're received a notice from one or more of your affinity credit-card companies offering you what seems like a great deal: a slew of frequent-flyer miles or frequent-guest points when you charge your taxes to your card. The hitch? The incredibly high cost. Let's say you owe $25,000 on your federal tax return. If you charge it, the company that handles credit-card payments for the IRS will bill you a "convenience charge" of $622.50. And let's say you pay the $25,000 charge over the course of a year. At 13.99 percent, the going rate on most frequent-travel cards, the finance charge will be another $1,934.72. That's a total of $2,557.22 in fees. The 25,000 miles you earn will get you one restricted, domestic roundtrip ticket. The value of that ticket? Less than $400 at current fares.

AIRPORT REPORT: Toronto's New Terminal Due on April 6
Terminal 1 at Toronto Pearson International will close on April 5 and the prosaically named New Terminal 1 will open the next day. After an ugly court squabble, Air Canada will get preferential access to 14 gates at the facility. Foiled in its attempt to get into the new terminal, WestJet will move all its flights into Terminal 2 at Pearson on April 18. ... British Airways flyers take note. Effective March 28, BA's flights from Los Angeles and San Francisco will use Terminal 1 at London/Heathrow. ... Southwest Airlines has moved its gates at Houston/Hobby to the central terminal. ... AeroMexico has moved its flights to Terminal 1 at New York/Kennedy airport. Speaking of Kennedy, Virgin Atlantic now says it won't install red, lip-shaped urinals in its new club at Terminal 4. Many women complained about the plans. ... The airports in Sacramento and Savannah/Hilton Head now make their wireless networks available through Boingo. The WiFi service at Baton Rouge should be part of Boingo in the next few days.

CYBERTRAVELER: Golf and Grub Near the Airport
You never know what you stumble upon on the Internet. As I was looking for a way to get to West Virginia recently, I came across 100 Dollar Hamburger, an intriguing site put together by John Purner, a private pilot. Purner found great golf courses, resorts and great places to eat near the small, commercial airports he uses, pulled them together on the Web and has even published the tips in book form. But you needn't be a pilot to enjoy and profit from the sites. The good-grub spots and golf venues are useful for all business travelers, who often find themselves doing business in proximity to smaller airports around the nation.

FARE WATCH: Antonin Scalia, Supreme Court Justice and Fare Cheat
Say hello to Antonin Scalia, the latest infuriated American to break the airlines' tariff rules by using a "throwaway ticket." You may recognize Scalia's name. He is a Supreme Court Justice and a good bud of Vice President Dick Cheney. In defending his controversial decision to accept a ride on Air Force Two to go on a hunting trip in Louisiana with Cheney, Scalia said he did nothing wrong. But here's the thing: "Since we were not returning with [Cheney], we purchased (because they were the least expensive) roundtrip tickets that cost precisely what we would have paid if we had gone both down and back on commercial flights," Scalia wrote. The airlines claim this practice, called throwaway ticketing, is a violation of their rules. ... WestJet raised its fares by C$5 each way last week. Air Canada promptly matched. ... Delta Air Lines has adopted a simplified fare structure for intra-Florida travel.

IN THE LOBBY: More Fancy Hotels Around the World
A 400-room Mandarin Oriental has opened in Washington, DC. The property overlooks the Tidal Basin. Most guestrooms and several food and beverage outlets are open, but the hotel's main restaurant and spa are not yet finished. Introductory rates start at $350 a night. ... A 115-room Four Seasons Resort has opened in Tourrette, Provence. The property, about 45 minutes from the airport in Nice, features two golf courses. Opening rates start at 395 for an executive suite and breakfast. ... Meanwhile, the reflagging merry-go-round continues. The Renaissance Hotel Dallas North near the Galleria has become a Doubletree. The Radisson South in Bloomington, Minnesota, has become a Sheraton. The Park Vista in Memphis--which used to be a Hyatt and an Omni--has become a Hilton. And the Hotel Princess Zona Rosa in San Salvador, El Salvador, has become a Hilton International.

ON THE FLY: Business-Travel News Your Need to Know
Lufthansa launches daily flights between Charlotte and Munich on March 26. ... American Airlines says it will operate seasonal nonstop flights between San Francisco and Maui beginning June 10. The B-757 flights will be configured with coach and first-class cabins. ... LAN is the new combined name of four South American airlines owned by Lan Chile. The carriers will also use a unified livery. ... Connexion By Boeing, a real-time, in-flight Internet service, will be priced at $29.95 for long-haul flights, $19.95 for flights less than six hours and $14.95 for flights less than three hours. The company says pay-as-you-go service will be priced at $9.95 for 30 minutes and 25 cents for each additional minute. The service, which was first tested last year, launches next month on selected Lufthansa flights. ... Fifteen months into its bankruptcy, United Airlines reported that it lost $259 million in February. About $112 million of the loss came from operations, which means the airline is still losing almost $4 million a day. Of course, I guess that seems like progress when you were losing $20 million a day a year ago.

THE PARTING SHOT: The Last of Concorde Goes on the Block
The old technology of the future (Concorde) meets the new technology of the future (the Internet) on April 14 to 17. That's when a company called DoveBid holds an auction of more than 150,000 pieces of British Airways Concorde memorabilia, amenities and in-flight service items. Can't get to the bricks-and-mortar site of the auction in Britain? No problem. You can bid on the Web. Not interested in bidding? The pictures of the items being auctioned are reason enough to surf over to DoveBid.

This column originally appeared at

Copyright 1993-2004 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.