I'm a cheapskate on moral principles. Even when I'm traveling on business and someone else is picking up most of the tab, I still like value. In the last five weeks, I've traveled in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, California, Michigan, and Massachusetts. I've stayed in Hiltons and Sheratons, Crowne Plazas, Holidays Inns and Quality Inns. I've flown on United, Northwest and Southwest. I've rented from Hertz, Avis and National.

I've acquired so many "rewards" cards that I had to buy a new wallet. It's actually a passport case, which I happen to prefer, made of some kind of ostrich leather. I bought it new at a local thrift shop ($2). I don't know who Frank Pisano is -- or why he never got his wallet -- but you can hardly see his imprinted name...

What I'm learning as I get the rhythm of business travel applies to personal travel just as well. Five things to watch:

1. Does your hotel include parking? This is not a joke. At the Hilton in Palm Springs, where the room ran well over $300/night, there is an additional $10/day fee for parking - if you "self-park." Pull up in front of the hotel and staff surge toward you, offering valet parking, assistance with your bags and the snack box that the the airlines used to give out.

I understand that Paris has to buy clothes but I want to know what is actually "included" with the room. I understand that water at the Hilton is $4/bottle and that if I want to use the business center that I'll be paying per minute. I just want to know whether I'm allowed to use the bed. Is the shower included? Is there a surcharge for the little bottles of shampoo and conditioner?

2. If you are a member of National's Emerald Club, you get to pick any car on the "Emerald Aisle." This means that even if the company's cheapskate travel coordinator has reserved an intermediate car, you can take a premium or whatever happens to be sitting there for the same price. I asked three times to make sure I understood this correctly before I drove off in a white Impala which I thought was very California. It wasn't until I was in flight (has a nice ring) from Burbank to Sacramento that I noticed that I'd been charged for - a premium car. No problem. An hour later, with three calls from the National counter to the supervisor (and after having patiently explained that no, I was not going back to Burbank to fix the problem...) my Visa was credited correctly. I rented another white Impala.

3. Speaking of my Southwest Rewards Visa, the poor tired thing will be retiring in August. I expect I will receive a new crisp replacement card that will no longer stymie the credit card machine at Roche Brothers.

4. Internet Access. I'll try to be brief. Yes, there are still some hotels that provide free Internet access and even let you use the business center computer. Don't count on the latter. You can always get on with a laptop in your room. Always, that is, if you can find the cable which is sometimes conveniently placed (imagine this) in the desk drawer but may also be found hanging in the closet (why?). Once you find the cable you can sometimes log on free but not necessarily. It depends where you're staying. For a guiding principle, you could try, "the more expensive the hotel, the more likely that you will have to pay additional for Internet access."

5. Does your room have a refrigerator and a microwave? You just never know.

Stay tuned. Tomorrow I will address the subject of air travel and showers, not necessarily in that order.


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