The Tactical Traveler

FOR MAY 13, 1999


This week: On-time agony by the numbers; time to change charge cards; Austin gets ready for the big airport move; seen while surfing; Berlin 'solves' its airport muddle; and more.

COUNTER INTELLIGENCE: Agony by the Numbers
As usual, the monthly Air Travel Consumer Report compiled by the Department of Transportation gives the lie to what the airlines want you to believe about their service. One example: major carriers oppose the so-called "passenger rights" bills and claim they are working hard to address their service problems. So how come, according to the DOT's most recent numbers, passengers filed 50 percent more complaints this March than in March of 1998? And then there are the claims by Delta and United that their onerous carry-on baggage templates are improving luggage handling. So how come the two carriers combined to rack up more than 280,000 baggage complaints in the first three months of 1999? That's more than 40 percent of the complaints filed against the 10 major carriers during the first quarter.

DOLLAR WATCH: Time to Change Charge Cards
American Express apparently thinks customers are turnips--and the company is going all out to get blood in the form an astonishing array of new fees and charges. As previously disclosed, Amex is doubling its handling fee for foreign-currency transactions to 2 percent. Next year, the cost of playing in the Amex Membership Rewards program rises to $40 from its current $25. And the company's recently announced Rewards Manager program will cost you $15 a year after a free 90-day trial--even though you can get the same program free for a year from Expedia. Amex is even charging for the privilege of entering its contests. Filling out the entry form for the "Three Million Points Contest Giveaway" requires a redemption of 2,000 Membership Rewards points! If you're tired of Amex trying to get blood from a turnip, there is an alternative: Diners Club. It has a lower annual fee than most Amex cards and offers several substantive benefits: primary car-rental liability coverage (Amex offers only secondary coverage); a 60-day payment window (Amex gives 30 days); a 20 percent dining-rebate plan (Amex has nothing comparable); and unrestricted access to dozens of airport clubs around the world (only Amex Platinum members get any club-lounge privileges at all). Unlike Amex, Diners Club's foreign-currency fee is just 1 percent. Moreover, the Diners Club Rewards mileage program has no annual fee and offers mileage transfer into all major U.S. carrier frequent-flyer plans. You'll also get a 10,000-mile bonus just for signing up and using the Diners Club.

AIRPORT REPORT: Austin Airport Readies for the Big Move
The new airport in Austin, the former Bergstrom Air Force base, is scheduled to open on May 23. The city's existing facility, Robert Mueller Municipal, is due to close May 22 to make room for the upgraded and rechristened Austin-Bergstrom International. How bad is security at the Northwest Airlines hub in Detroit? A local paper reports that the Federal Aviation Administration has fined Northwest at least 14 times since 1997 for security lapses at Detroit Metropolitan Airport. Bangalore, the Indian city known as the "Silicon Valley of Asia," may get its long-overdue new airport. The $375 million project looked dead last year, but two state-owned companies have formed a joint venture to build the facility. Construction is due to begin in July with a mid-2002 completion date. Forget about Y2K problems: Taiwan expects to open at second terminal on January 1, 2000, at Chiang Kai-shek Airport in Taipei. Japan may have given up on building a sorely needed second runway at Narita, the international airport serving Tokyo. Decades-long negotiations with recalcitrant landowners, who hold plots crucial for runway construction, have broken down again.

CYBERTRAVELER: Seen While Surfing
Need peripherals for your mobile computer? The Control Memory site ( is almost frighteningly good. Its inventory of 300,000 products is organized by computer brand and model. Three clicks off the home page brings you to a complete list of products stocked by Control Memory for your specific make and model. Got a soft spot for East African Airways, Ozark, AirCal or any of dozens of defunct airlines? The Airlines of the Web site ( maintains a nifty list of links to sites dedicated to carriers that have gone the way of Braniff, Monarch, People Express and Piedmont. Heard of the Passenger Rights web site ( that is supposedly dedicated to consumer advocacy? Well, to me, it seems like nothing more than a glorified promotion for subscriptions to the sponsors' high-priced newsletter. But make your own decision. The new Zagat Survey site ( finally delivers the content of most of the print version of the Zagat restaurant guides. Tim and Nina Zagat, founders of the surveys, have been slow to recognize the importance of the Internet and a proprietary web site, but they're on the right track now. If you care about food, check out the site.

INTERNATIONAL ITINERARY: Berlin Finally Settles Its Airport Muddle
The contract is a thousand pages and it was consummated only after months of grueling negotiations, but Berlin finally has a deal to build a new airport. Called Berlin Brandenburg International, the new facility will be located in Schoenefeld, home of the former East Berlin airport. If all goes according to plan, Templehof, Berlin's downtown airport, will close in 2002 and Tegal, Berlin's primary airport, will shut down in 2007, the year Brandenburg becomes fully operational.

This column originally appeared at

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