The Tactical Traveler

FOR JUNE 15, 1998


This week: Watch for falling laptop prices; the Star Alliance's deceptive Web site; a fare hike by any other name; hot rates in the hot season; and more.

COUNTER INTELLIGENCE: Watch for Falling Laptop Prices
If you don't need the newest and fastest laptop, but do want to upgrade from your current clunker, delay your purchase for a few weeks. The mobile computer industry is coalescing around the Pentium II chip as its de facto standard and that should mean huge price cuts on laptops powered by the older Pentium chip. Notebooks equipped with Pentium chips running at 150 MHz or below have already dropped to the $1,000 level. By mid-summer, however, that same $1,000 will buy a Pentium laptop running at 200 MHz. Pentium notebooks running at 233 MHz with MMX technology should be only a few hundred dollars more. "By the end of the summer, any machine not equipped with a Pentium II chip will be available at blowout prices," says the buyer for one major mail-order chain.

CYBERTRAVELER: Web of Deception
If you want to know exactly how little aid and comfort these grand airline alliances will offer the average business traveler, point your web browser to The official home page of the Star Alliance--the amalgam of United, Lufthansa, SAS, Air Canada, Thai, and Varig--the site has an endless amount of promotion and palaver. But real substance? Forget it. Try to make a reservation or retrieve the schedule of the Star Alliance and you're routed instead to the individual web sites of the partner airlines. No integrated schedule exists. Need hard data about how to mix-and-match frequent-flyer miles or use reciprocal club privileges, two of the supposed traveler benefits of the Star Alliance? The information offered is generally incoherent and riddled with numerous exceptions and restrictions. Web sites reflect the commercial enterprises that build them, so the hydra-headed hyper-babble on the Star Alliance site is clear evidence that these unholy code shares will yield zero practical travel benefits.

DOLLAR WATCH: A Fare Hike By Any Other Name
The American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) announced on Thursday that nearly two-third of its members now charge what it euphemistically called "client service fees." The charges range from $5 to $200; the fee for writing an airline ticket averaged about $10. Now I don't begrudge travel agents these fees, which began popping up after the airlines first slashed travel-agent commissions in February, 1995. But a fare hike by any other name is still a fare hike. By cutting agency commissions--and saving themselves billions of dollars--the airlines effectively shifted the cost of writing a ticket onto travelers. Now we pay agents for a service that was once underwritten by the airlines as part of the cost of doing business. What's most galling is that airline fares have soared during this period. In January, 1995, American Express says the "typical business airfare" paid by its customers was $307. Today, Amex pegs the typical business fare at $447. So while the carriers have saved billions on commissions and shifted the cost of writing a ticket onto us, they have also raised our fares by 46 percent.

The oh-so-swanky Ritz-Carlton Rancho Mirage (760-321-8282) in the trendier-than-you-are California desert has slashed room rate for the next couple of weeks. If you like it hot--daytime temperatures reach 100 degrees in the desert about now--nightly rates are $119 Sundays through Wednesdays and $169 Thursdays through Saturdays. An even better deal is the $139 weeknights/$199 weekends rate for a suite or accommodations on the Ritz-Carlton Club Floor. Club Floor rooms include access to a private lounge stocked with five complimentary food services each day. The "Summer Getaway" rates are valid until July 5.

This column originally appeared at

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