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Traveling Light

Planning a business trip? Don't leave home without first touring these Internet travel sites.

Last night I booked a business trip to Hawaii's Big Island in a few minutes, without talking to a single reservations clerk. Plus, I got just about the best prices around. Envious? Of course you are--but forget about Hawaii for a second. What's truly enviable is the ability to secure fast, easy bookings at great prices. And that's exactly what the Internet delivers when it comes to making travel arrangements.

One problem: Nowadays there are so many online travel agencies, it's tough to decide where to start. Throughout the past few years my travels have taken me everywhere from Northern Ireland to Thailand, so I've looked at most of the Net's travel sites and used many of them. Want to know the best sites for homebased entrepreneurs who need to do their own travel bookings with a sharp eye on the dollar signs? Read on:

  • Cheap Tickets (http://www.cheaptickets.com). A "consolidator"--meaning it sells airlines' leftover tickets--CheapTickets is a first stop when hunting for deeply discounted fares. Savings of 20 percent or more on published fares are common. Note: Tickets are usually nonrefundable, itinerary changes are difficult (sometimes impossible), and you probably won't earn frequent-flier miles. Read the fine print before clicking the "purchase" button.
  • Expedia (http://www.expedia.com). A traveler's dream? Regular tickets that can be readily changed and earn frequent-flier miles. A traveler's dream come true? Head to Microsoft's Expedia--it's slick, easy to use and lets you compare fares on many airlines with just a few mouse clicks. Competitive sites, including Travelocity (http://www.travelocity.com) and Yahoo! Travel (http://travel.yahoo.com), offer many identical features, but Expedia's earned my bookmark by proving itself both fast and reliable.
  • HotelWiz (http://www.hotelwiz.com). Where to rest your head? Go to HotelWiz, where 43,000 hotels around the world offer online customers rates up to 40 percent off at more than 15,000 properties. A few other hotel sites may offer keener pricing (http://www.quickbook.com, for instance, can come up with rooms at 60 percent off regular rates), but none has the global reach that HotelWiz does. Pretty much wherever you're going, HotelWiz has a room at a price you'll like.
  • What about heavily publicized Priceline (http://www.priceline.com), where you name a price for an airline ticket or hotel room and see if a seller bites? The hitch is, you surrender a lot of control over your plans. Here's how it works: To book a hotel room with Priceline, you name the price, the dates, the city and the quality of hotel (on a 1 to 5 rating system). What if you don't like the hotel that takes your bid? Tough--there's no backing out of a bid. Pretty much the same quibbles apply to airline reservations. You pick the dates and cities, but not the times or route. Leisure travelers can live with these quirks, but most business travelers won't. However, when savings really matter, log on to Priceline--and just maybe it'll deliver for you.

Cool travel site:http://www.gomez.com

Want a second opinion on travel sites? Surf over to the Internet Travel Agent Scorecard compiled by Net analysts Gomez Advisors Inc. at http://www.gomez.com With ratings for the top 20 or so sites, Gomez provides handy toggles that let viewers sort by the criteria important to them (ease of use, business travel and on-site resources, for example).

Robert McGarvey works out of his home office in Santa Rosa, California, where neither DSL nor cable modem is available. When he travels, he uses a PowerBook with a built-in 33.6 modem.

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