UPRIGHT AND LOCKED

Grounded in Peru

If you're visiting Peru soon and were planning on figuring your way around the country once you get there: Forget it. Domestic flights are scarcer there than feta cheese.

The Peruvian government last week grounded Aero Continente, Peru's largest domestic carrier, because it could not get insurance. Since Aero Continente operated 60 to 70 percent of domestic flights, the impact on travelers is huge.

"It's close to impossible to get a flight [within Peru] unless you have contacts" and advance notice, said Brian Morgan, owner of Adventure Life, a Montana company that is using local contacts to help clients get around Peru. There are no trains to speak of, Morgan said, and huge distances between tourist sites makes bus travel impractical. For now, he's suggesting that travelers consider destinations that are similar to Peru: areas of northern Argentina with pre-Inca cultures, for example, or Bolivia.

Peruvian officials are planning to give Aero Continente routes to other airlines, but when is the big question.

WALLET WATCH

Cash on Cards

American Express has joined the businesses promoting cards that can be loaded with a specific amount of cash, then used as if they were either a credit card or an ATM card.

AmEx's TravelFunds Card can be loaded with U.S. dollars, euros or British pounds. The best part: you get a free companion airline ticket with the purchase of a card, whose upfront cost is $14.95. You can buy up to four cards and get four companion tickets.

The offer is good through Sept. 30 for travel by Nov. 1, but you must plan ahead. The certificate for the companion ticket can take up to 28 days to arrive in the mail. Plus, the ticket comes only if you are buying a 14-day advance, full-fare ticket. So compare prices of two sale tickets with the price of one full-fare.

You must load a minimum of $300 on the card, and subsequent reloadings cost $5. There is no fee to use the card where American Express is accepted, but there is a $2.50 fee to use it as an ATM card.

Info: www.americanexpress.com.

DEPT. OF HUMAN KINDNESS

High-Class Passengers

A first-class passenger boarding an American Airlines flight from Atlanta to Chicago last month noticed another passenger he apparently felt was more deserving of first-class treatment.

"Hey, soldier, where are you sitting?" the first-class passenger asked, according to American spokeswoman Jacquie Young. When the soldier returning from Iraq responded that he was assigned seat 22E, the first-class passenger said he wanted to change places with him.

The kind act of the businessman, whose name has not been released, "had a domino effect, and all the first-class passengers started giving soldiers their seats," says Young. In fact, she says, "We ran out of soldiers, because there were 14 first-class seats, but only 12 soldiers."

One flight attendant cried, and all were overwhelmed, said Young. In fact, she added, "It put an entirely different mood on the entire flight."

TRAVEL TICKER

Widespread electricity shortages in the Dominican Republic, resulting in blackouts up to 23 hours long, are not directly affecting resorts, most of which have generators, a D.R. Tourism Ministry official told CoGo. But outside resorts the blackouts have dimmed traffic lights, closed many stores and businesses, and prompted violent protests in some cities . . . Eighty-three Boston restaurants will offer three- course prix-fixe lunches for $20.04 and three-course dinners for $30.04 during Restaurant Week, Aug. 23-27.

BARGAIN OF THE WEEK

Paging Puerto Rico

Fly to Puerto Rico for less than $200 round trip. What's the Deal?, P3.

Reporting: Cindy Loose, John Briley

Help feed CoGo. Send travel news, road reports and juicy tattles to: cogo@washpost.com. By fax: 202-912-3609. By mail: CoGo, Washington Post Travel Section, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071.