The Tactical Traveler

FOR AUGUST 24, 1998


This week: Airpass plans for Europe; the battle of the Web city guides; flying to Africa isn't easy; a nice chicken sandwich at the airport; preferred hotel upgrades; and more.

COUNTER INTELLIGENCE: Passing Through Europe
The last several years has repeatedly proven that the cheapest fares and most frequent flights to Europe are to London. Fares have dropped as low as $99 each way recently and there is so much capacity on U.S.-U.K routes that fare sales are the rule, not the exception. But what if you need to go to Europe and not London? Here's a useful strategy: fly to London on a cheap fare, then travel to the continent using a Europe Pass from British Midland or British Airways. The Discover Europe Airpass offered by British Midland (800-788-0555) costs $109 or $149 per segment and is valid to about two dozen destinations, including Paris, Frankfurt, Prague, Warsaw, Amsterdam, and Copenhagen. You need only buy one flight to qualify. The "Europe AirPass" from BA (800-AIRWAYS) is more comprehensive and thus more complicated. There are four price tiers--$92, $119, $145 and $185 per flight--three airlines (TAT, Deutsche BA and BA itself), and you must buy at least three flight segments to qualify.

CYBERTRAVELER: Giants Invade the City
The Ticketmaster division of USA Networks has bought Citysearch ( and that should level the playing field in the City Guide section of the World Wide Web. Citysearch offers pretty good data on about a dozen cities, but it now takes a gigantic bankroll to compete with the Internet's other City Guide players. Who are the other competitors? City Net (, controlled by Excite, is a scattershot collection of links to a huge number (about 5,000) of places. Digital Cities (, controlled by America Online, is a more organized collection of data on many fewer (about four dozen) cities. Sidewalk ( is the generally awful entry from Microsoft. And Time Out ( offers detailed reviews of about two dozen U.S. and international destinations drawn from the hip, British magazine of the same name. You'll probably need to surf more than one of these sites to find everything you need.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Serving the Lost Continent
No U.S. carrier since long-lost Pan Am has flown its own planes to any destination in sub-Saharan Africa. What has turned Africa into "The Lost Continent" on U.S. air route maps? Some say simple racism. Others say simple economics. Whether it is racism or economics--or a regrettable combination of both--the lack of U.S. service has kept African airfares extremely high. But now that U.S. airlines are beginning to offer African service in concert with their international code-share partners, prices to Africa are falling. The latest example: Virgin Atlantic's $999 roundtrip fare to Johannesburg from New York and Boston and $1,499 fare from Los Angeles and San Francisco. (The service is via Virgin's London hub; fares must be purchased by August 31.) What would motivate Virgin to slash the fare now? Perhaps Delta's request to put its code on the Johannesburg flights operated by Air France. Delta's proposal to the Department of Transportation involves linking eight Delta gateways (Boston, New York, Chicago, Cincinnati, Washington, Atlanta, Los Angeles and San Francisco) to Paris and with Air France's Paris-Johannesburg flights. Delta claims that would result in same-day connections to South Africa from a total of 147 U.S. cities.

AIRPORT REPORT: A Nice Chicken Sandwich
Airport food has improved in recent years, but it's still too often an unsavory parade of fatty hot dogs and sausages, artery-clogging burgers, and dreary, salty, unhealthy fast-food joints. But help is on the way for calorie-counting, fat-conscious travelers. Host Marriott Services, which dominates the airport-franchise business, has cut a deal to operate Ranch 1 chicken shops. Never heard of Ranch 1? The Manhattan-based chain specializes in relatively healthy fast foods--grilled chicken breast sandwiches, pastas, fajitas and salads--and its 30 shops have developed a fanatically loyal following. Host Marriott expects the first airport-based Ranch 1 outlets to open within the year. And if you must have a fix of fatty food to go with your healthy fare, fear not. Ranch 1 serves killer French Fries. Watch for the yellow and black Ranch 1 signs and tell 'em that "Joe Sent Me."

THE WEEKLY WONDER: Preferred Upgrades
Thirty properties tied to the Preferred Hotels (800-323-7500) network are offering guaranteed room upgrades and discounts off the published rate through September 25. Among the hotels participating in the "Preferred Reserved Upgrade" promotion are the Windsor Court in New Orleans (rate: $225), the Whitehall in Chicago ($205), the Pfister in Milwaukee ($159), Brown's in London ($331) and the Metropolitan in Toronto ($99).

This column originally appeared at

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