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Originally published Friday 14 June, 2002

Good morning.  The newsletter is going out early this week, and a bit shorter than normal - I'm about to head out the door and off to lovely Sol Duc Resort in the Olympic National Park, for a long weekend.  Their cabins are spartan, but the hot pools are wonderful and a rare thing in the US, and the natural surroundings absolutely idyllic.  A recommended spot if you find yourself in the Pacific Northwest with a spare day or two.


Special Mileage Deal!

Star Alliance is celebrating its fifth anniversary.  If you fly on any five of their member carriers during the fifty five days between 14 May - 7 July, you'll get a bonus 55,555 frequent flier miles in addition to the miles you earn from your flights.  At 2c or more a mile, this is conservatively worth $1100 to you!

Air Fare Guru David Smith urgently put together a website full of clever ways to qualify for these miles at lowest cost and with the fewest number of flights.  Check it out - this is one of these rare but celebrated events whereby clever people can spend less money than the value of the mileage bonus they then get!

David Smith is a travel agent in BC, and the information on his website mentioned in the box above is a conclusive example of how a good travel agent can be of invaluable assistance.  Which leads me to this week's column :

This Week's Column :  Internet vs Travel Agencies :  Who hasn't heard someone proudly claiming 'I got the ticket cheaper on the internet'.  But, cheaper than what?  And, was it the best possible price?  Here are fourteen tips for how to find the lowest air fare; but after reading them, you might perhaps decide that it is better - much better - to simply have a travel agent do the work for you!

The airline market continues to change in Europe.  No-frills carrier Ryanair announced that in the twelve months to March 2002, its passenger numbers increased from 8.1 to 11.1 million, and its profits were up a massive 44% to $142 million!  At the same time, the two soon to be merged UK budget carriers, Go and easyJet also reported impressive increases in their May passenger numbers - Go up 89% and easyJet up 43%!  Ryanair is now publicly stating a goal to become the largest carrier in Europe.  Meanwhile, the established carriers still prefer to pretend to ignore such airlines as being 'unworthy' competitors, although BA, in severe financial trouble, is now reducing a lot of its European fares in an attempt to reclaim business that it is currently losing to these other carriers.

But it isn't always easy selling cheap airfares!  China's ban on discount air fares is now to be toughened up and enforced by police.  The government has authorized local government police and other agencies to crackdown on the sale of cheap tickets, according to the Shanghai Morning Post.  Under the ban, made by the country's Civil Aviation Authority, ticket agents and airlines will be held legally responsible if they are caught giving discounts or other perks.

The newspaper said that three Chinese government departments - the Aviation Authority, the Administration of Taxation and the Industrial and Commercial Administration - now require local government police, price and tax bureaus, industrial and commercial bureaus and civil aviation administration departments to make sure the ban is strictly enforced.  Airlines have been told that if they are paid less than the full value of a ticket, or give perks to passengers in the form of cash, tokens or receipts, they will be in breach of the discount ban.  Frequent flyers can, however, breathe a sigh of relief as airlines are still being allowed to hand out air miles.

Troubled British Airways (they lost $292 million in their last financial year) has come up with a new way to 'save money'.  In the UK (not yet in the US) they announced that they will now charge corporate accounts that they have extended discount 'net' fares to a 2% surcharge if those companies wish to charge their tickets to a credit card.  American Express has responded by claiming that BA is breaching its merchant agreement and threatening to withdraw BA's merchant status for all tickets!  BA has now responded to Amex's threat by filing suit (in New York) to prevent Amex from canceling its merchant account.

Many industry observers have been predicting that the airlines would restrict their credit card acceptance policies - this move on BA's part could have significant implications for the rest of the world.  Stay tuned for the resolution of this issue.

This Week's Security Horror Story :  Not sure if this is security related or not, but it sure is a horror story!  Many thanks to reader Gina from Teplis Travel Service who provided this unbelievable tale.

One of my Delta Platinum members made a one day round trip from Jacksonville, Florida to Chicago (change in Atlanta, of course).  On the return, at 4.45pm the weather was getting iffy in Atlanta, but the pilot decided to take off anyway.

Not able to land in Atlanta he headed west... for four hours!!!... almost to Denver... before heading south. Almost out of fuel; had to land in Memphis.

Now, Mr. Platinum was dealing with this... knowing full well he would probably miss his connection to JAX while they refueled, found another flight crew to replace the poor weary ones who made the decision to take off from Midway.

However, two poor fellow travelers were in a pickle. Their final destination was... you guessed it... Memphis. Although now parked at the gate in Memphis, the flight attendants refused to let them off the plane.

Using their cell phone they called Delta Operations in Atlanta who agreed they should be allowed off the plane (especially since they had no checked luggage) since Delta would just have to pay for an overnight hotel in Atlanta due to them having now missed their Atlanta connection on to Memphis. Atlanta tried to call the crew on the plane to tell them this... they refused to take the calls.

Travelers explained that they were going to miss the last connection from ATL to MEM and Delta would have to put them up for the night in ATL. The flight attendants told him that it was a weather problem so he would have to pay his own hotel.

Has the stress caused all airline personnel lose their collective minds?

Lastly this week, thanks (yet again) to Pat Funk, editor of ARTA's daily email newsletter and an invaluable source of many of my items here.  Pat provided this item in a recent issue.

World Cup visitors are being wowed by the most beautiful toilets in the world. Imagine hearing strains of Vivaldi's Four Seasons float through the perfumed air, poetry and framed landscapes adorn the pristine walls and the windows offer panoramic views of the city skyline. Welcome to Fine View Toilet - one of about 30 institutions designated as a Beautiful Toilet by the city fathers of Suwon, Korea, a city hosting some of the World Cup games. The Suwon World Cup Guide declares "The public toilets of Suwon City turn into the most clean and comfortable places of speculation and rest, display, rendezvous, recreation of energy in the world." The guide devotes a section to "A City with the most beautiful public toilets in the world." It comes with photos of the city's best restrooms. Three restrooms are included on all guided city bus tours. Suwon's Beautiful Toilet campaign was initiated in 1997 when the city knew it would host some of the games. A tour of Suwon is the highlight of the World Toilet Organizations Congress later this year.

Until next week, please enjoy safe travels, and, while you're enjoying a 'comfortable place for a few moments of speculation and rest', reflect on this number plate seen on a van outside a day care center - PPB4UGO!

David M Rowell aka The Travel Insider

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