The Tactical Traveler



This week: More changes, good and bad, for frequency programs; dumb smart cards for hotel locks; what airline executives think of in-flight food; cheap, fast car-rental deals in Florida; and more.

The Starwood consortium of hotels-Sheraton, Westin, Four Points, W, Caesars and the Luxury Collection-last week rolled out its long-delayed combined frequent-stay program. ... The new "Tailored Travel" option from Diners Club offers an interesting wrinkle: the opportunity to break through airline blackouts and capacity controls. But the program isn't cheap for premium-class travel. One example: Continental charges 200,000 miles for an unrestricted BusinessFirst ticket to Rome or Milan, but only two seats per flight are available. Diners Club cardholders can use Club Rewards points to get BusinessFirst seats on flights that are otherwise blocked for frequent-flyer awards. The cost: 975,847 points, the equivalent of 487,923.5 miles. (Diners Club cardholders receive two Club Rewards points for every dollar charged and two points equal one mile.) Tailored Travel is much more cost-effective for coach rewards, however. ... Watch for AT&T to substantially revamp its nearly moribund frequent-calling program, AT&T Rewards, in the second quarter. ... When United offered MileagePlus members a one-year extension on the life of miles that were due to expire on December 31, 1998, as many as 120 billion miles were headed for oblivion.

CYBERTRAVELER: Surfing for Hotel Discounts
Add Hotel Conxions ( to the list of lodging consolidators plying their discounted wares on the web. The company offers discounts up to 40 percent off the published room rates on selected hotels in New York City, Boston, Orlando and Los Angeles. The no-fee service is also available by telephone at 800-522-9991 or 212-840-8686.

As hotels make the inevitable conversion from old-fashioned metal room keys to high-tech "smart card" keys, business travelers are increasingly finding themselves locked out of guest rooms. How does it happen? The card keys aren't simply programmed to open a specific guest room, they are programmed to open a specific guest room for a finite period of days. If you check in to a hotel for two days, the card key you are given is programmed to open the computerized door lock only for two days. Extend your stay for a day and the card key won't operate unless it has been reprogrammed. The solution? When you extend a stay, be sure to go back to the lobby and have the magnetic stripe on the back of your card key updated with your new departure date.

STUPID COMPUTER TRICKS: What's in a Name-Or a Promise?
When Apple launched its Performa computers earlier this decade, it promised users that the Macintoshes would be protected with "Apple Assurance," a program that offered free lifetime technical support. In October, 1997, however, Apple reneged. It not only began charging Performa customers $35 for access to live telephone tech support, but Apple executives, including founder Steve Jobs, publicly denied Apple Assurance ever offered the promise of free lifetime support. Armed with Apple Assurance documentation and advertisements (which bluntly and unequivocally detailed the free support plan), Mac Performa users complained to the government. Last week, Apple settled with the Federal Trade Commission. It has restored free tech support to Performa users and agreed to issue refunds to any of them charged a fee for support. ... Estee Lauder, the cosmetics firm, has sued Excite, the web-search engine. The suit charges that Excite sold an on-line cosmetics retailer the right to pop up its banner ad whenever an Excite user entered the search keywords "Estee Lauder" or "Origins." Both terms are Estee Lauder trademarks and the firm says Excite is infringing on its rights by selling ads linked to those words.

VERBATIM: Leftovers By Any Other Name
Every wonder why airline food never lives up to the florid descriptions on the in-flight menus? Ever wonder why it often doesn't seem like food at all? Rich Marini, a long-time observer of the business-travel scene, has finally found the answer. In his excellent cover story on airline food in the February issue of Frequent Flyer, Marini presents this brutally honest assessment by Eric Kopelow, corporate executive chef of United Airlines. "Airline cuisine is basically leftovers," says Kopelow. "It's cooked by the caterer and then reheated in flight."

Hertz is offering a sunny price for convertibles-$39.99 a day-for rentals in California and Florida. The special "Freedom Rates" are valid through March 31, but are blacked out February 11-18. For more details, contact Hertz by phone (800-654-3131).

This column originally appeared at

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