Trust Me And Save

September 09, 1995|By Mary Maushard | Mary Maushard,Sun Staff Writer

Trust your travel to Stuart Berger and save.

That's the pitch the former Baltimore County school superintendent makes in a letter soliciting customers for Travel Unlimited, his new "hobby."

Dr. Berger, a frequent flier who was dogged during his superintendency by allegations of conspicuous travel at county expense, promises to find customers airfares as low as -- and often lower than -- those quoted by travel agents. Area travel agents say his method is unethical.

But what would Dr. Berger be without critics? Much of his three years as superintendent was marked by controversy. He left Aug. 1 when the school board bought out the final 11 months of his contract for about $300,000.

"I am not in the travel business," Dr. Berger said yesterday. "It's a hobby."

Nevertheless, he is touting his venture under the letterhead of Travel Unlimited, signing his name as "president." The address is his Providence Road home.

He has sent the travel-club offer to hand-picked potential customers -- including some county school administrators. And, because he doesn't intend to do travel consulting full-time, he can handle only 200 clients, his letter says. In it, he explains his plan:

For an initial fee of $100 ($150 per family), a client can take advantage of his airline expertise. If the client books three flights (five per family), the fee is returned.

He tells his clients to call a travel agent to determine the lowest fare. Then, he takes over, shopping for a lower fare and splitting the difference with his client.

"It's not a gimmick," he said. "I know a lot about the airlines. I love playing with them."

He said he can find lower fares by routing people through unusual connecting points, changing airlines at some stopover during a flight or switching to a nearby airport.

Dr. Berger also said he didn't intend to make a lot of money from the venture but that it satisfied his "desire to beat the system."

Those who make a living in the travel business are not amused.

"He is instructing his clients to go and let somebody else do all the work for no pay," said Doris Davidoff, vice president of Belair Travel in Bowie and a 26-year veteran of the travel business. "I think he's unethical."

Travel agents are paid only when they issue tickets, not when they supply information to customers who get their tickets elsewhere.

"Here's a professional who's asking his clients to go to a professional travel agent and waste their time so he can meet or beat" the agent's fare, said Kevin Abell, owner of Roland Park Travel.

"I don't mind competition, but I just think it's abysmal for any professional to suggest that others waste our time."

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