Tips on spotting Alaska's great leviathan, choosing a mileage-earning credit card and renting a car in Europe.

Published April 28, 2000 4:00PM (EDT)

During a cruise of Alaska's Inside Passage, can we expect to see whales?

The Alaskan cruise season runs from mid-May into September, and you have a good
chance of seeing whales at any time during that period, especially humpback and
killer whales, also known as orcas.

In her authoritative book, "Alaska's Inside Passage Traveler" (Windham Bay Press,
1998), Ellen Searby notes that humpbacks "tend to congregate in May and June near
Juneau, Auke Bay and near the south end of Douglas Island. You can usually see
them July through September in Lower Stephens Passage. Orcas are less predictable
in southeast Alaska -- you may find them anywhere, especially if there are salmon
runs or groups of seals nearby."

An outstanding primer to looking for whales is "The Whale Watcher's Guide:
Whale-Watching Trips in North America," by Patricia Corrigan (NorthWord Press,
1999). It includes a month-by-month guide to where whales can be spotted. In
June, for instance, you can find fin whales, humpbacks, minke whales and orcas in
Alaskan waters.

The guide also directs readers to companies and institutions that sponsor
whale-watching trips, including multiday whale-watching expeditions and shorter

Some whale movements are noted on the Alaska Division of

Links to many Alaskan whale-watch operations can be found through the Helsinki
Institute of Physics

I'm looking for a Visa card that earns frequent flier mileage, preferably one
with no annual fee. Where can I find out what's available?

For a list of companies offering airline affinity cards, visit the CardTrak online site. Click on
"reward" and you'll get a chart that includes cards affiliated with airlines. It
also shows interest rates and other features for easy comparison. Through this
site you also can track down no-annual-fee and low-interest credit cards.

Another source of information is the WebFlyer site, which compares airline frequent
flier programs.

Many credit cards offer tie-ins with airline frequent flier programs, but most
charge annual fees. In the past, some have waived the first year's fee as a
promotion, but it's now more common for them to offer mileage bonuses for signing

Usually you'll be charged $25 to $75 a year for each card, depending on the type
of card and benefits. Consumer credit experts recommend cards without annual
fees, of course.

But if you rack up 25,000 mileage points a year using a credit card, you can,
theoretically, take a reward flight that would cost hundreds of dollars, making
the annual fee a worthwhile investment.

All the top U.S. airlines offer mileage-accruing cards, as do many banks. Pick an
airline whose route system is suited to your flying patterns. You can locate
airline program numbers by calling the airlines' toll-free reservation numbers.

We're planning a summer trip to Ireland and plan to rent a car. Is it better
to rent from home, or wait until we're in Ireland?

It's almost always better -- and less expensive -- to arrange car rental before
you leave home. Overseas rentals are among the most problem-prone aspects of
travel, and you're in a better position to shop around and deal with the details
when you're still at home.

Contact these rental companies for quotes:

* Europe by Car, phone
(800) 223-1516

* Kemwel, phone (800) 678-0678.

* Auto Europe, phone (888)

* Hertz, phone (800) 654-3001.

* Avis, phone (800) 331-1084.

The Web site of the Irish
Tourist Board
lists dozens of car rental companies in Ireland. For
comparison's sake, go to "getting around," then "car hire." To reach the board by
phone, call (800) 223-6470.

Revisiting a previous Travel Advisor Q&A

A recent column item about information
sources for planning a trip to Prague, Czech Republic, drew this note from a
Prague-based Web site company:

"Globopolis.com is a
network of online city guides that offer lifestyle, leisure, travel and tourism
content and commerce services in multiple languages. We currently cover Prague,
Budapest, Bratislava, Warsaw, Krakow, Berlin and Vienna, with many more cities to
follow in the coming months.

The site offers comprehensive lists of restaurants, museums, galleries, clubs,
bars, theaters, cinemas and so forth, and extensive information on visiting
Prague (when to go, where to stay, what to see). We upload new content daily
(the what's happening "Today in Prague," which you find on the opening page of our Prague city site)."

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.

MORE FROM Donald D. Groff

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Auto Industry