New Web tools changing the face of travel
January 28, 2000
Web posted at: 5:02 p.m. EST (2202 GMT)
From Mary-Jo Lipman
CNN Interactive Writer
ATLANTA (CNN) -- Book an airline ticket in just five mouse clicks. Get updates to your flight schedule on your pager. Let travel agents outbid each other to create your dream vacation.
Those are just a few of the new ways airlines and travel organizations are using the Internet and wireless technologies in an effort to attract customers and save them time and frustration.
For years, airlines have offered special deals and extra frequent flier points to Web users. Now some carriers, including Delta and United, are redesigning their Web sites to streamline navigation and offer new tools to monitor flights.
Delta, which plans a full-scale launch of its redesign in February, has a link to its new site on the current home page.
Kevin Dunn, Delta's manager of e-commerce, says this is the airline's first redesign in more than two years. After reviewing customer feedback, he says, Delta found the biggest complaint was about navigation.
"Now you can do everything from the home page," Dunn says. That includes finding specials, making reservations and checking a flight's status.
Among Delta's new features are "detachable" applications, which allow users to keep small windows open on their desktops to make reservations or check flight information without having to go to Delta's Web site.
American Airlines offers a similar application called an "Electronic Timetable" that downloads onto a PC or a PalmPilot. Customers can use it to check flights without having to go online. The airline says gate information is available using a Palm VII, the latest version of a PalmPilot.
New page in travel technology
Delta also is working to make arrival-departure information available on Web-enabled PalmPilots, wireless phones and alphanumeric pagers within the next three months.
Web sites for Northwest and United, the largest U.S. carrier, already let
customers sign up to receive flight change and gate information via e-mail, text-enabled cell phones or alphanumeric pagers. United unveiled its service January 19.
United spokesman Kurt Ebenhoch says the carrier began to offer the paging service five weeks earlier. In that period, he says, United made more than 7,000 pages.
Chris McGinnis, a travel industry analyst and manager of travelskills.com, says the innovations help airlines coddle business travelers, their best customers.
Once a customers enters his or her frequent flier account number, the airline can register whether that user is a valued customer. "And the better the customer, the better customer service you're going to get," he says.
In addition to the airlines, other Web sites are offering services that help Internet users book an entire vacation. The American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA), for example, offers an online "Trip Request" service.
Visitors fill out a form that describes their ideal vacation, listing where they want to go, how much they want to spend and how long they'd like to stay. ASTA members can then e-mail bids in response. Users are not obligated to buy.
"It gives consumers the convenience of the Internet, with the peace of mind of working with an ASTA travel professional," says James Ashurst, an ASTA spokesman.
TravelBids offers a similar online service but with some rules and restrictions. Customers pay a $5 listing fee, must propose a trip worth at least $250 and, in some cases, are obligated to buy. Travel suppliers, including travel agents, consolidators and the airlines themselves, then submit bids. The site says it's good for all airlines, cruise lines, resorts and dates of travel.
Personalogic runs a decision-making service that can help travelers plan a vacation in the Caribbean, choose a cruise or decide which U.S. national park to visit. The Web site lets users compare vacations, cruises or parks, or will help them narrow down the most suitable choices through a series of questions. Personalogic is a division of AOL, which plans to merge with CNN.com's parent company, Time Warner.
ASTA's "Trip Request" service, TravelBids and Personalogic all aim to personalize and customize the travel experience -- one of the biggest trends in the industry, according to McGinnis.
Travelers need sites to help filter the information, he says, and let them know who's legitimate and who's not.
"There's more travel information on the Web than anything else," McGinnis says, "and most travelers are bewildered by it all, especially someone who travels once or twice a year."