The sale fares to Japan on Continental Airlines listed in Sunday's Travel section are available only through its Web site at www.continental.com; tickets must be purchased by today. (Published 01/25/2000)

PASSENGER RIGHTS WATCH

Delta, Under Contract

Delta last week became the first airline to put its "voluntary" customer service commitments into what may be--or may not be--a binding contract.

Eight of Delta's 12 Customer First commitments are now included in its Contract of Carriage, a document airlines use to specify legal obligations to passengers. Among the now-contractual pledges: to offer lowest available air fares; voluntarily alert passengers of oversold flights; hasten refunds and complaint responses; and guarantee fare quotes, even without payment, for 47 hours (or to midnight the next day).

Delta's solo move--no others have followed--may suggest it takes "Customer First" seriously. (The campaign is an airline industry attempt to derail new regulations with voluntary improvements.) American, by contrast, includes a ripe caveat that its Customer Service Plan "does not create contractual or legal rights. We are not responsible for any . . . instances in which we do not meet our service goals."

But the question remains: How liable is Delta for these promises? "Can you sue?" asks Terry Trippler, who follows the industry for 1travel.com. "Well, nobody's ever tried [what Delta is doing]. Does this give a passenger any more power, really?"

Even Delta itself doesn't seem to know what legal guarantees it is making. CoGo's request for a word with Delta lawyers was not met by deadline.

"If they can't tell you how it's going to be enforced," says Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), a Senate aviation subcommittee member and an advocate of airline regulation, "you have to ask yourself, is this just more of the same?"

For updates on passenger rights--plus a list of airline customer service contacts and directions on reporting airline non-compliance with service pledges--go to www.1travel.com/airfarereport /airlinenews.cfm.

WALLET WATCH

Sneak Tax?

Continental's tacking a $20 fuel surcharge on domestic round-trip fares--copied at Thursday's press time by most majors--may stick, but the charges will be disclosed up front.

The surcharge, attributed to rising fuel costs, was instituted last week for flights beginning Feb. 1. But it did not show up on travel agents' fare displays or Web price quotes; buyers saw the charge only at booking. Consumerists complained of stealth fare-padding.

"This is a pretty bush league way to raise fares," said Trippler of 1travel.com (a busy guy last week). The Department of Transportation quickly weighed in, saying airlines must disclose fuel charges in advertised and quoted fares.

At press time, only US Airways had not added the $20 charge (perhaps forcing the others to back off). Fares in Fly Buys (Page E2) may adjust by $20.

OVERNIGHT FILE

$1.25 Million a Night

Norfolk's only AAA four-diamond lodging--the Page House Inn, a Georgian Revival mansion restored a decade ago as a bed-and-breakfast in the Ghent historic district by Stephanie and Ezio DiBelardino--can be yours for $1.25 million. Turnkey, as they say.

"We decided a couple of years ago we wanted to retire by age 60," says Stephanie DiBelardino, who claims the inn enjoys nearly 80 percent occupancy year-round. "So we were told to plan on our inn taking two to five years to sell. I am 56 years old, and I just said--'Oooh, we'd better get going.' If I'm still here when I'm 65 I'm going to be a beast."

To try before you buy, plan a four-hour drive from the Beltway and $115-$185 per night. Spring is pretty around Ghent--think Georgetown minus the traffic--but weekends carry a two-night minimum.

BARGAIN OF THE WEEK

Tokyo Prose

Continental Airlines is offering sale fares to Japan. Pay just $586 round trip between Washington and Tokyo. Purchase tickets by Tuesday, and complete travel by Feb. 17.

Help feed CoGo. Send travel news, road reports and juicy tattles to:

cogo@washpost.com. Fax: 202-334-1069. Mail: CoGo, Washington Post Travel Section, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071. Include name, phone.