October 01, 1999
Meetings & Conventions: Planner's Portfolio October 1999 Current Issue
October 1999 On TravelPLANNER'S PORTFOLIO:

On Travel

By Sarah J.F.Braley


Two California rental outposts offer late-model cars that cut pollution

Did you unplug the car? Ecologically minded travelers now can test-drive the future by renting an electricity- or natural gas-powered car from Budget EV Rental Cars at Los Angeles International Airport or Sacramento Airport.

More than 1,000 people have opted for the innovative cars since December, when the joint venture between Budget Rental Car Corp. and EV Rental Cars opened shop at LAX. The combined fleet of 20 cars, which rent from $44 a day, includes the Ford Ranger EV, GM's EV1, Honda Civic GX (it runs on natural gas, which burns much cleaner than gasoline) and Toyota RAV4-EV.

Key to the success of the venture, of course, is the need for places to power up electric cars, which travel 50 to 100 miles before needing more juice. According to the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, there are more than 220 plug-in sites in Southern California, and it costs about $1 to charge up overnight. Natural gas is available at about 300 stations across California.

EV Rental Cars wants to expand nationwide. "We will be in about eight locations in California by the end of the year, and into Phoenix and Las Vegas in the first quarter of next year," says Terry O'Day, director of planning and operations for the L.A.-based company. "We plan to head east by the end of 2000."

Interactive e-tickets. In an effort to expand the use of electronic tickets throughout the travel industry, IBM has joined the International Air Transport Association to develop a way to link the e-ticket systems of hundreds of airlines. IATA and Big Blue want to create a system linking carriers to a centralized service for the processing and exchanging of e-tickets.

Expiration expires. In early August, American Airlines announced its frequent flyer miles no longer would expire, leaving United as the only major U.S. airline still hanging on to the policy. A week later, United also eliminated expiration dates, provided members earn or redeem miles at least once every 36 months. The carrier then offered to return miles that had gone sour in 1998 to members who register and take either two paid domestic roundtrips or one paid international roundtrip on flights operated by United, United Shuttle or United Express. Go to mpw049 to register.

Stuck on the runway? American Airlines now allows the use of wireless phones and two-way pagers while its planes are delayed on the tarmac. However, passengers should not turn on the phone until the pilot says it is OK.

Lose weight and fly free. Travelers who use the LifeCycles and StairMasters at The Houstonian in Houston, the MGM Grand in Las Vegas or the San Francisco Hyatt can earn one frequent-flyer mile per sweaty minute. The program is offered by San Francisco-based Netpulse, which makes entertainment systems for the machines. Users just log on and start panting. Participating airlines are American, United, Delta, Northwest and America West. "We plan on greatly expanding our reach into the hotel industry," says a Netpulse spokesperson.

Built-in access. As Choice Hotels joins the ranks of companies offering Internet services to guests, the Silver Springs, Md.-based company has announced it is designing a special in-room station for users. A 15-inch display panel will be mounted on the wall above a desk equipped with a keyboard. The high-speed Web service, called SuiteLink, is provided by GuesTech, a Baltimore-based Internet company. Use of the system and surfing the Web will be free; guests will pay $9.95 to use one of the applications on the system, like Microsoft Word or PowerPoint. Those who want to log on with their own laptops instead of the in-room PC will pay $9 to get on the system.

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