Brancatelli on Travel — Nothing But Net

Brancatelli on Travel — Nothing But Net

Five people I knew in other lives contacted me this week. All of them found me via the Internet. Yesterday I found an out-of-print book after five years of searching. It appeared on a Web site.

Just since this morning I’ve had communications with business associates on four continents. It was all by E-mail.

Do I need to say anything else?

If we live our lives on the road, we also live our lives on the Internet. The holy trinity of business travel–airlines, hotels and car rentals–may still control our physical environment. Credit cards and telephones may still be the lifeblood of our day-to-day operations. But it’s the Internet that binds them all together now.

And, more than any of the tools of a well-lived life on the road, the Internet is always changing. There’s always something new on the Net that almost immediately becomes an integral part of our daily existence.

Okay, enough philosophy. My point: I’ve got some interesting new Web sites and Web tools you may want to know about.

FANCY PHONE TRICKS
The world is expert in SMS, the acronym for short-messaging system, which is the technology that allows people to send brief text notes back and forth via cellphone. Wherever I travel in the world, I see teenagers SMSing each other or business associates saying “text me on my mobile.” But I know precious few Americans who know how to use SMS service. Here’s a great partial solution:Teleflip.com. If you know someone’s cellphone number, you can send them a short text message using Teleflip. You don’t even have to go to the Teleflip Web site. Just go to your E-mail program, compose a brief note and address it to cellphonenumber@teleflip.com. As if by magic, Teleflip resolves all of the barriers and delivers the message. It’s a miracle. It’s fast. And it’s free. Go ahead, try sending an SMS to your own cellphone. … One of a street reporter’s best tools is the so-called “reverse directory.” It allows you to find a person and an address if you have a phone number. Average folks never used to have access to reverse telephone directories. Now, thanks to the Web, they do. Surf to Anywho.com and there’s an Internet-based reverse directory. Simply enter a phone number and, if it’s a listed number, the site will return the number’s owner and the address of the person or business.

LIFE, ALL IN ONE PLACE
Modern life is increasingly complicated and a life on the road is even more convoluted. We’re near the breaking point in our ability to juggle the everyday detritus of existence–our credit cards, our banking, our E-mail–and our travel schedules. To the rescue comes Yodlee, a remarkable “aggregation” Web site. It will organize and update virtually anything you throw at it. It’ll track your investments, your credit-card bills, your frequent-flyer accounts, your checking and savings accounts and even organize your E-mail and your news feeds. It’s extraordinarily flexible, it’s free and it will bundle as much or as little of your life as you’re willing to feed it. Basically, Yodlee will handle everything but your spiritual well-being.

ALL THE TRAVEL NEWS THAT’S FIT TO POST
The single best place to find airline news is the Yahoo! Finance news feed. It grabs most of the relevant wire-service reports, press releases and coverage from sources as diverse as the Financial Times and financial specialists such as CBSMarketwatch. Want hotel news? Head for http://www.Hotel-Online.com. It posts lots of press releases and many intriguing and useful local stories from Knight-Ridder newspapers around the country. Hotel-Online.com will also send a daily roundup of the stories direct to your E-mail inbox. Want the big picture? http://www.USAToday.com runs an immense amount of travel-related news. It features columnists from around the Web and homegrown pundits on a rotating basis, a Monday-to-Friday blog of travel-related stories from the world’s newspapers and lots of other information. It will also send a daily newsletter to your E-mail inbox.

TAKE A SEAT
It’s becoming a little cottage industry: Web sites that feature seat maps of the airlines and commentary on the best and worst seats to choose. Right now, http://www.SeatGuru.com has more airlines than http://www.SeatExpert.com, but there is very little overlap. Using both sites in tandem will help ease the strain on your body in the air.

THE FARE WATCH
Where you buy your plane tickets is your business, but start your fare searches at http://www.Orbitz.com. Its Flex Search feature allows you to view fares on a particular route for up to three days before and after your preferred dates. The matrix not only helps you find the best price, but it is also graphic testimony to the insanity of airline fares. Even within the three-day Flex Search window, you’ll often find that fares differ by a factor of six or seven. The Orbitz Flex Search ain’t perfect, of course. It doesn’t list the fares of many discount carriers and it can only do domestic routes and international flights originating in the United States. …http://www.Travelocity.com still has a feature no other major site offers: fare listings. This feature allows you to research the basic fare structure on any route and on most any airline. It also gives you the fare codes and the complete (and often mind-numbing) fare rules for each fare.

MEANWHILE…
May I direct your attention to http://www.BroadwayBox.com? It doesn’t matter whether you care about the theater or whether you actually ever go to New York and see a play. If you’re a business traveler, BroadwayBox.com offers a dose of clarity. In case you don’t know it, the New York theater has inexplicably adopted the Big Six pricing model. That means the price of walk-up orchestra seats has surged past $100. But since almost no one wants to pay $100 a seat, theaters have resorted to an increasingly desperate series of gimmick prices. These “sale” prices–often 50 percent off the posted price at the box office–are regulated by special codes mailed to different segments of the theater-going customer base. But BroadwayBox.com gathers all the supposedly secret codes to all the Broadway and Off-Broadway shows and then posts them at the Web site. The result is literally hundreds of pages of codes and a frightening view of Broadway’s airline-like pricing chaos. And now only fools–or out-of-towners ignorant of the reality of theater “yield management”–go to the box office and pay full price for a night at the theater.

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