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MAY 16, 2000


Sites to See: The Best Online Travel Services

Where to compare prices, find last-minute bargains, and let off steam

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Last year, virtual travel agencies booked just 2.7% of all business travel, but that percentage is expected to grow dramatically over the next few years, to 18.9 % by 2004, according to Forrester Research. Why go online to book your travel? Quite simply, it gives you more control, the ability to quickly research options, and, in some cases, significant cost savings.

Soon you can see new Web-based options, too, following a spate of recent announcements of new travel Web sites sponsored by major airlines. The newest venture, nicknamed T2, will include such major air carriers as American, Continental, Delta, Northwest, and United among its equity partners. It plans to offer discounts you can now only get through the individual airlines' Web sites. But don't get too excited just yet: The American Society of Travel Agents has asked the U.S. Justice Dept. to investigate the airlines' new venture into cyberspace, which could spark antitrust concerns.

One trend to note: the rise of small-business travel sites that, in effect, act as your outsourced travel department. They include Rosenbluth Interactive's Biztravel@mycompany, American Express One's RezPort, and CompanyTRIP.com. In September, 1999, Denver-based TRIP.com, an online travel agency, launched companyTRIP.com to serve small companies. All three of these sites put their small-business clients in negotiating pools to get them better deals with savings of as much as 40% off fares and rates.

In addition to these small-business-specific services, you'd do well to check out the following Web sites. While anyone can click on these sites,each one has features that are appealing to smaller companies.

Expedia (www.expedia.com):

A favorite of small companies whose travelers have to city-hop and piece together trips. Its "Build your Own Trip" service lets customers see all the available round-trip fares even when choosing each leg, making it easier to piece together the legs that best fit their schedules and budgets. In fact, you can see a matrix of up to 1,200 itineraries vs. the half-dozen that most sites let you view now. Another appealing feature: you don't have to register to see information.



LastMinuteTravel (www.lastminutetravel.com)

Good for entrepreneurs who have to fly out at a moment's notice. Its new My Travel Minder feature lets users enter up to five different requests with travel preferences, along with the prices you're willing to pay. You'll get an e-mail whenever a bargain on that route becomes available. The site will also save your favorite searches. For example, if you frequently travel to San Francisco, you can quickly click on that search and find out what's available at a discount. Companies including airlines American, Continental, Delta, US Airways, and United and hoteliers Hilton, Hyatt, Marriott, Swissotel, and Westin all sell their last-minutes seats and rooms via this site.



Travelocity (www.travelocity.com)

If your company is in an area with several local airports, its new alternate airport feature is helpful. It will automatically search nearby airports for better fares and schedules, and alerts you to better deals with a display of the airfare savings and additional driving miles involved. Also, its Road Warrior feature serves as a communication center, currency converter, and variety of other business travel services. The company, whose acquisition of Preview Travel will be completed in June, has "flight paging" that delivers alphanumeric pages about flight changes, delays, and arrival and departure times for as many as four different flights.



Priceline (www.priceline.com)

Best for gamblers, who are certain that their schedules won't change. You can name your own price for hotel and airfare service as well was for Budget Rent-A-Car on this popular site. However, if a better deal comes along you're stuck, and you can't make any changes or get a refund.



Best Fares (www.bestfares.com or 800 635-3033)

If you like to mix business with pleasure, travel guru Tom Fares' site is a good one for ferreting out good deals for popular travel destinations. However, you must become a member for $60, which gives you access to the site and 12 issues of Best Fares magazine, which is chock full of the latest deals.



Frequent Flyer (www.oag.com or 800 323-3537)

Suits air warriors who want to make the most of their miles. Travel expert Randy Petersen does a masterful job of sorting through all the latest rules and deals related to frequent flyer miles.



The Ticket Portal (www.travelskills.com)

This is perfect for small-business travelers with a yen for inside information on the travel industry. Chris McGinnis, author of The Unofficial Business Traveler's Pocket Guide and founder of the Travel Skills Group, keeps you up to date on special airfares and changes in the travel industry that affect you.



The Ticked Off Traveler (www.ticked.com)

Need to let off steam or commiserate with other frustrated business travelers? This site features half a dozen columnists who delve into traveler's tales of woe. You'll find advice and ways to fight back on this site, and message boards, too.



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