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top sites for internet travel deals

Click trip: top sites for internet travel deals

Byline: ERIC PETERSON

If it’s time to hit the road and visit those out-of-town clients and potential clients, or roll the dice at a trade show in Atlantic City or Las Vegas, a trip into cyberspace first could very well leave you with some extra spending money for the trip.

Like peanut butter and jelly, “travel bargains and the Internet” is sounding more and more like a classic combination every day.

Nonetheless, booking a trip online is a difficult sandbox to sift through, a landscape rife with rip-offs and reverse auctions, great deals and time-share come-ons. Today, however, with so many former dot-coms now dot-gones, it is a bit more navigable than it was before the tech bubble burst. The key is to shop around – both on the Web and on the phone – because no one site consistently offers the best prices.

Here’s a basic road map of the best of what’s left.

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Travelocity ( www.travelocity.com ): Owned by Sabre, the leading provider of technology to the travel industry, Travelocity is now the sixth-largest agency in the U.S., booking $3 billion worth of flights, hotel rooms, car rentals, and other travel packages in 2001. Its Fare Watcher is an attractive feature, allowing users to personalize a window on current fares to different destinations. (My Yahoo! allows users to insert a Fare Watcher on their home page; I get updated fares for flights to New York, Los Angeles, and Amsterdam on mine daily.) Last November, Travelocity launched P3, its next-generation airfare search engine, which returns more than 30 fares per search and gives the site a user-friendlier format.

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Orbitz ( www.orbitz.com ): A relatively new joint effort of five major U.S. airlines, Orbitz is a good resource in that it allows for quick and easy comparison between the fares of different carriers. The site’s search engine doesn’t only look through its founding partners – it scours through fares of more than 400 airlines, returning many Internet-only prices in the process. In December, Orbitz launched the industry’s first Hotel Matrix Display, allowing for quick and dirty comparison-shopping of a city’s lodging options. One drawback: a $5 charge is added to all airline tickets purchased on the site. The site has also been the target of federal antitrust investigations of late, but no evidence of collusion has emerged.

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Expedia ( www.expedia.com ): Lauded for its numerous search options, Expedia is another full-service online agency that was commended by Consumer Reports for returning the lowest fares. Late in 2002, the company launched Expedia Corporate Travel, a full-service booking agency for enterprises with online administrative tools and a dedicated customer service staff. There is a $149 setup fee associated with setting up an account, and, like Orbitz, a $5 booking fee is assessed on each airline ticket.

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Hotels.com ( www.hotels.com ): The Internet’s largest specialized provider of discount accommodations, Hotels.com is a nice site for eking out a lodging deal you simply won’t get over the phone. The company works with 6,500 properties in North America, Europe and Asia, guaranteeing “the best prices.” This is not a dot-com survivor story; rather, the site is the new-for-2002 online component of the Dallas-based Hotel Reservations Network (HRN), a large lodging consolidator founded in 1991. (Both Expedia and HRN are owned by the same company, USA Networks.) Last year, HRN consolidated several of its online properties – hoteldiscount.com, allluxuryhotels.com, and a few others – into this new central website.

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Priceline and Hotwire ( www.priceline.com and www.hotwire.com ): These two are the best of the budget-travel bunch. While Priceline built a much more recognizable brand during the dot-com boom, I prefer Hotwire because it gives you prices up front, no bidding necessary. Hotwire buys up unsold inventory from hotels, car-rental agencies and airlines and then anonymously sells them for up to 40 percent off the standard rate – in other words, you don’t know whom you’re buying from until you’ve completed the deal. But Priceline’s reverse-auction is worthwhile, and can result in even more savings if you have the patience to start bidding low and slowly up the ante. (See www.biddingfortravel.com to see what others paid for their tickets.) The caveat for both sites: Only fliers with flexible schedules need apply.

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QIXO ( www.qixo.com ): A bit slow and not as established as Travelocity or Expedia, QIXO is a good resource to look at before clicking the buy button at a major online agency. Its ultra-comprehensive engine scans fares from dozens of different websites and aggregates all of the cheapest fares it finds onto a single page. If you’ve already found a fare that’s lower, by all means book it, but it’s a safe bet to double-check on QIXO before signing on the dotted line.

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Site59 ( www.site59.com ): Launched three years ago by Travelocity, Site59 is the place to go for last-second getaways. Users can book vacation packages from two weeks to three hours in advance; some include hotel only, others include flights, meals, and assorted add-ons (i.e. snorkeling trips, a Harley-Davidson rental, sightseeing itineraries). There can be a few hidden costs, but airfare and hotel packages as low as $250 are as cheap as they come for a spontaneous trip.

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Roadside America ( www.roadsideamerica.com ): So it’s not of much value for business pursuits, but this site is a personal favorite. From the same folks who brought you the classic Roadside America books, this site is the most comprehensive online catalog of bizarre roadside Americana around, covering attractions ranging from Carhenge (Stonehenge re-created from junked American cars) to the largest twine ball in the country, from Kentucky’s Wigwam Motel to Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo. If this sort of thing turns your crank, look no further.

Eric Peterson is a Contributing Editor to this magazine, and our regular E-Merging E-Commerce columnist.

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