E-mail newsletters for travelers can be helpful, but . . .
Chicago Tribune; Chicago, Ill.; May 20, 2001;

Paul Grimes Special to the Tribune;

(Copyright 2001 by the Chicago Tribune)

Because I'm a travel writer, I probably get more travel e-mail than most of you, including newsletters that--after registering online--I get at least once a week. Many of these seem essential to someone who's determined to keep abreast of travel developments or to spot a hot deal. Among them, by type:

- Discounted weekend specials. Most airlines and hotel and auto- rental chains issue them, typically each Wednesday and they are valid over the following weekend. Some online services, however, such as Smarter Living (www.smarterliving.com), for which I am a columnist, will e-mail you a wrapup of all the specials on 20 airlines from your possible departure cities.

- "Hot Deals." These newsletters are most prevalent. They come from tour companies, online travel agencies, cruise travel agencies and online magazines (e-zines), such as Concierge (www.concierge.com), affiliated with Conde Nast Traveler, and Travel and Leisure (www.pathfinder.com/travel/TL/). The online agency Expedia will keep you abreast of special air fares (www.expedia.com/ daily/faretracker/default.asp frr=-981), as will its principal competitor, Travelocity (wwww.travelocity.com and click on "site guide" at the bottom left of the home page; then, beneath the label "travel tools," click on "Travelocity fare watcher e-mail"). One of the best hot deals newsletters is from Arthur Frommer's Budget Deals Online (www.frommers.com), but in mid-April it could not be e-mailed to subscribers using America Online because of technical difficulties. You could find it yourself at the Web site, however.

- Destinations. Pick a travel destination and there's probably an e-mail newsletter devoted to it. However, many are not free. Among the best is Bonjour Paris (www.bonjourparis.com), the product of American expatriates who love the city and are eager to share their information and enthusiasm. Also outstanding is the Caribbean Travel Roundup (caribtravelnews.com), the usually monthly creation since 1990 of Paul Graveline, an elementary school teacher in Reading, Mass. You won't get the entire letter by e-mail, but you'll be notified when a new issue has been posted and you can find it on the Web. The online colossus About.com offers several newsletters, including the destination-oriented About Travel (home.about.com/ travel/newsletters.htm M=59-218-T).

- Specialties. Many newsletters are devoted to particular interests, such as vacation planning, cruising, winter sports and escapes to supposedly exotic resorts. Many are devoted to cruising, with online letters published by specialist writers and travel agencies, including consortiums of them. Among the best are those from Cruise Critic (www.cruisecritic.com) and Cruise Mates (www.cruisemates.com).

- Potpourri. Typically issued weekly by online travel agencies and brick-and mortar agencies with Web sites, these newsletters have a smattering of everything, including industry news, that their publishers consider "hot." Among the noteworthy are those of the Independent Traveler (www.independenttraveler.com or AOL keyword IT), for which I once wrote; Expedia (www.expedia.com) and Travelocity (www.travelocity.com).

Subscribing to online travel letters is easy. Absorbing their information can be tedious and bewildering. For comparable offerings, it's often difficult to determine whether one hot deal is better than another, and by how much. Some prices include taxes and surcharges; others don't. Some are for a level of cruise cabin that may differ from a competitor's.

To complicate further, some newsletters cover only the bargains of travel companies with which they have business contracts. This means that the bargains in Newsletter A may be similar to or sharply different from those in Newsletter B. But how can you tell, particularly if the name of the supplier is withheld?

Also, a popular feature of e-commerce is the ability to allow site visitors to be linked with a click to another site that actually provides the newsletter information. For example, Smarter Living provides hot deals from Concierge, with attribution. In many newsletters, however, it's hard to tell where the information originated.

For example, if you dig deeply and long enough, you may find that the last-minute vacations on Yahoo (www.yahoo.com) come from Last Minute Travel (www.lastminutetravel.com), which also peddles the specials directly.

Meanwhile, this isn't very conspicuous, but much material in Yahoo's Guide to New York City comes from the Rough Guide (print version or at travel.roughguides.com/).

Partnerships and licensing agreements also jam the store. This means that a specialist site, such as the Hotel Reservations Network (www.hoteldiscounts.com), sells rooms through its own site and hundreds of others with which it has agreements. Which one should you use to book a room? I frankly don't know.

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Paul Grimes can be reached by e-mail at paulmark@aol.com