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Can't Find Your Niche? Try a Specialty Newsletter : Resources: Whatever travel subject you're keen on, there's a special publication to match. Here are some that have lasted.

August 27, 1995|CHRISTOPHER REYNOLDS | TIMES TRAVEL WRITER; Reynolds travels anonymously at the newspaper's expense, accepting no special discounts or subsidized trips. To reach him, write Travel Insider, Los Angeles Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles 90053.

You won't find them at the newsstand or in the library, but travel newsletters can be a crucial resource, often more up to date than guidebooks and more specific than Sunday newspaper sections. And there are scores of them, with specialties including railroads, gay-friendly destinations and the hoarding of frequent-flier miles. One good money-saving tip from a newsletter can save as much as a year's subscription costs--typically $35-$70.

Unfortunately for consumers, the newsletter marketplace is in constant upheaval, as desktop publishers enter the business, then discover how much work and money it takes to win readership. By the count of the 1995 Oxbridge Directory of Newsletters (available in print or CD-ROM format in major libraries), 164 travel newsletters now do business in North America, down from 192 last year.

Most newsletters use graphics and drawings rather than photography, and value hard facts over description-filled narratives. Several newsletters, including the Consumer Reports Travel Letter and Andrew Harper's Hideaway Report, accept no underwriting or freebies from the hotels, restaurants and transportation-providers they write about. But many other newsletters are produced by travel agency, cruise line or tour company marketing departments, and still other newsletters are produced by independent publishers who get their information by accepting free and specially discounted services. Those publications may still include valuable information, but readers should beware of spin.

I've listed several of the best special-interest leisure travel newsletters here. Because so many newsletters die young, I've stuck to publications at least 3 years old.

Consumer Reports Travel Letter (P.O. Box 53629, Boulder, Colo. 80322; tel. 800-234-1970). The top newsletter in the country, when it comes to protecting your travel dollars. Veteran editor Ed Perkins and his staff point out bargain opportunities, criticize major players in the industry. Sunsets not described. Aimed mostly at the traveler who spends about $75 per night on hotels. Twelve issues yearly. Typical issue: 24 pages. Circulation: about 140,000 (all circulation figures here are provided by the publishers). One-year subscription: $39; two years, $59; three years, $79.

Andrew Harper's Hideaway Report (Box 300, Whitefish, MT 59937; tel. 406-862-3480). This 16-year-old publication brags that 81% of its executive subscribers hold titles of CEO, president, owner or partner, and aims at the high end. Prime focus is resorts, with some attention to city hotels, and some critical edge. (A recent issue asserts that at the Costa Rican resort named Tara, "service and upkeep have gone with the wind.") Twelve issues yearly. Typical issue: Eight pages. Circulation: 20,000. One-year subscription: Just raised from $100 to $125.

Out & About (8 W. 19th St., Suite 401, New York, NY 10011; tel. 800-929-2268). Founded in September, 1992, this publication aims to deliver "essential information for the gay & lesbian traveler." A recent issue warned newcomers not to expect too much from the guest houses and restaurants of the Palm Springs area. A thorough, rapidly growing newsletter. Ten issues yearly, plus four quarterly calendars. Typical issue: 16 pages. Circulation: 8,500. One-year subscription: $49.

Passport Newsletter (350 W. Hubbard St., Suite 440, Chicago, IL 60610; tel. 800-542-6670). The oldest upscale travel newsletter, founded in 1965. Concentrates on destinations, hotels, restaurants, shopping. (Tidbit from August issue: London's newest and trendiest bistro is said to be The Cow Dining Room, in the Notting Hill Gate area.) Twelve issues yearly. Typical issue: 20-24 pages. Circulation: The publisher won't say. One-year subscription: $75.

The Shipboard Cruiser (P.O. Box 533737, Orlando, FL 32853-3737; tel. 407-422-6095). Founded three years ago by editor Phil R. Beach. Lots of information on cruise ships, but beware of excess optimism: Despite the many cruise ship mishaps over last year, few discouraging words are found in these pages. Twelve issues yearly. Typical issue: 12 pages. Circulation: "in the thousands." One-year subscription: $49.

Travel Companions (Box 833, Amityville, NY 11701-0833; tel. 800-392-1256 or 516-454-0880, fax 516-454-0170). Published since 1982 by Jens Jurgen, and full of news on travel discounts, along with tips and encouragement for single travelers, consumer advice and scores of personal ads from singles seeking travel companions (most list their first name, age, height, weight, interests). Six issues yearly. Typical issue: 18-20 pages editorial content, another 28 or so of personal ads. Circulation: about 5,000. One-year subscription: $48 (including six back issues); with up to six personal ads: $159.

Travel Smart (40 Beechdale Road, Dobbs Ferry, NY 10522; tel. 914-693-8300). Founded in 1976, Travel Smart offers a detail-rich mix of bargain and destination info. The August issue targeted: Puerto Rico, southern Oregon, fall foliage viewing and national parks. Twelve issues yearly. Typical issue: 12 pages. Circulation: 15,000. One-year subscription: $44 ($37 for new subscribers).

NEXT WEEK: a sampling of newsletters that concentrate on specific destinations.

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