Flights in Europe $99

Let's start by correcting a substantial error in last month's issue. As several of you correctly pointed out, Europe by Air sells its $99 city-to-city coupons individually and does not, as we mistakenly reported, require a minimum purchase of three coupons. This, of course, makes it a much more attractive deal. Apparently, however, the process of redeeming the coupons is a bit more complicated than just presenting a regular airline ticket an hour prior to flight time. I refer you to the letter from subscriber Gary Shirley.

Clearing the Desk

Always on the lookout for travel tips and ideas, I sometimes find them in strange places. A newsletter to which I subscribe is Hotline, published by the Newsletter and Electronic Publishers Association. In a recent issue, Andy McLaughlin of PaperClip Communications, a fellow newsletter publisher and frequent traveler, offered a few travel hints I thought worthy of wider distribution:

1. Join every program you can. The advantage of being a "frequent whatever" is that employees see you as a different level of customer and you get better treatment. Airlines, hotels and rental car companies always pay special attention to their frequent travelers clubs.

2. Always ask for an upgrade. Whether checking into a hotel or boarding a flight, take a minute to smile and say, "Are there any upgrades available today?" The very worst that can happen is they say "no." The best that can happen is first or business-class seats (for perhaps only a small upgrade charge) and better hotel rooms with better views. Rental car companies may put you into a larger car (make certain, however, that you aren't charged extra; in Europe if you ask for an upgrade, the understanding is you are willing to pay the higher price).

3. Never accept a hotel's first price quote. There is always a better rate available. Ask for a AAA discount, corporate rate, senior citizen, business discount, and so on. You will almost always hear a better price the second time around.

4. Know who is really in charge. When travel goes bad it can get ugly. The savvy traveler knows who has the authority to help them out. A few examples: Generally, gate agents have more power than others in the airport. They have the last say on who sits where (and who does or doesn't get on). Hotel desk clerks have very little power - always ask to speak with a manager if you're having trouble.

5. Unless you have a really good travel agent who knows exactly what you want, you're better off booking your own travel. Your comfort and time is in your agent's hands. He or she has to know what kind of connection you can stand, where you want to sit on the airplane, what your minimum levels of comfort are in a hotel and that the "elite edition" Yugo is just not going to cut it for you.

• My two cents worth on Mr. McLaughlin's advice on travel agents: There are a lot more sharp, caring agents than he seems to think. However, when you begin to realize you know more about the ins and outs of travel than your travel agent, it's time for a change or for you to do it yourself.

Looking Back

A few months ago, high-profile, opportunistic, travel maven Arthur Frommer grabbed a fair amount of publicity when he declared he wouldn't allow information about Austria on his budget travel website until the Austrian government rid itself of Jörg Haider's right wing Freedom Party.

Apparently, Mr. Frommer was only kidding because when I looked at the site on July 18 I found substantial Austrian coverage. Though Haider has resigned as head of the party he is still politically active and the Freedom Party is still very much a part of the government.

Twenty years ago Frommer's guidebooks on European travel were reliable and respected. His Europe on $5 a Day was a classic. But lately his all-purpose travel books on Germany, Austria and Switzerland lag far behind competitors like Lonely Planet and the Rough Guides.

The newest element of the Frommer travel lineup, however, Arthur Frommer's Budget Travel, a bimonthly magazine owned by the Washington Post company, is actually worth the money ($14.95 for six issues). Among the interesting items found in the July/August issue:

• Round-trip airfare (from Florida and California) and a rental car for one week are available this summer on KLM's charter airline, Martinair, for from $539 to $699. Contact: 800-790-4682.

• For very flexible travelers, Airhitch (888-AIR-HITCH) and Air-Tech (800-575-8324) will fly you standby to Europe for $169 to $249 one way price depending on departure city within a four-day "window." The companies pick the exact destination city but you can specify a region.

• An informative article entitled Bargain Spas of Bohemia.

• A list of 10 top airfare discounters was led by Cheap Tickets (800-377-1000) and FLY CHEAP.

Speaking of guidebooks, the Eyewitness series has just released a Berlin book and it's a knockout. In my opinion, this nicely-bound edition with hundreds of great color photos, is now the best all-round guide to Europe's most dynamic city.

European Rail Passes

We sell European Rail Passes at prices supposedly available only in the U.S. and established by Rail Europe and its partners in Europe. However, I am duty bound to inform you that, at current exchange rates, you can get Swiss Passes and their variations cheaper by buying them at rail stations in Switzerland.

The Swiss prices are cheaper across the board. There's not room to list them all, but here are a couple of examples of the savings to be had by waiting until you get to Switzerland to purchase: Here, the regular four-day Swiss Pass is $245 first class and $160 second class. In Switzerland you'll pay 350 Sfr. ($210) first class and 160 SFr ($138) second class. It's a better deal the longer you stay. A 21-day Swiss Pass is $458 (1st cl) and $305 (2nd CL) in the US while the Switzerland prices are 660 SFr ($395) and 440 SFr ($263).

Our favorite mid-priced hotel in Vienna, the Altstadt (Kirchengasse 41, tel. +43/01/526 3399-0, fax 523 4901) has added a new floor and three new suites: the White Suite with Mies van der Rohe furniture and 4-poster bed; the quiet Freud Suite; and the Camilla Suite (after owner Otto Wiesenthal's daughter) with a huge sitting room. Suite prices range from 1980 to 2780 AST ($135 to $189). Singles are 1280 to 1580 AST ($87 to $108) and doubles are 1580 to 1980 AST ($108 to $135).

July 2000