Buying travel used to be so simple. You called your travel agent and he made the arrangements for you. The Internet changed all that. There are thousands of good travel Web sites out there, but here are my current picks: three outstanding long-timers and one up-and-comer worth a mention. Oh, OK, full disclosure: One of the up-and-comers is mine.
SeatGuru. Do you think that all airplane seats are created equal? Well, they’re not! SeatGuru is an database of virtually every airline seat in the skies — “The Bible of Seat Pitch,” if you will. All you need to know is your airline and the type of aircraft you are flying, and SeatGuru will tell all. Find out which seats recline a bit more, have more legroom, have armrests that will raise — even which ones have a power port to power your laptop or iPod. More importantly, SeatGuru will tell you the seats to avoid. As a professional travel agent, I rely on this site a lot. The interface is simple to read and the site has recently added a listing of such in-flight amenities as audio, beverage services, bassinettes and changing tables.
FlyerTalk. If you spend more than a few hours in the skies over the course of a year, FlyerTalk is a community you need to visit. This huge bulletin board allows its 111,000 frequent-flying members to discuss everything from the best airport restaurants to who has seen Air Force One. A big reason for this site’s success is the interaction between members trying to maximize their frequent-flier miles and loyalty points. Are you looking for a promotion that might bump you up a rank to Chairman’s Preferred? How about a special routing to earn triple points? You won’t have to look far. While it may seem a bit daunting at first, the site has a wealth of information and a fantastic New User Guide that will help you navigate the skies.
1Trip3. 1Trip3 is a new site for the leisure traveler that is scheduled to come online very soon. While your travel agent is no doubt very knowledgeable, your needs may exceed his reach. Would you schedule your appendectomy with your ophthalmologist? No? Then why is your cruise specialist arranging your African safari? 1Trip3 addresses this problem by connecting agent specialists with travelers. Agents register with their specialty and then take turns fielding travelers’ requests. Each request is sent to three qualified agents; the traveler decides which agent — if any — to work with. There is no cost to the traveler, who gets “special handling” for free.
Travels With Fred. This is my site, and it is targeted to experienced travelers with some miles on them, folks who are Internet-savvy and people who believe, as I do, that travel is just plain fun. Are you a master mouser, confident enough in your Web sleuthing to book your own trip? Travels With Fred may be the site for you. But what if you’re not sure you’re ready to book it alone? Travels With Fred may be the site for you, too, because at any point in the research or booking process, a flesh-and-bones travel agent is available to help you — at no charge. Need a simple recommendation? Send an instant message to Fred. Need something more complex? Meet one of Fred’s agents face to face in your local Starbucks. If nothing else, take advantage of the complimentary destination guides that the site will send you by e-mail. They are a wealth of information and will go a long way to help you plan your next trip.
Tripso. Of course, the best is saved for last. Tripso is a wonderful site that grabs the travel industry by the horns and attacks from all angles. In addition to Christopher Elliott, the famed travel troubleshooter, the site offers frank commentary from every side of the industry: flight crew, travel agent, cruise expert, road tripper, security and safety, loyalty and luxury travel, not to mention bargains and destinations. Come fall, Tripso will have the hotel industry covered, too. Need to keep up on the travel news? Tripso publishes a daily newsletter highlighting the day’s news as it affects travelers. There is a weekend edition, as well. If you are looking for a community of active travelers and travel agents, check out Tripso’s forums, where you’ll get the frank and honest answers you deserve. Admittedly, I am biased, but I do believe Tripso is “The Last Honest Travel Site”!
Do you know of another essential travel site? Let me know and I will pass it along (with credit of course) in a future column!