Q: My latest long-distance phone bill from MCI included a notice of a new federal excise tax on frequent-flier miles, in this case from Continental. I've received no notice of this from either Continental or any of the other airline plans I belong to. Does this mean some amount will be added to the price of every ticket bought for the miles earned? At what rate?

David V. Shaw

Falls Church

A: In October 1997, the feds began taxing companies, including rental car agencies, hotels and long-distance phone companies, on frequent-flier miles that they essentially buy from airlines to award to their customers.

Many of the companies didn't bother passing along the tax because it doesn't amount to much; the rate charged by the federal government is 7.5 percent and, because companies pay 1 to 2 cents per mile, that comes to between 75 cents and $1.50 per 1,000 miles. But others, such as Hertz, passed it on to customers from the beginning.

MCI WorldCom joined the pass-along crowd in April 1998. The tax being charged to customers is 92 cents per 1,000 miles earned. MCI gives you five frequent-flier miles for every dollar spent, so if your long-distance phone bill is $100 a month, the tax would be 46 cents.

"Let me assure you, we do not like this tax any more than our customers do," said Claire Hassett, spokeswoman for MCI. "We do not profit from it." Hassett said the company decided to pass along the tax after it decided "we cannot absorb this tax and continue to offer the lucrative mileage awards we do today." Hassett said MCI WorldCom has been working with Congress and federal agencies to reduce the tax.

Q: I am interested in visiting the tall ships. When and where might they be gathering in the future?

Gerald B. Marshall


A: Two groups--Tall Ships 2000 and OpSail 2000--are planning aggressive itineraries of tall-ship events up and down the East Coast next year.

Tall Ships 2000, affiliated with the nonprofit American Sail Training Association and its international counterpart, will kick off with a race between Southampton, England, and Genoa, Italy, in mid-April. On May 7, the group of more than 100 tall ships will begin a special transatlantic race, scheduled to end June 9-12 in Bermuda. From there, the ships will cruise along the East Coast, stopping at various ports including Norfolk; Philadelphia; New York; and finally rallying in Boston for the race to Halifax and then to Amsterdam. For a complete calendar, contact the American Sail Training Association, 401-846-1775, http://tallships.sailtraining.org.

If you're between the ages of 18 and 25, you may be able to join one of the tall ships as a passenger crew member for a leg or two of the race. The Brilliant, for example, affiliated with Connecticut's Mystic Seaport, has room for six passengers on each of seven legs; passage costs range from $1,400 to $4,000, and scholarships may be available. Information: 860-572-5323, www.mysticseaport.org/events/brilliant.2000.

Ships from more than 60 countries will participate in "OpSail 2000: The Nation's Celebration," a two-month tour of East Coast ports. The event will begin in San Juan, Puerto Rico, May 25-29, and then visit Miami; Norfolk; Baltimore; Philadelphia; New York; New London, Conn.; and Portland, Maine. The July 3-9 New York event is expected to draw the longest parade of tall ships in history, according to the event's organizers. Information: 202-955-5850, www.opsail2000.org.

Q: My family is traveling to Ireland next summer. We would like to spend a night or two in an authentic Irish castle. Where can we get information?

Paddi Davies

Monmouth, Ore.

A: Ireland's historic castles that are open to travelers run the gamut from luxury, five-star accommodations to budget rooms.

The Irish Tourist Board lists nearly 40 castles that it can book directly. They range from the opulent Dromoland Castle, family seat of the O'Brien clan, descendants of the last high king of Ireland, on 375 acres in County Clare, where rooms can cost as much as $445 a person; to Springfield Castle in County Limerick, which sleeps 12 and can be rented in its entirety for as little as $1,420 a week; to Cregg Castle in County Galway, built in 1648, with rooms for about $55 per night per person. You can book the rooms directly by calling Ireland Reservations Direct at 1-800-398-4376. Or, for more information, contact the Irish Tourist Board at 1-800-223-6470, www.irelandvacations.com

You can also contact a travel agent that specializes in Ireland. Isle Inn Tours in Alexandria can book castle stays: 1-800-237-9376 or 703-683-4800, www.isleinntours.com. CIE Tours International in New Jersey also books castle-stay vacations: 1-800-CIE-TOUR (1-800-243-8687), www.cietours.com


T. Keane of Washington has another idea for the reader looking for classical-music tours in Europe (Travel Q&A, Sept. 12). She and her husband just returned from the "Austro-Hungarian Music Cruise" sponsored each year by Martin Randall Travel, based in London. "Passengers sail down the Danube in a very comfortable ship and are transported by bus to hear small chamber-music groups perform in music rooms of castles. These concerts are private, with pre-concert lectures by leading British historians and musicologists." Information: Martin Randall Travel, telephone 011-44-181-742-3355, fax 011-181-742-7766.

Jayne McQuade of Arlington says I missed the boat in advising a reader about using e-mail on the road (Travel Q&A, Sept. 26). "Assuming she occasionally alights from her motor home, she can find Internet access at many, many public libraries in the United States and Canada. Most of these libraries allow patrons to receive and send e-mail, although there may be a small charge for printing." McQuade knows firsthand that Internet hookups are well used at public libraries. She works at the Arlington Public Library, where "we often have visitors from all over the world checking in on happenings at home" via e-mail.

Send queries by e-mail (travelqa@ washpost.com), fax (202-334-1069) or U.S. mail (Travel Q&A, Washington Post Travel Section, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071).