Outside magazine, December 1997
The World Wide Web is loaded with travel-related sites, from the savvy (the Association for Safe International Road Travel, www.asirt.org) to the scurrilous (www.DallasSucks.com). But few are truly useful. You could spend days searching for sites that offer real bargains or reliable tips. Instead, we've done the looking for you. What follows are 12 of the best Web sites for planning a cheap winter getaway. Sign on and say sayonara.
Worldspan (www.worldspan.com) and easySABRE (www.easysabre.com) are both useful if you want to check current airfares. You can also look up seat availability and even a flight's on-time record. However, these sites do not list different fares from those available to people off-line. For Net-only fares, you need to head to the airlines' own sites. American Airlines (www.americanair.com), Continental (www.flycontinental.com), TWA (www.twa .com), and U.S. Airways (www.usairways .com) all have weekly rock-bottom fare specials that they announce via E-mail to subscribers. The catch: The bargains are good only for the upcoming weekend. If you can drop everything and go, the round-trip deals can be extraordinary. One other caveat: Most trips originate in the airlines' hub cities, such as Chicago and New York. Travelers living in smaller cities typically must buy connecting flights.
Surprisingly few Web sites allow you to purchase airline tickets or pay for hotel rooms. That's largely because travel agencies receive no commissions for such bookings; in most cases, you can surf for bargain fares but then must call an agent to book your trip. One site, however, lets you function as your own agent: Expedia (www.expedia.msn.com), Microsoft's on-line travel agency. With apologies to the anti-Bill Gates forces out there (well represented at www.ihatebillgates.com), this is probably the most user-friendly travel site around, and one of the few with encryption sturdy enough to allow for on-line credit card use. It's also got Fare Tracker, a nifty feature that E-mails you weekly updates on the lowest current fares for up to three trips.
Undecided about where to go? GORP (Great Outdoors Recreation Pages, www .gorp.com) is filled with food for thought, especially in its you-are-there-style pages: entertaining if unedited and possibly apocryphal descriptions of freelancers' journeys. The site also includes a "Hot Deals" section, in which outfitters dangle discounts. And of course Outside's own Outside Online, at outside.starwave.com, answers posted questions and lets you search travel information in past issues of the magazine.
If you're interested in trips built around a specific activity, or if you just want vicarious adventuring thrills, visit the Princeton University Outdoor Action Program Guide to Outdoor Resources (www.princeton.edu/ ~oa/outother.html). Livelier than its sober name might suggest, the Action Guide is an invaluable repository of links to rafting, climbing, caving, biking, and kayaking sites. For skiing, the sport most on people's minds this month, consider capitalizing on trip packagers' woes. Lynx Ski Travel (www.colorado.net/ lynx/home.html) and Moguls/ Tours de Sport (www.skimoguls .com) unload unsold tickets and hotel rooms at resorts throughout North America. Download the choices, load up your skis, and you can be slaloming on the cheap by this time tomorrow.
Illustration by Philip Anderson