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Odd Lots & the Most Useful Airline Websites
by Rudy Maxa for Marketplace

It's spring, and naturally a young man's mind turns to . . . travel. Rudy Maxa, our Savvy Traveler, isn't exactly a young man - except in HIS mind - but he does have a few suggestions and a couple of bargains that you might want to consider as you plan your next getaway.

Let's start with unusual opportunities. If you carry an American Express card, you may be enrolled in its Membership Rewards program that gives you one point for every dollar you put on your card. These points can be traded in for miles on a couple dozen airlines. But the country's two largest airlines-United and American-don't participate in the Amex program.

Thanks to the current airline merger climate, however, you can beat the system. In a few months, all your TWA miles will become American miles thanks to American's takeover of TWA. Now, listen carefully. TWA participates in the Amex membership rewards program. So if you want to boost your American account, call Amex now, shift your points into a TWA mileage account, and within six months-voila! - your TWA miles become American ones.

Same thing if United receives approval to buy US Airways--US Airways miles will become United ones. So change membership rewards points into US Airways miles if you want to build up your United account. Keep in mind, that merger isn't a done deal. Worst scenario if it doesn't happen: You wind up with some extra US Airways miles.

Need some luggage for the trip you're going to take with all your new-found miles? Why not head over to www.unclaimedbaggage.com. That's the web site for the big, Alabama company that buys lost and unclaimed luggage - and its contents-by the pound from major airlines. Their web site has all kinds of things for sale, from cameras to jewelry to clothing, as well as bags - some new because it was unclaimed cargo, some used because it was, well, maybe because it was once yours. The other day, I found a bag that retails for more than $1000 on sale for 400 on the site.

And speaking of lost luggage, here's something you should begin doing right now: Start a file for every receipt of every piece of clothing you buy from now on. Why? Well, sure you can receive up to $1600 if an airline loses a bag of yours. But that's not an automatic payment - you've got to prove what you paid for the stuff inside. And that's where the receipts come in.

On a happier subject, one of the best things about the Internet for travelers is the ability to see what other people think about places you might want to visit. One of the most ambitious sites is called igougo.com. Here you'll find postings by 5,000 or so active contributors on more than 2,000 destinations. Check out a wonderful journal titled "Booklovers Guide to New York City" or "Virginia's Haunted Places." You can become a guide, too, and give the world a piece of your mind.

And finally, if there's a flight in your future, remember that summer - not winter - is the time when airlines experience the most delays and cancellations. Blame it on summer storms. Or, like last summer, on labor problems. If thunderstorms or strikes delay you, you'll spend a lot less time standing in line if you're holding a paper ticket.

I'm Rudy Maxa, from the Savvy Traveler, for Marketplace.


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