CeePrompt! Computer Connection

May 14, 2001

Online Travels

The summer season is upon us and travel plans abound for many. The Internet, as a travel resource, has improved remarkably since the early days when Eaasy Sabre on Prodigy was the standard. Hard-to-read text and ugly black screens were often overlooked, however, because we were so amazed we could actually look up our own flight information from home.

So improved are travel websites today, that many travel professionals rely on them as well, since its often their customer's first stop. There are literally hundreds of websites that allow you to search for flight information, check flight status, and arrange for car rental and hotel reservations all from the same site.

Expedia.com is an excellent starting point for researching your travel plans. As one might expect from a website that's 70% owned by Microsoft, this site is first class. From Expedia, you can plan your itinerary and compare prices for flights, hotel rooms and car rentals. Expedia.com compares over 450 airlines, 40,000 hotels, all major car rentals and over 400 destination guides. Other resources such as currency converters, driving directions and weather are also available.

Priceline.com has received plenty of television airtime, with William Shatner touting the benefits of "name your own price" for tickets, but the actual web experience left me cold. It's not a shopping site, which explains it in a nutshell. It's really an auction site. You're not given an opportunity to browse flight times, airline selection or even confirm the final price, until you've committed with a credit card. If Priceline finds a flight that matches your "bid", the tickets are purchased immediately and your credit card is charged.

Travelocity.com is another good site that's owned by Sabre, a long time booking network for airline travel. Much like Expedia.com, Travelocity offers complete travel services for flights, cars, hotels or cruises. One of my favorite sites is Trip.com for their Flight Tracker feature. Simply enter the airline and flight number and you'll watch an image of an airplane make its progress over a map and see the actual flying time, air speed and direction. It's a great way to keep track of friends and relatives in flight and to better time that pickup trip to the airport.

Don't expect to find all airlines listed on all these travel sites, however. Always check the airlines own website to be sure you've explored all the options. None of the Southwest Airline flights, for example, are listed in Expedia.com, Travelocity or Trip.com. Southwest maintains its own website and retains proprietary control over the content. It's an excellent, user-friendly site that also links to its car rental and hotel partners for a complete travel package. Members in Southwest's Rapid Rewards program can earn double credits when booking travel through the Internet site.

A new player is soon to emerge on the Internet travel scene, but it's raised the ire of Southwest before its even fully functional. Backed by the nations five biggest airlines, Orbitz.com promises "a new era in travel planning", but it already faces a lawsuit from Southwest Airlines. Southwest claims Orbitz is giving consumers incorrect information about fares and has harmed the company. Orbitz counters that the flight information is available to all the airlines and they have paid licensing fees to use the information.

Orbitz is funded by American, United, Delta, Northwest and Continental Airlines and certainly has enough muscle and experience to be a formidable player in the Internet travel market. 38 airlines have agreed to offer every available sale on Orbitz, but critics argue that the five major airlines shouldn't be allowed to control such a major ticket distribution site. A full launch of Orbitz is scheduled for June, barring any further legal troubles.

If ever in doubt, always double-check your travel plans with a travel agent to insure you've found the best deal. Regardless of the abundance of resources on the Internet, these people are the professionals.

Cathi Schuler owns a computer literacy training/consulting company, Cee Prompt! She is a co-author of computer textbooks and can be reached by e-mail at cschuler@uop.edu or cschuler@ceeprompt.com or by mail c/o The Record, P.O. Box 900, Stockton, CA 95201. She is on the Internet at: http://www.ceeprompt.com. Click here for past archived columns.

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