The Tactical Traveler



This week: The high cost of 'free' miles; time to think about European Delivery again; Staples will open kiosks in airports; United builds at its 'new' hub at LAX; free-ticket battles to Britain; and more.

COUNTER INTELLIGENCE: The High Cost of 'Free' Miles
Feeling light in the wallet lately? It may be the high price you're paying to earn those "free" miles from the airline's credit-card and telephone partners. Take the five miles you earn for every dollar spent with MCIWorldCom, the long-distance partner of most major frequent-flyer plans. Business travelers who sign with MCI are placed on the " One Savings" plan, which charges 25 cents a minute for weekday inter-state calls. But the new plan from AT&T, which doesn't offer miles, costs just 7 cents a minute. If you place a thousand minutes of domestic calls in one month, you pay MCI $250 to earn your miles. The same amount of calls with AT&T costs just $70. Frequent flyers pay similar premiums when they make MCI calling-card or international phone calls. The airlines' credit-card partners are equally rapacious. While most standard credit cards have no annual fees, airline frequent-flyer cards charge as much as $125 annually. The fees imposed by the frequent-flyer cars are even more startling: Chase's Continental Airlines card imposes a $29 fee for late payments and Bank of America's USAirways Dividend Miles card charges a 3 percent surcharge for cash advances. And compare the United Mileage Plus Visa Card to the GreenPoint Platinum Visa card, both of which are issued by subsidiaries of Bank One. The MileagePlus Gold card costs $100 a year; the GreenPoint card is free. The MileagePlus interest rate is 17.65 percent; GreenPoint's card charges 9.99 percent. MileagePlus charges 3 percent for cash advances; the GreenPoint card charges 2 percent.

CYBERTRAVELER: Drive and Buy in Europe
Planning to drive in Europe this fall? You might consider buying a new car over there, tooling around the continent for as long as you wish, then having the manufacturer ship the vehicle home for you. You not only save on rental costs, you get to keep the cool European license plates and manufacturers sell the vehicles at 10-15 percent below their U.S. sticker prices. Volvo's "Tourist and Diplomat Sales" plan is by far the best known), but Saab and Mercedes offer programs, too.

AIRPORT REPORT: Staples is Moving to the Airport
Staples, the office-supplies retailer, is to branching out to airport stores. The company says it will open its first location at Philadelphia International later this month and expects to add two other airports by the end of the year. It's a rarity for an airline to make good on its promise of "seamless" service via an alliance, but give Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific credit. It has moved its flights out of Terminal 3 at New York/Kennedy and into Terminal 7, the home of British Airways, its Oneworld alliance partner. A British property company has purchased a World War II airfield in Kent and says it will turn it into a new London airport. The firm, Wiggins, paid British military authorities about $16 million for Manston, located about 65 miles from central London. Manston is small, but it has a runway long enough to accommodate widebody flights. No flights have yet been scheduled.

ON THE FLY: Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Unionized Canadian airline workers are enraged at the proposal by the Onyx Corporation to buy both Air Canada and Canadian Airlines International and then merge the two carriers into one company. Fearful that jobs will be lost in the proposed C$1.8 billion combination, the International Association of Machinists said its members will stage a walkout on September 27 if the Canadian government does not protect employees. Meanwhile, Air Canada is resisting the Onex proposal with a shareholder's rights plan and a delaying tactic that would postpone a shareholder meeting until January 7, long after the Onex offer expires. ... United Airlines officially declared Los Angeles a hub earlier this year and now the carrier has rounded out its schedule. On Tuesday, the airline added nonstop flights to Atlanta, Houston Intercontinental and Dallas/Fort Worth. Say goodbye to two small airline competitors: Eastwind was due to abandon all scheduled flight on Wednesday and the trustee of grounded and bankrupt Kiwi International says the carrier's final liquidation should be approved by the end of the month.

THE WEEKLY WONDER: Buy One, Get Three from TWA
As mentioned in last week's Tactical Traveler, British Airlines is offering two free coach tickets when you fly its transcontinental business class. TWA has promptly matched the offer. Anyone who buys a qualifying full-fare Trans World One ticket for travel through December 15 will receive two free roundtrip coach tickets for use on TWA's North American route system. The tickets can be redeemed between January 15 and December 15, 2000. For more information, call TWA (800-325-4815) and use promotional code 22499.

This column originally appeared at

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