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Online travel sites offer more than just cheap tickets


By TIM WYATT / The Dallas Morning News


Are online travel agents as good and as thorough as their flesh-and-blood counterparts? Probably not. Still, travel Web sites are doing their best to provide slick-running fare price engines with or without hotel and rental-car deals in tow to those who want to book their own flights for business and pleasure.

For the purpose of comparing how well and how fast the sites below could bring back the best fares, we compared prices for a weeklong stay in Albuquerque with just seven days' notice of departure. Almost everyone was up to the task without taking us to the cleaners.


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Along with Expedia, this is a popular site for online leisure and business travel. For our test flight, Travelocity beat most of the competition by a few bucks with a nice selection of carriers vying for that Albuquerque flight. For leisure travel, the site's Destinations guide offers deals to popular vacation spots and links to local attraction guide series such as Frommer's and Lonely Planet. For more discount shopping, be sure to set up a Fare Watcher to monitor prices for special rate deals.


It took much longer to set up our profile and account information than to shop for good fares, which is extremely easy here. Match that with Expedia's matching Travelocity's best fares, and the only real difference would seem to be which online conveniences and perks you prefer if you have to pick one site over the other.


Originally built by five large U.S. airlines, Orbitz is a slick-running online travel agent that's easy to use and matched the best rates we could come up with on that trip to Albuquerque. In fact, the layout of prices from eight fare offers on the trip was about the easiest to skim over, check for stops and scan departure times. For people who get a headache from scrolling through page after page of fares, this one's easy on the eyes. And we didn't have to register or set any customer profiles until the search engine proved itself worthy.


Here's a search engine that compares rates offered from more than two dozen other discount travel sites, such as Travelocity and Delta's own site. Interestingly, the rates that came back for the dates we plugged in couldn't match CheapTickets, which featured a Delta flight as the cheapest rate. For that matter, the rate didn't match Travelocity's lowest price for the same travel days. But we're only talking a difference of a whopping $3, folks.


CheapTickets began as a Honolulu-based discount service that grew just enough to be absorbed by a big corporate travel venture last fall. Apparently, "The Best Kept Secret in Travel" may have to rewrite its motto. Flight fares are easy to look up and compare, plus travelers with flexible schedules can trim off a few extra bucks with the Power Search feature. To check for deeply discounted flights and travel packages, click into the Last Minute Deals, or simply plug in your city for any discount fares to other cities in the Specials section.


Naturally, we put Priceline's discount bidding service down here because travelers should have a good idea of the going rate for a particular destination before asking one of Priceline's participating carriers to put in a bid. And let's be very clear about a couple of things: Once you agree to buy a ticket from Priceline at a particular price and a carrier agrees, you're locked in. So be careful to plug in the right travel dates before agreeing to buy the ticket. Sorry we can't quote a price, though. We busted our credit card limit shopping used books online last week. We could only hope for a $40 cut off the best price offered earlier.

We threw in this online travel shopping mall for a one-stop referral to at least a half-dozen other online airfare brokers not mentioned above. Head in to the Airfares section for links to those providers plus the always present car rental, cruise and hotel sites or check out the site's listing of ATM machines worldwide, travel advisories, airport directories and weather conditions.




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