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Electronic Explorer

Pick Your Airline Seat on the Web

May 11, 1997|LAURA BLY

In the six months since software behemoth Microsoft entered the online travel market, Expedia has become one of the biggest and most user-friendly reservation and planning sites on the Web--much to the chagrin of its less well-heeled competitors.

Now, bashers of founder Bill Gates have even more to be jealous about: a streamlined design geared to slower modem speeds, with expanded destination and hotel listings, updated arrival and departure times for specific flights and a real-time seat map that lets airline passengers pick where they want to sit. The most notable changes at Expedia ( are in the airline, hotel and car rental reservations areas.

Responding to customers who complained that the detailed booking instructions called Wizards were taking too long to download, Expedia consolidated its hand-holding information to one screen.

A new "Fare Compare" feature provides the lowest fares between any two cities, while previously bargain hunters had to sign up and wait for weekly e-mails of low fares between up to three city pairs.

Expedia's "Seat Pinpointer," meanwhile, lets American, Delta, Northwest, TWA and United passengers choose specific seats by clicking on an interactive diagram of the plane's interior. Expedia has also beefed up its guidebook information, adding 28 destinations--Costa Rica and France's Loire Valley, among them--to its roster of approximately 300 cities and regions. A new "Fast Facts" section, which users access by clicking on an endearingly outdated icon of a Rolodex page, gives specifics on such basics as visa requirements, time zones, business hours and phone codes.

But there are still huge gaps in Expedia's coverage. The South Pacific area, for example, is limited to Australia and New Zealand. And even the expanded information, much of it culled from Fielding's and Moon guidebooks, is less comprehensive than it could be.

And while Microsoft's Expedia site is more accessible to new computer users than its high-tech cousin, the online adventure travel magazine Mungo Park (, you'll need the latest version of Internet Explorer or Netscape to view the site. Shortcomings aside, the improved Expedia is worth a new look--and a new booking.

Small bytes: At first blush, the notion of publishing a print-based guidebook to travel resources on the Internet seems as archaic as using a typewriter for correspondence. But Michael Shapiro's new "NetTravel: How Travelers Use the Internet" (O'Reilly & Associates, $24.95) goes far beyond quickly outdated listings of travel-related Web sites. The book includes tips on how to use search engines and newsgroups for trip research and to stay in touch on the road, and dispenses firsthand advice from veteran Internet travelers. . . . In two years, Canada's vast Northwest Territories will be divided into two regions. The eastern region, called Nunavut, now has its own Web site--a 400-page travel guidebook its publishers describe as "quintessential north--warts and all." The Nunavut Handbook ( includes links to tour operators, outfitters, hotels and airlines in the Canadian Arctic, as well as a travelers' exchange. . . . PC Travel, the first travel agency to sell airline tickets on the Web, has bitten the dust. The agency blamed consumers who used the site to research trips but booked elsewhere, and the lower commissions that several airlines now pay for online bookings. . . . Travelers who book a stay for two consecutive nights through Hotel Reservation Network on the discount travel site called ( can get $10 to $30 off their stay. Reservations must be made by June 1.

Bly welcomes reader comments; her e-mail address is Electronic Explorer appears monthly.

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