Weekly Wire
Weekly Alibi World Wide Travel on the World Wide Web

By Devin D. O'Leary

AUGUST 11, 1997:  So I'm packed up and ready to go to Chicago. Actually, I'm neither packed nor ready. But I am planning to jet my way to Chicago in the next couple weeks. It's my big summer vacation, don't you know. A solid week in the land of hot dogs, the Sears Tower and The Blues Brothers. So how can this confusing amalgam of electronic info known as the Internet help me with my recreational plans?

Yahoo Travel (www.yahoo.com/Travel): I know it's boring to go to these major databases for info, but Yahoo is actually pretty useful when it comes to travel. The travel section is broken up by topic (travel magazines, bus companies) or by destination (Pittsburgh, Tanzania). Several major cities have their own special section. Sure enough Yahoo! Chicago (chi.yahoo.com/Travel) is in there. I can check out all the basics right here. Agents, airlines, car rentals, guide books, lodging, maps, mass transit, tour operators and a dozen other sub-categories are all accessible. The info is pretty broad and will take a little surfing to track down anything really useful. It's a good place to start, though, if you're not quite sure what kind of travel information you need.

The SABRE System (www.easysabre.com/): One thing the World Wide Web has given us is easy access to those tools that were previously only available to professionals. Ever wonder how travel agents do their job? Well, they log on to their computers and check the latest airline fares. Here's one of the main databases agents use to perform this miraculous task. And the amazing thing is, you can do it all yourself if you want to. The easySABRE page is command driven, meaning it's about as simple as dirt, and you can't use the page forward and page back buttons on your browser. First thing you need to do is get a membership. Sign-up is free, but kinda time consuming. Once you've got a password, though, you can log on to easySABRE at any time and get access to schedules for over 700 airlines, reservation and ticketing info for 410 airlines, rental car booking at 50 agencies and hotel reservations at 31,100 hotels. Airlines are really trying to encourage people to book this stuff themselves, so you can sometimes get pretty good deals with the DIY approach. American Airlines, for example, is now giving 500 extra AAdvantage miles if you book through SABRE. The page has a Secured Socket Link so you can buy tickets with your credit card right off the Web. And if you really don't feel like cutting out the middle man, you can enter a code for your preferred travel agent, and he or she will get credit for the stuff anyway.

Fodor's Travel Guide (www.fodors.com/): For decades, Fodor's has published the premiere travel guides worldwide. It's only natural that they'd end up on the Web sooner or later. Actually, their home page is pretty useful. There's a resource guide, a chat room and an on-line version of their weekly radio show. The handiest thing on this page, though, is the Personal Trip Planner. This cool gizmo lets you customize a travel guide to any one of 87 cities worldwide. I was able to nail down a super customized guide to Chicago, featuring the best restaurants under $15, some great sights to see in the area of my hotel and some helpful instructions on getting a Chi-town cab (per mile charge, tips, luggage fees).

The Travel Channel (www.travelchannel.com/): No, I've never seen this cable TV channel--obviously dedicated to travel and nothing but travel--but their Web site is pretty groovy. The graphics are slick and the site is simple to move around in at the click of a button. There's all the standard info (hotels, airlines) plus some unique features. The best thing is the Universal Travel Resource Locator. This thing is a searchable database of some 26,000 Web pages. If you can't find a topic here, it probably ain't out there. I dug into the "Special Interest" category and was greeted by a dizzying array of vacation choices. In the mood for an Amish vacation? Nude vacation? Opera vacation? Sad to say, I couldn't find any of those three in Chicago. But by entering my destination into the database, I was able to uncover several hundred nifty brochures (museums, hotels, tourist attractions) which can be ordered by phone.

--Devin D. O'Leary

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