AIRPORT WATCH

Free Parking

At National!

CoGo, obsessive as ever, arrived at Reagan National Airport last week more than two hours before a Wednesday morning flight. And sure enough, all those summer parking horror stories came true: The hourly, daily and economy lots were full. CoGo was about to panic . . . but wait! Airport employees posted outside the economy lot directed us farther down the road to the Crew Lot, where another staffer readily handed over a temporary permit. CoGo parked with ease, hopped on a waiting shuttle bus and got to the airport in less than 10 minutes. But the best part was on the return: CoGo simply caught the employee bus back to the lot and drove out of the airport for free. That's right. Three days' parking for zippo, nothing, nada.

"When we're absolutely at capacity, that's what we do," confirmed airport spokeswoman Courtney Prebich. There are about 150 extra parking spaces in the employee lot, she said, and the airport allows passengers to park there for free when all 7,776 legal spaces in its regular lots are full. "We don't advertise it," she said. "It's inconvenient because it's out of the way."

CoGo will opt for that kind of inconvenience any time.

National's daily lots are most crowded midweek, and its economy lot on weekends; Thursdays and Fridays, when business and leisure travelers tend to overlap, are particularly bad. To avoid last-minute parking problems, the airport recommends taking Metro, calling a cab or being dropped off by a friend. If you really need to take your car, call the airport's Parking Information Line (703-417-7275) before leaving home to check on parking availability.

SCAM WATCH

Royal Excuses

Patricia Foreman of Woodbridge had taken several bus trips with Royal Travel. So, she didn't hesitate to send a $375 check to an address in Temple Hills for a bus trip to see the "Oprah Winfrey Show" in Chicago. In April, she was told the trip was canceled. She is still waiting to get her money back. Ditto for her friend, Minnie Spence.

Turns out the address where Foreman and Spence sent their checks is the home of a woman who says she is just the bookkeeper. After many tries, CoGo reached organizer Terry Hawkins, who said he would be "paying people back shortly." Citing a bad phone connection, he promised to call back. CoGo, like Foreman and Spence, is still waiting.

CoGo supports mom-and-pop operations, but if they're so mom-and-pop that they don't take credit cards so you have recourse if the service doesn't materialize, beware. As always, check with the Better Business Bureau to see if the tour operator has a record of complaints. And check for membership in the U.S. Tour Operators Association, whose members are required to post bonds.

TRAVEL TICKER

Crystal Cruises will add a $4-per-person per day fuel charge on all voyages after July 14, unless customers have already paid in full by that date . . . More than 100 Boston restaurants will offer three-course prix fixe lunches for $20.05 and three-course dinners for $30.05 during Restaurant Week, Aug. 22-26 . . . Using a flash in a museum is considered the biggest breach of photography etiquette, according to a recent survey of travelers by TripAdvisor and ShutterFly, a digital photo company. Unauthorized pictures of locals and taking photographs in a restaurant placed second and third in obnoxiousness.

BARGAIN OF THE WEEK

That's the Business

Fly business class to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., for $249 round trip, including taxes. Details: What's the Deal?, Page P3.

Reporting: Cindy Loose,

K.C. Summers.

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.