Scholar ship

Our travel expert digs up information on cheap flights for students, plus international phone cards and livening up that Florida-New York drive.

Published December 9, 1999 5:00PM (EST)

A friend told me that airlines offer college students discounted fares if they buy multiple tickets. She said they are open-ended tickets that can be used at any time. Where can I find this program?

Airlines love the student niche because many students have flexible schedules and are willing to go through all sorts of hoops to get lower fares -- they'll fly standby, for instance, or fly at off-peak times. And if an airline can generate brand loyalty in young passengers, the company benefits for years to come.

You might be referring to a program offered by TWA called the Youth Travel Pack, available to students ages 14 to 24. The Travel Pak contains four coupons, each redeemable for one-way travel between any two cities served by TWA or Trans World Express within the continental United States or between the continental U.S., San Juan, Montego Bay, Santo Domingo and Toronto, Canada. The coupons also are valid for travel to Hawaii, in which case the passenger redeems two coupons for the westbound journey and two for the flight home. The packs cost $548, or $137 per flight. This can be a very good deal, as long as the flight wouldn't otherwise cost less than $137. For restrictions and details, call TWA at (800) 221-2000 or check the TWA Web site.

So hot is United Airlines to catch students that it recently set up the College Travel Network, a Web-based program aimed at college students and offering student discounts and a special frequent flyer program. Among other features: a search engine that scans 500 airlines for the lowest student fares, fare specials from United and a wealth of planning resources. There's also a 10,000-mile frequent flyer bonus for graduating. Of course, all the features are designed to encourage travel on United and use of programs such as a co-branded Visa and calling cards.

To get the lowdown for other students deals, check out the Web sites of each airline under "specials." Among them:

  • American Airlines offers College SAAver Fares, which include airfare discounts and other specials available only to full-time students. You find out about them by signing up for e-mail notifications. Visit the airline's site and click on "Specials."

  • AirTran Airways offers the X-Fares Standby Program for passengers aged 18 to 22. Young people can fly standby to any AirTran destinations for $45 per segment (plus airport charges). Participants go to the AirTran ticket counter to put their name on the standby list, then go to their flight's gate. If there's a coach seat available after the final boarding call, they get it. Travel under this program must be completed by Dec. 16, but I wouldn't be surprised if the deals are renewed in some form after the holidays. For details, call (888) 493-2737 or visit the Web site.

    Another source for tracking student deals is an electronic newsletter offered by Smarter Living. America Online members can also locate student airfare deals by using the keyword Travel. Click on "trip essentials," then "special interests."

    Among travel agencies that closely follow student and youth fares are STA Travel, and Council Travel.

    How can I obtain an international calling card that I can use from Europe to call home in the United States?

    Dozens of kinds of calling cards are available. They vary somewhat in how they work and their per-minute rates and other charges. Some cards are issued by big players such as AT&T and MCI, which bill your calls to your account back home or to an account set up just for your calling card. They have toll-free numbers in each European country that make it easy to call home and reach a U.S. operator if you need to ask a question. Other cards are "prepaid," meaning you pay at the time you buy them, either with cash or by putting a certain amount of value on them using a credit card. A big advantage is that you know there's a limit on how much you'll be spending on a call. The disadvantage is that you may run out of credit in the middle of a call. (The major phone companies also have prepaid plans.)

    You could spend hours comparing the various choices, but I suggest this strategy: Before leaving home, obtain a card from one of the major companies. There is usually little or no charge to obtain one of these, though if you don't have an existing account there may be a credit check and the process may take a couple of weeks. Make sure that you request an international card and ask about monthly fees, per-call fees and per-minute rates from the countries you plan to visit.

    Armed with that card and information, you'll be all set to make calls. However, once you arrive in your destinations, consider using the local prepaid calling cards, depending on how often you're going to call and how long you plan to talk. Prepaid calling cards have been common in Europe far longer than in the United States, and you can obtain them at tobacco shops, convenience stores, airports and train stations. (Often a business will have a window logo indicating phone cards can be purchased there.)

    The prepaid cards often come in several "denominations" -- equivalent to $10 or $20 worth of calls, or more. These cards can be used from most public pay phones, which sometimes have the international calling rates posted. This method may be less expensive than your home calling card method, mainly because you avoid certain service charges. If you're only going to make one $2 call, of course, buying a $10 card won't be a bargain.

    Whatever you do, be cautious in making calls from a hotel, even with a calling card. European hotels are notorious for tacking on their own hefty fees to phone calls made from within, so clarify with the front desk whether there will be any surcharge. To be on the safe side, make your calls from public phones.

    For a copy of an article that compared 18 calling cards, send $5 and a request for the February 1998 Consumer Reports Travel Letter to CRTL, 101 Truman Ave., Yonkers, NY 10703-1057.

    Among phone companies that issue calling cards that can be used from abroad are AT&T, phone (800) 331-1140 or (800) 222-0300; MCI, (800) 444-3333; and Global One, a Sprint affiliate, at (800) 859-4626.

    For a drive to Florida from the New York area, can you suggest sources for attractions along the way that we might stop at to break up our journey?

    Interstate 95 is the mother road between the Northeast and Florida, so check out "A Field Guide to Interstate 95: The Traveler's Companion to the History, Geography and Trivia That Lie Beneath the Nation's Busiest Highway," by John Cribb (Rowman & Littlefield). It doesn't point out theme parks and popular playgrounds along the way -- it focuses on historical and geographical features that you probably wouldn't discover on your own.

    A cleverly designed book that does mention theme parks as well as historical attractions is "On the Road USA: Pleasures and Treasures to Enjoy ...Within Easy Reach of the Interstate Exits," a large-format book published by Reader's Digest that covers all the main interstate routes and provides a wealth of small photos. It offers a paragraph of description for its stops and contact information. The book was published in 1989 and you may have to find it in a library or used-book store.

    A guide that can help you plan your drive and describes all the rest stops is the "I-95 Interstate Exit Guide," available for $9.95 from Starsystems, 447 Old Henniker Rd. Hopkinton, NH 03229, or order by calling (603) 746-3010. The Web site has an order form and tips and construction alerts for I-95 travel.

    You can sometimes save by using coupons contained in newsprint coupon guides found at rest stops. One such guide that pinpoints I-95 motels and offers coupons is the Traveler Discount Guide, available for $3 by calling (800) 332-3948. The parent company produces 16 guides covering 35 states with more than 4,600 hotels. Another company offering similar coupons guides is Mr. Interstate, phone (800) 556-1218.

  • By Donald D. Groff

    Donald D. Groff has been dispensing travel advice for a decade for such publications as the Philadelphia Inquirer, Newsday, the Boston Globe and the Kansas City Star.

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