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Bargain of the week: book now for lifetime access to airport lounges

Bargain of the week: book now for lifetime access to airport lounges

If you are planning making a career of air travel, particularly across the Atlantic, there are just three days left to take advantage of one the last great bargains in the West.

Among some US airlines, you do not need to be a frequent business flyer to get access to the executive lounge - you can buy your way in. Until the end of this month, you can get lifetime membership of the Continental Airlines President's Club for $2,575 - around £1,770. If this seems expensive, bear in mind that it entitles you to use any of the lounges of Continental, or its partner Northwest, worldwide - so if you fly from Gatwick on a charter, for example, you could use the newly renovated lounge before your flight. The normal admission charge for individual visits to lounges is $45, so you make a "profit" after 58 visits.

There could be a bigger bonus, too: some travellers maintain that membership increases the chances of an upgrade. With a London-New York round-trip next month costing £3,926 in Continental's BusinessFirst, compared with a couple of hundred pounds in economy, a single upgrade could more than pay for the initial investment. To enrol, call 0800 776464 or visit www.continental.com/presclub.

Destination of the week: Ostend for the weekend

Belgium's main passenger port is much more attractive than Calais - and a two-night stay for under £60 is excellent value. Three days from now, low season kicks in on the Hoverspeed link from Dover to Ostend. Belgian Travel Service (www.belgiantravel.co.uk, 01992 456161) is offering two nights in Ostend for £59, including the train from London. The journey takes four-and-a-half hours, no longer than on Eurostar trains through the tunnel.

Ostend also has the advantage of being only 15 minutes by train from the beautiful city of Bruges. But if you prefer to base yourself in the city, two nights in Bruges costs £89, and in Ghent £99. All these prices are based on two people sharing, and apply throughout November and December.

Airport of the week: the calm approach to Istanbul

Ataturk airport, serving Turkey's largest city, is among the most crowded and inefficient airports in Europe. Happily, a new gateway to the city has opened - in Asia. Sabiha Gokcen international airport is on the eastern side of the Bosporus, 25 miles from Istanbul. Road and sea connections are available to the city, and a rail link is proposed.

So far, the existing airlines that fly to Istanbul from Britain show no inclination to move, but any new carrier may well decide to serve Sabiha Gokcen. The airport is named after the first woman pilot in the Turkish air force.

Warning of the week: take care crossing the road in Hong Kong

The US State Department this week issued an alert for visitors to the former British colony about road safety:

"Each year, some 14,000 drivers, passengers, and pedestrians are injured or killed in traffic accidents in Hong Kong."

To try to cut down the carnage, the authorities are getting tough. The use of seat belts is mandatory both in the front and back seats.

Any driver involved in a road accident is required to take a test for alcohol. And police are cracking down on the many motorists who use hand-held cellular phones while driving in Hong Kong. The maximum penalty is a fine of 2,000 Hong Kong dollars (£160).

Delay of the week: Fly United, get delayed?

It was a summer of discontent for travellers aboard one of the world's biggest airlines. Three out of five of domestic flights on the giant American carrier United arrived more than 15 minutes late in July.

The latest figures from the US Department of Transportation show only 41.7 per cent of United's flights arrived less than 15 minutes late - the industry definition of "on time". A pilots' dispute, which has now been settled, partly contributed to the poor performance. The next worst delays were on the small regional airline America West, with only 64.4 per cent arriving on time.

The best airline for on-time arrivals was Continental - only one in five of its flights was late. Continental pays staff a bonus each time it achieves first place in the DoT league table. Since the delay database began in 1997, the most punctual airline overall has been Southwest - also the world's safest airline. In the past three years, 82.8 per cent of Southwest flights were on time.

United is at the bottom of the cumulative list, scoring 75.8 per cent over three years. The worst flight to be on in July 2000 appears to be United 1479 from Denver to San Francisco. Not a single departure during the month was on time, and the average delay was 103 minutes - almost as long as the usual duration of the flight.

In terms of misrouted baggage, Alaska Airlines performed best with one passenger in 222 filing a missing-baggage report. The worst, America West, incurred twice as many.

The DoT also reports that between April and June 2000, the highest chances of being "bumped" from an overbooked flight was on TWA (one passenger in 3,125), and the lowest on Delta (one in 28,500).

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