The Tactical Traveler

FOR OCTOBER 26, 1998


This week: Dialing for frequent-flyer miles; another airline rating scheme; the dollar weakens; travel taxation without representation; restaurants for business travelers; and more.

Check your snail mail. You're sure to find at least a half-dozen flyers urging you to switch your residential long-distance service to MCI Worldcom for upwards of 10,000 bonus miles in just about any domestic frequent-flyer program you choose. The offer includes 5,000 miles upon sign up and 1,000 miles a month for five months for remaining an MCI customer. But before you switch to MCI, be aware that AT&T, the slumbering giant of long distance, has gotten the message that its exit from frequent-travel plans in recent years was a strategic blunder. After doing a deal with British Airways' Executive Club/USA, AT&T now has quietly teamed up with Marriott Rewards, the largest frequent-guest program. New AT&T customers will receive 5,000 Marriott Rewards bonus points for switching and five points per dollar spent on calls. Existing AT&T customers are eligible for the calling points, if not the sign-up bonus. Want miles for calling with Sprint? Its sole domestic frequent-flyer partner is America West.

CYBERTRAVELER: Another Airline Ratings Scheme
When Zagat, J.D. Power or Wichita State or one of the travel magazines dub one airline or another "best," I usually move right along and pay no attention. That said, however, it's my duty to alert you to the "OAG Worldwide Airline of the Year" Awards, still another scheme to separate the wheat from the chaff. The twist to this one is that you get to cast your ballot in cyberspace. The voting form will be available from November 1 through November 30 at the "1999 Airline of the Year" web site (

DOLLAR WATCH: Not So Mighty Now
The dollar may be Almighty again around most of the world, but be warned of the precipitous recent decline of the greenback against the German mark and the Japanese yen. These two strong currencies had been plummeting against the dollar in recent months, but the financial tide has turned again. As of Friday, October 23, the dollar had slid about 20 percent against the yen and about 12 percent against the mark from its respective 1998 highs.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Taxation Without Representation
Travel taxes are innately unfair. Whether they are airport-specific "passenger facility charges" or local hotel or car-rental taxes and user fees, business travelers pay the toll and have absolutely no say in how the revenue is used or whether the tax should have been imposed in the first place. But such is the way of the world. Regardless of what we're taught in civics classes, America [ital]does[ital] indulge in taxation without representation, and we're the taxpayers who aren't represented. But the egregiously unfair travel-tax complex has an even more outrageous sidebar: municipalities that impose travel taxes and fees, then use the revenue to build local sports stadiums for fat-cat team owners. According to the TIA, a non-profit travel-industry group, more than a dozen cities now divert some portion of their hotel taxes to the construction or maintenance of sporting facilities. In New Orleans, for example, 36.4 percent of the city's hotel taxes go to sports programs. Other big spends of our hotel-tax dollars: Atlanta (20.1 percent), Tampa (18.3 percent), Fort Lauderdale (18.2 percent), Jacksonville (16 percent) and Chicago (14.1 percent). I'd tell you to call your Congressperson and complain, but it wouldn't do any good. But you might think twice about taxing your fellow frequent flyers when your city holds a referendum on imposing a tax or user fee on business travelers.

Malcolm Kaufman is the sage who recently suggested that "Frequent flyers are like horse players. They think they know everything, you can't tell them anything, and they're always looking for an inside tip." Hoping to capitalize on the tipster mentality, Kaufman's On The Road website ( charges frequent flyers $10 a month for a fresh, meaty hash of local intelligence on important business-travel cities. But smart enough to know that even tip-crazy business travelers are reluctant to pay for web-based information, Kaufman has prepared a wonderful freebie to convince you of his site's value. His "Doing the Deal" page lists a total of 30 restaurants in 10 North American cities where you can court clients, negotiate a deal, and celebrate your victory. Each city's listing has one restaurant suggestion (and appropriate background) for each category. Kaufman picks "chalk"--horse-player talk for a low-risk, presumably winning bet--which is exactly what business travelers want from a restaurant when they're pursuing a deal.

This column originally appeared at

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