The Tactical Traveler

FOR JULY 27, 1998


This week: Early warnings on Europe fares; Jon Carroll on airports; bigger isn't better at Hartsfield; a New York hotel contender; car-rental rate simplicity; and more.

COUNTER INTELLIGENCE: Early Warnings on Europe Fares
European airlines are gearing up for fall and have announced a full spread of discount fares. If you're planning any business trips to the continent later this year, you'd be well advised to buy now. Here are three of the notable fare breaks: AER LINGUS (800-IRISH-AIR) is offering the "EuroFree" promotion: travelers who buy APEX-priced fares to Ireland with an American Express Card will receive a free roundtrip ticket to 17 cities in Britain or continental Europe. Tickets must be purchased by September 15; travel must take place between September 15 and November 15. AIR FRANCE (800-AF-PARIS) is selling roundtrip fares to Paris as low as $338 (from New York and Boston). Sale fares are also offered from eight other gateways, including Chicago ($428), Los Angeles ($518) and San Francisco ($518). Tickets must be purchased by August 7; fares are valid for midweek travel from November 1 to December 11. IBERIA (800-772-4642) is offering essentially flat-rate pricing from many U.S. cities to anywhere it flies in Spain and more than two dozen European destinations. Sample fares: $569 from Atlanta, $629 from Minneapolis, $699 from Denver, and $799 from Phoenix. Travel is valid from September 1 to October 31. Other U.S. and European carriers are also doing a bit of pre-season price trimming, so check out the promotions, compare them carefully, and see if you can get your fall schedule tied down to take advantage of the deals.

If the Internet is good for nothing else, at least it gives you the opportunity to catch up with a magnificent airport rant penned by Jon Carroll for his always stellar column in the San Francisco Chronicle. Carroll is usually more lucid, but rarely more impassioned or uproariously funny. Fed up with airport food, airport behavior, and, in fact, the whole concept of airports, he lets loose his fiery sword and comes to the conclusion that airports are "the worst place on earth."

AT THE AIRPORT: Bigger is Not Better
Speaking of airports, the bureaucratic powers that be at Hartsfield Atlanta Airport couldn't contain their excitement recently when first-quarter traffic figures were announced. With 16.86 million passengers during the first three months of 1998, Hartsfield gleefully claimed the mythic and useless mantle of "world's business airport" from Chicago O'Hare, which rung up 15.70 million flyers. What the drones at Hartsfield didn't mention, however, is the airport's atrocious on-time record. According to 1997 figures compiled by the Department of Transportation, Hartsfield was the least timely major hub in the country. Of 27 airports tracked, Hartsfield's on-time rating was 24th or lower during 11 monthly periods. In five of those months, it rang up the nation's worst on-time rating. Hartsfield's on-time performance in the first quarter of 1998 was no better. Of 29 airports tracked by DOT, Hartsfield finished 25th in January, 25th in February and 23th in March. Matters got even worse in April, when Hartsfield finished 28th, before improving in May, when it finished 18th of 29.

IN THE LOBBY: A New York Contender
The endless search for good, affordable hotel rooms in New York City led me to The Avalon (888-HI-AVALON), a 3-month old former office building in the burgeoning Koreatown district just south of the Empire State Building. The good news: the 20-room/80-suite Avalon is a winner. Rooms and suites are well furnished and extremely spacious by New York standards. There are also lots of in-room perks aimed at business travelers: coffee makers; irons and ironing boards. two-line phones, desks outfitted with additional electrical and telephone outlets, and a tilting desk chair on casters. Room service will be provided by super-chef Larry Forgione, who is opening a companion to his acclaimed An American Place restaurant in the hotel lobby. A fitness center and meeting-room facilities, rarities for a boutique hotel of this size, are being added. Nightly rates normally start $195 (rooms) and $250 (suites), but "Summer Special" prices start at $175 and are valid through mid-September.

THE WEEKLY WONDER: Some Car-Rental Clarity
The Byzantine maze of car-rental rates is a little simpler now that Hertz (800-654-3131) has introduced its "AMEA" rate. Travelers who use an American Express card pay $34.99 a day for a full-size car. The rate is valid any time until October 31 anywhere in the country except the New York metropolitan area and Hawaii. The sole (and admittedly irksome) restriction: a Saturday-night keep is required.

This column originally appeared at

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