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    These days many airlines are cutting back on their in-flight meals, so always call before leaving for the airport. But even if your carrier serves a meal, you might want a sneak peak and decide to bring your own food. Thanks to AirlineMeals.net, passengers can get an idea of what their in-flight meal (or at least a recent one) looked like.

    AirlineMeals.net is devoted solely to airline food. The website is the brainchild of Marco Hart from the Netherlands. He started it for fun when he posted a picture of an in-flight meal he had taken to show his mom. So many people were interested that he created a website. He then asked friends and visitors to submit pictures of their in-flight meals, and fill out a rating and comment card. Each photo includes information on who took the photo, where they were flying from and to, how long the flight took, what type of aircraft it was, the type of meal (breakfast, lunch, snack, or dinner), what drink was served, comments, and a rating from 1-10.

    Pictures poured in from around the world, and the website now features over 6000 images from 331 airlines -- ranging from Aces Airlines to Yangon Airways. You can view meals from coach class, business class, first class -- even crew meals. And you thought you had it bad!

    AirlineMeals.net also has a collection of pictures from the past. It’s neat to see what passengers ate back in the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. The site also features in-flight menus, corporate pictures (what the food is supposed to look like), old airline ads, airport restaurants, and stories from behind the scenes of airline catering. If it involves airline food, this website has it covered.

    So remember the next time you fly: Bring your camera, and share your meal with everyone who logs on to AirlineMeals.net!

    Hotel Booking Buddy
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HOUSE KEEPING: Remember when you click on the pictures in "Where's Johnny Jet," they will open up in another window. Just click the "x"(close) in each picture to get back to the newsletter. This should alleviate complaints about closing Johnny Jet. Thanks again for your support, and remember: If you book trips on the web, please go through johnnyjet.com (we get a commission and it doesn't cost you any more money). "If you want Johnny Jet to continue I need your support and the support of your fellow travellers".
Bula! In Fiji everyone greets each other with a big smile and the word "bula." It actually means health or life, but if I hadn’t looked it up I would have just thought it meant "hello." But it has a deeper meaning – like "aloha" or "shalom" -- which makes the word even more special.

If you aren’t too sure where Fiji is located, then check out this map. It’s in the South Pacific, just over the International Date Line. It’s pretty far from nearly everything: 5520 miles from Los Angeles, 4420 miles from Tokyo, 3170 miles from Honolulu, 2160 miles from Tahiti, 1970 miles from Sydney, even 1340 from Auckland.

332 islands make up the Fiji Islands, but only two-thirds are inhabited. Yet Fiji is rich in fascinating history, and it would take me way too long to cover it. However, if you are interested in it, this website covers it in detail. For those of you with ADD and/or a mountain of paperwork, here’s my abbreviated version: Settlers arrived in 1500 BC. The first known European to pass through was Abel Tasman (think "Tasmania") in 1643. He wrote about the dangerous waters and cannibals, so for many years sailors had a deep fear of Fiji. In the mid-1800’s English missionaries tried to convert the tribal chiefs (and convince them not to eat people), but that didn’t work out too well. The most famous failure was Reverend Thomas Baker, who ended up as a meal in 1867. Fijians did not like people touching their heads (they still don’t), and when a tribal chief borrowed Baker’s comb he snatched it out of his hair. That was obviously a BIG mistake. The villagers were so upset they even tried to eat his shoes. But rubber soles didn’t cook well, and they are now on exhibit at the Fiji Museum in Suva.

In 1874 Fiji was proclaimed a possession and dependency of the British Crown. Five years later the first boatload of indentured servants arrived from India. They had to work the land for five years before going home if they wanted, but two-thirds chose to stay. Indentured labor ended in 1919, but by then there were more than 60,000 Indians in Fiji. In October 1970 Fiji became an independent country. In 1987, they had their first coup (it was bloodless). In 1999 Fiji elected its first prime minister of Indian descent, Mahendra Chaudhry. In May of 2000 Chaudhry's government was overturned in a bloody coup.

Today, Fiji’s population is estimated to be 868,531. The country is made up of 51% indigenous Fijians, 44% Indo-Fijians (Indians), and 5% other Pacific islanders, Chinese and Europeans. Before I came to Fiji I found these numbers surprising. Who would have thought there would be so many Indians in Fiji?

It seems the Fijians and Indo-Fijians put their bloody coup and resentments behind them. They now live and work together peacefully. They are all very friendly to everyone -- especially tourists. However, you can’t help but notice that they usually hang with people of their own nationality.

The capital of Fiji, Suva, is on the biggest island, called Viti Levu. However, the most international flights land in Nadi (pronounced Nandi). This is also located on Viti Levu, but on the western side.

Amber Airplane and I landed at 5:15 a.m. We were greeted by a Fijian band before we cleared passport control. Then we waited with all the other passengers for our bags in Nadi’s brand new-looking airport. As Amber Airplane watched for the bags I went straight to ATM, like any savvy traveler should do. I took out some Fijian dollars. Using your ATM and/or credit card offer the best exchange rates, which today is 1 Fijian Dollar (FJD) = 58 cents of U.S. Dollars (USD). For Americans, that means everything is about 40% off. Storekeepers, look out! Amber Airplane has landed, and she loves shopping for bargains.

We waited for our bags for a looong time. It was perhaps the longest I’ve ever waited, but we really didn’t mind. After all, we were in Fiji! Not only that, we had nowhere else to go. We had one more flight to catch, and it would not depart until 8 a.m.

After getting our bags we cleared customs. Then we stopped by the Vodafone store in the airport to get a SIM card for my GSM phone (GSM stands for "Global System for Mobile Communications," and is the service the majority of countries in the world use). Most U.S. cell phones are not compatible with GSM, and with the ones that are (such as T-Mobile and Cingular…), phone calls are very expensive. If you plan to travel abroad and want a cell phone, think about buying or renting a GSM phone. (You can get a good one at the JohnnyJetCellPhones.com.)

The Vodafone agent said it was cheaper to rent a SIM card than buy one. The price she quoted was $1.99 a day (all prices are in Fijian dollars, unless noted differently), but I sweet-talked her down to $1 a day. You can get this deal as well -- just ask for the VIP price.

However, the price does not include phone calls. Calling back to the U.S. from Fiji is very expensive: $5.64 a minute. Though steep, that’s still much cheaper than using a hotel phone. (Note: This is the highest price I have ever paid for a phone call. All countries are different. The cheapest call to the U.S. I have found is from Australia. It’s cost about 20 U.S. cents a minute. Obviously, distance has little to do with rates!)

Your best bet is to communicate via email. The cheapest rates are at internet cafes. We found an inexpensive one in Nadi called Internet Connect (it’s across the street from a store called Nad’s, which everyone knows). Internet Connect has high speed access, and charges just $5 an hour. This was the only place I found where I could use my laptop (I just plugged in the high speed cable).

Most resorts have a computer with internet access, but they are a bit pricey. Rates varied from $5 for 15 minutes to 35 cents a minute. The worst part was they were all on dial-up modems, and deathly slow.

Fiji uses the same electrical outlets as Australia, so make sure to bring a three-pronged slanted plug adapter and a transformer for any electrical equipement. Fiji uses 240 volts (the U.S. operates on 120 volts).

After getting our luggage, Amber Airplane and I walked over to the domestic terminal. We checked in for our flight to Savusavu, which is on Fiji’s second largest island called Vanua Levu. We flew Air Fiji, and everyone airline employee we met was really friendly. How rare is that? What was most unusual though, was they made each person step on the scale with our carry-on bags, and weighed us individually. When that happens, you know you’ll be flying on a tiny plane. I hate small planes, and so does Amber Airplane. In fact, while I was on the scale she said, "Do you remember me saying before we left: No small planes?" I said, "Don’t worry, it’ll be fine." Then I gulped quietly, and put on a fake smile. She looked at me, shook her head and said "You’re fired!" -- just like Donald Trump.

We were flying on a Twin Otter DHC-6 (DH stands for de Havilland Canada). It holds about 20 passengers. This was similar to the plane we flew last year from Papeete to Moorea in French Polynesia, except this flight was 50 minutes longer. (Okay, I know, the Moorea flight was a mere five minutes). Though Amber Airplane and I are not fans of small planes, I have to say this was one of my favorite flights ever. First of all, the entire flight was smooth (thank you God). Second, the plane had huge picture windows. It was amazing to see the fabulous scenic views of Fiji. Look at these coral reefs that we flew over -- are they awesome or what?

When we got off the plane we stood around the small outdoor airport waiting for our luggage. Suddenly someone said "Johnny Jet!" like he knew me. I turned around to see not a familiar face, but a friendly one. It belonged to a Fijian man named Dick. He works at the Koro Sun, the resort we would be staying at. When I asked how he knew it was me he replied, "It says Johnny Jet right there on your t-shirt!" I thought to myself "duh!"

Dick grabbed our bags and showed us to the van. Before I could remark on how hot it was, Dick brought us a tray with two ice-cold white linen towels. They smelled great, but felt even better on my sweaty neck.

Dick drove us 15 minutes to our resort, while telling us all about his beautiful country. He said that Fiji has three official languages. Basically the Fijians speak Fijian, the Indians speak Hindi, and both groups speak English to each other. Almost everyone we met speaks and understands all three languages.

Along the right Dick pointed out some interesting sites, like this palm tree on a rock in the middle of the Sea He also showed us the resort called Namale, owned by self- help guru (and my brother’s hero) Anthony Robbins. Everyone on the island speaks very highly of him. Dick said he helps out on some of Tony’s events, and when he is in town Dick loves to hear him speak.

There were few vehicles on the road, but everyone we drove by Dick waved to. I asked if he knew everyone. He smiled and said, "It’s a small island." It didn’t seem that small to me – supposedly it takes a day and a half to drive around. Most of the people we passed were men walking with long machetes. I said, "That’s something you don’t see everyday in the U.S.: Dick laughed and said that every Fijian man has a machete. They use it for farming.

We pulled up to the Koro Sun resort, and were greeted by a beautiful woman with a gigantic smile. She carried two tall glasses of the best fresh fruit punch I have ever had. If that weren’t enough, a crowd of the resort staff behind her sang a Fijian welcome song. I kept looking behind us to see who else was there, but it was for us indeed. What a welcome!

We were brought into Koro Sun’s new lobby and sat down with Gary, the gentleman behind the desk. He told us all about the resort. Almost everything was included: three meals a day, most activities (with a guide) -- we even had free golf on their 9-hole course, and lessons from their pro. We just had to pay $2 for each ball we lost (that adds up when Amber Airplane and I start swinging).

Gary told us that the resort has only 17 bures. A bure (pronounced boo-ray) is a thatched-roof resort villa, reflecting traditional Fijian village accommodations. He said we were in luck; we would have practically the entire 150 acres to ourselves. There was just one other couple, from Colorado, named Scot and Megan. They were really cool.

Before we went to our room, Gary asked if we would like breakfast. We were not really hungry, but who can turn down free food? Our breakfast was delicious: fruit, muffins, toast, eggs, ham, bacon and pancakes.

After breakfast we met Scot and Megan by the pool, then walked to our room (I mean, bure). It was 10 a.m., but it felt like 2 p.m. Maybe that’s because the time back in California WAS 2 p.m. -- the day before. (When you cross the International Date Line you lose a day).

The Koro resort staff was truly amazing. Everyone knew our names. Even the staff members we had not formally met would say "Bula, Johnny and Amber!" with a big Fijian smile when we passed by. On the way to our room one worker appeared out of nowhere (he was must have been weeding behind some bushes) and said "Bula!" But it sounded more like "BOO LA" and he scared the hell out of us. Well, I guess you had to be there.

Our bure was incredible. We were in number 16, the furthest from the main building. It was up on a little hill, with an incredible view of the Koro Sea. We had two bedrooms, two bathrooms, two balconies, a living room and air conditioning. The place was awesome. The only thing we had which we didn’t need were a few bugs, but they come with the territory. Amber Airplane would add that they had big ol’ frogs. At night they hung out on the sidewalk, because it was warm. The worst part was that it was really dark walking back from dinner, and the frogs didn’t get out of the way. That made walking very slow and exciting. Amber Airplane stepped on a frog the first night, and screamed so loudly the workers thought she had been stabbed. Every night from that point on we were escorted to our room by a staff worker with a flashlight.

After unpacking and relaxing in the bure, it was time for lunch. We ate three big meals a day, and all were really good. For lunch we had chilled soup (I think it was coconut), teriyaki chicken kabobs, and chocolate mousse for dessert. Every meal offered a choice of two dishes. Surprisingly for two picky eaters, we liked every one.

After lunch we played half a hole of golf with Scot and Megan, because after we teed off we remembered we had booked massages. I’m sure most of you heard all about this, because Amber wrote about them the other day in her newsletter. For those of you who didn’t sign up for her free newsletter…. The massages were given at the Koro Sun spa, in a rainforest . On the way up Dick pointed out all the fruit trees and plants we passed: banana, coconut, papaya, pineapple…you name it.

Each masseuse had her own individual bure. -- and no boom box. This was the first time I ever had a massage without music. The reason: We didn’t need one. We were in a rain forest, and the natural sounds were incredible. This made the massage magical. It was raining, and the sound of drops hitting the tin roof was awesome (I love that sound). As if that wasn’t enough, a waterfall out back was gushing. How sweet is that? The masseuse kept calling me her friend. She would whisper in my ear, "Is that too hard, my friend?" She was strong, and got all my kinks out. My full-body Swedish massage was simply amazing, and I hoped it would never end. She even massaged the inside of my ears with her pinkies (it felt better than a Q-tip). Ooh, just writing that gave me goose bumps. One hour cost only $60 FJD -- about $35 U.S.

After the massage I was so relaxed I just wanted to go to sleep, but I couldn’t. I had to stay awake until 10 p.m., to adjust to the 20-hour time change. It felt like the longest day of my life – but that was fine, because we were in Fiji. After a while I, though, I got delirious, and couldn’t wait until 10. After dinner I zonked out at around 9.

The next morning Amber Airplane and I got up at the crack of dawn. We took a walk along the beach, which is across the road in front of the resort. The beach there is not very good. But you don’t come to the Koro Sun to relax on the beach (there are plenty of other islands for that). You come to see how Fiji used to be in the old days. There are all kinds of sports and activities to do all while getting the true Fijian experience. The scenery, including towering green mountains, is impressive. There is also some of the best diving out of all the islands. But hands down, what makes this island so special are the people.

Fijians are simple people. Most live in villages where everyone is related. On this island many still lack electricity and other amenities we take for granted. FYI: Indo-Fijians don’t live in villages; they live in settlements, in homes with vibrant colors. Many are purple, yellow, even orange.

On the beach we picked up sea shells. I found a nice one, and told Amber Airplane to check out. When she asked what was in it I looked closer, and realized it was a hermit crab. If it had come out of its shell, that really would have freaked her out. Well, mean fiancé Johnny decided to play a trick on his bride-to-be. I held her hand and put back what she thought was the same shell. I then said, "That thing is a hermit crab." As you can tell from this picture, she freaked. Then I showed her it was a different empty shell. She stopped screaming, but for some reason she didn’t think it was too funny.

After breakfast Dick and John (who also works at the resort, and is another super-nice guy) took the four of us (including Scot and Megan) for a Kayak ride on a salt lake 20 minutes away. The trip was a lot of fun, and the guys timed the tide perfectly so we didn’t have to paddle too hard. We went down the river with the tide going out, paddled around the lake for an hour, and when the tide changed we went back up the river with the incoming water.

After the trip we drove back through Dick’s village. We stopped at a roadside stand his father ran. I bought some five pies (coconut and bananas) and three fruit juices that his mom had made -- all for $4. What a deal!

When visiting a village, it’s important to follow traditional customs. You should be invited first, or go with a host. Bring a gift of kava (more on kava later). Don’t wear shorts or hats. Women must not bare their shoulders bare. Don’t wear shoes inside someone’s house. Speak softly, show respect, and never touch someone’s head. (You knew that already, didn’t you? Don’t worry; there’s no more cannibalism anywhere in Fiji). Our visit was unplanned, and I think we broke almost every rule. Fortunately, we were with Dick and John.

When we returned to the resort we ate another big lunch. Then we played ping pong and pool, and hung out in our bure listening to the rain. We went to dinner. but before eating we had our first introduction to kava. Locals have all sorts of names for Kava. They call is a bowl of grog, yaqona, and something else. It’s kind of confusing. The active ingredient is kavalactone, which U.S. health food stores used to market to combat stress and insomnia. The FDA took Kava off the shelves recently, because of alleged dangers to the liver. If it is bad for your liver, then all Fijians need some serious help -- they drink kava like it’s water.

"Yaqona has always played an important ceremonial role in Fijian life. No significant occasion takes place without it, and a sevusevu (welcoming) ceremony is usually held for tour groups visiting Fijian villages. Mats are placed on the floor, the participants gather around in a circle, and the yaqona roots are mixed with water and strained through coconut husks into a large carved wooden bowl, called a tanoa.

The ranking chief sits next to the tanoa during the welcoming ceremony. He extends in the direction of the guest of honor a cowrie shell attached to one leg of the bowl by a cord of woven coconut fiber. It's extremely impolite to cross the plane of the cord once it has been extended.

The guest of honor (in this case your tour guide) then offers a gift to the village (a kilogram or two of dried grog roots will do these days) and makes a speech explaining the purpose of his visit. The chief then passes the first cup of yaqona to the guest of honor, who claps once, takes the cup in both hands, and gulps down the entire cup of sawdust-tasting liquid in one swallow. Everyone else then claps three times.

Next, each chief drinks a cup, clapping once before bolting it down. Again, everyone else claps three times after each cup is drained. Except for the clapping and formal speeches, everyone remains silent throughout the ceremony, a tradition easily understood considering kava's numbing effect on the lips and tongue." Source Frommers.com

I just took a little sip, but Amber wouldn’t even try it. She doesn’t like communal cups. I can’t really blame her.

The next day the six of us again piled back in the truck and drove towards the mountains. Our first stop was in town, to stop by the daily market. Here you can buy all kinds of fruits and vegetables quite inexpensively. For example, pineapples cost $1. I bought some kava to give to the musical trio at the resort. I also bought a weird-looking fruit for 50 cents. I’d never seen it before, but Dick and John told me it was a breadfruit, and that it tastes like a potato. In the car I gave it to John as a present, and he was very appreciative. He must have been laughing on the inside, because on our drive we passed a ton of breadfruit trees.

Our next stop was at one of Savusavu’s 20 hot springs, which the town is famous for. The one we went to was across from the Hot Springs Hotel. The bubbling holes are lined with rocks, upon which locals often leave pots to cook while they attend to shopping nearby. This is where I made a total fool of myself. I wanted to get a picture, but I didn’t want to keep everyone waiting in the hot car. So I ran to get closer. But I didn’t see a rock under some tall grass, and of course I tripped. A better picture would have been of me flying through the air. Seriously, I was running fast and felt like I was sliding into second base. When I got up I was full of embarrassment, and expected someone to yell "Safe!" I guess everyone was too polite.

Our next stop was the largest copra mill in Fiji. Copra is the dried meat of the coconut, from which oil is extracted. Dick explained the whole process. Coconut oil is used for all kinds of stuff, from perfume to soaps.

Our final stop of the day was at the tall lush green mountains. We were supposed to take a 45-minute hike to see a magnificent waterfall. Well, our hike got a lot longer when our vehicle could not make it any further up this muddy red dirt road. It had poured for the past few nights, and our pushing did not help. Finally we just parked in the middle of the road (Dick said nobody would drive by) and started walking.

Dick takes guests for a hike up here once a week, so I figured it would be pretty easy. As usual, I was wrong. That hike was definitely the hardest one I have ever done (not that I am an avid hiker). But this was insane. Now I know why Dick had not showed us where we were hiking to. If he had, we never would have agreed to go.

The hike started out on an open dirt road, but then we came to a small village the guys knew. They dropped off some coolers and made their way into the bush. I was like, "This is the path?!" It certainly was not a real path, which made it even more adventurous. We hiked up some serious steep hills. I was worried about our surroundings, but Dick and John assured us that Fiji does not have any poisonous snakes, spiders or ivy. At least not where we were.

What’s funny is, I stayed away from one shiny plant the entire hike, because it looked like poison ivy. Later. when we passed a stream, Dick grabbed a whole bunch of those plant leaves, dipped them in the water and started rubbing them together hard and fast. I asked what he was doing. He said, "This is what we use in the village for soap. It’s what your soap at the hotel is made from." I just shook my head and thought what an idiot I was.

The most memorable part of the hike came when Dick would randomly picked things from plants and trees, and started slicing them up with his machete. We chomped on raw sugar cane, ate pineapple like it was a lollipop (this was the best pineapple I’ve ever had), and I learned where to get ginger root to soothe a sore throat. If you are ever stuck in the woods, I highly recommend having Dick with you.

When we finally got to the waterfall, my shirt was soaked in sweat. (A beautiful image, I know). We were all boiling hot, and couldn’t wait to dive in the cool and refreshing water. Amber Airplane and I swam toward the rock where people climb to feel the pressure of the waterfall, and said, "This is crazy! Who knows what’s in this water?"

When we got to the rock John pointed out which rocks to step on. Amber Airplane was taking way too long to climb up, and I didn’t want stand up in the water in fear of what was at the bottom. I was able to squeeze between her and a rock, and climb up. A few seconds later Amber Airplane was standing on a lower rock, in the heart of the waterfall. I thought she was enjoying the water pressure on her shoulders, but she didn’t look right. Her face was as white as a ghost. She said she couldn’t move or breathe. I quickly jumped back in the water, pulled her down and swam between the rocks, carrying her in a lifeguard rescue position. Where I learned that move, I don’t know.

When we got to shallower water I stood her up. She said she panicked because she couldn’t move or breathe, and added, "Oh my gosh, you saved my life!" I said, "I didn’t save your …", and then she screamed "OUCH! Something just bit me!" We both ran out of the water. Dick was laughing, and said it was just a little lobster.

Dick -- who should change his name to McGyver -- was catching these 6-inch lobsters with (get this) a reed from a coconut leaf. The guy is amazing.

We made it back down to the hill and had lunch with villagers before getting back in the truck. We returned to the resort and cleaned up. The resort then threw us an incredible farewell dinner. The whole staff was out there singing and cooking. To top it off John had the chef make us special chips out of the breadfruit I gave him. They were right -- it tasted just like a potato.

The next morning it was time for us to say goodbye to the KoroSun Resort and the island of Vanua Levu. Amber and I did not want to leave, but it was time for us to go to the second island on our four- island trip. Most of the staff from the resort came to the main building to say goodbye. After we hugged everyone, they sang a farewell song. It was so sweet that we both started to cry. They sang how much they enjoyed our stay, and that they will miss us and can’t wait until we "come home" again.

Next week we visit CastAway and Vatule islands. These places are amazing too. You don’t want to miss it. Vinaka! (That’s "thank you" in Fijian).

Happy Travels,

Johnny Jet

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  • *If you heard about us somewhere else or have the link to the story please email Johnny Jet media and let us know where!
  • Hi Johnny. Love your website. Since I know you are the king of aviation info, I thought that you might like to know the correct distinction of marine vessels. If the boat (pleasure craft) is 50 feet or longer, it is classified as a yacht. It can be motorized or wind propelled. This would not, of course, include service vessels such as tugboats or ferries. Just thought you might like to know. - Chris McMahon San Francisco, CA USA
  • Dear JohnnyJet, Thanks for taking time out of your busy and famous life to acknowledge your wee sister back in Nowhere'sville. I hope you and Amber are having a great time in Fiji. Love, Georgette
  • Wow, FIJI! How does it compare to Tahiti? I've always been curious about both places, and was able to travel vicariously through you to Tahiti...I look forward to your story and pics! Stephen - Boston
  • I read that you stayed at the Hotel Palomar when you were in San Francisco recently. I stayed there the last time I was there! It's a great hotel just like you said! Swetal – New York
  • Very funny story about time zones from when I was returning with our soccer team from a trip to New Zealand. On the flight home, one of the kids asked another about the cool necklace he was wearing. "Oh, I got this in New Zealand tomorrow!" he said. Pretty quick! – Dan - Connecticut
  • Keep up the good work & congrats to Amber on her newsletter/website!:-) Nicole S - New York, NY
  • Do you guys realize how boring a regular nine ti five job would be to you two? Keep plugging. Dad
  • Happy belated engagement to Amber Jet!!! All the best to the two of you and I wish you two uncomplicated planning of your wedding (usually never is)! As you can see that I am very behind in your newsletters, but I save everyone and when I have a spare minute I try to catch up… All the best! Linas G. (the Canadian working and living in Lithuania)
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TIP From Tim Winship of FrequentFlier.com

As we go to press this week, there is a new round of buy-3/get-1-free offers available from American, Continental, Northwest, United and US Airways.

These are not to be confused with 2 other current free-ticket offers: from American, Delta and United for New York and Boston flights; and from Delta, Northwest and United for transatlantic flights. Confusing? You bet!

Because these latest offers are so similar, we'll cover them as a group rather than individually.

Beginning at the beginning, to earn a free ticket, members of the 5 airlines' programs will have to register and then fly 3 qualifying roundtrips by June 15.

As usual, the definition of 'qualifying' is critical. Four of the 5 airlines define qualifying tickets by specifying which booking classes do NOT qualify, as follows: American - E, O, T, U, Z and transatlantic fares booked in Q
Continental - Q, I, S, W, T, X, L
Northwest - L, T, K
US Air - L, T, S, V, W
American, in addition to the above, and United stipulate that Economy Class roundtrip travel may not include a Saturday night stay. And in US Air's case, the qualifying tickets must also be purchased online at USAir .

On the award side, the free tickets are coach roundtrips, for travel within the continental U.S., between Sept. 1, 2004 and June 15, 2005. In United's version of the offer, the second free ticket, earned after 6 roundtrips, is first class.

Should you care?

Unless you are a business traveler -- someone who both travels frequently, and who normally pays the higher price for unrestricted tickets -- the answer is probably "No." The restrictions effectively rule out most reasonably priced coach fares to qualify. And it's not likely to be worth paying extra (3 times!) to earn a free domestic coach ticket.

For anyone who might indeed qualify, following are links to the offers of American, Continental, Northwest, United and US Airways respectively:

  • aa.com/fly3

  • continental.com

  • nwa.com

  • United

  • USAir

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    Why play hide-and-seek? These airlines make fare deals easy to find
    A bespectacled senior named Carol Spielman smiles from a nearly half-page newspaper ad. "I flew American for $99," reads the type next to her picture, and we're supposed to believe that we can, too. But in small print, we're told that "Carol's fare was each way based on round-trip," and in smaller type, that various taxes and airport charges aren't included. Click Here To Read Article

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