Magazine article Online

ITA Software, AsiaRooms, and Expedia

Magazine article Online

ITA Software, AsiaRooms, and Expedia

Article excerpt

Occasionally, I dedicate my column to information services that are not STM (scientific, technical, or medical) databases but are still very useful for information professionals of all stripes. In this case, my topic is travel-related sites where you can save hundreds of dollars on a simple trip and more than a thousand bucks on complex trips. The first pick is my long-time favorite, ITA Software. The name is odd, as it is much more than software, which is licensed by several airlines (Continental, Hawaiian Airlines, Alitalia) andWeb travel agencies (Kayak, Orbitz). My pick, however, is the native site. My other pick is the AsiaRooms Web site, which, in spite of its name, also offers a wide range of hotels beyond Asia. Its services and prices are the best in the Asia-Pacific region.

The pan is the Expédia travel service, which usually has good airfares and hotel prices. However, its service is so incredibly ill-designed and ill-implemented and its staff so incompetent and impotent when you need them the most - when your outbound flight is canceled from a country with a single airport and very limited alternative flights to your destination - that it deserves the ultimate pan. In my overall experience, the largest Web travel agencies (e.g., Expédia, Orbitz, Travelocity) seem to focus exclusively on competitive pricing, resulting in customer care services that are grossly inferior to the hotel or airline services or that of a traditional travel agent. This is apparently because of outsourcing the postpurchase services to vastly undertrained people, probably in places with cheap labor, perhaps in the great country of Kazakhstan.

ITA SOFTWARE

ITA Software (www.itasoftware.com) is actually a directory database. It does not sell tickets directly, but it often provides the best airfares - and always provides the most useful information about flights. Its compact grid format for search results is ideal.

Results from a search for flights from one city to another can easily be sorted by airline, flight times, and airports. The default sort is price, broken down by number of stops. Note that a fare can be the cheapest in more ways than one. Pricing a flight from Honolulu to Taipei, ITA shows that flying with Philippine Airlines costs $16 less, with one plane change, but takes almost 30-plus hours more than a nonstop China Airlines flight because of an excessive layover in Manila. It takes some knowledge, of course, to know which airlines to avoid for being notoriously late or ill-maintained. It is a nice bonus that the ITA Software site gives warning about long layovers, short connection times, and overnight flights.

This spring, I took a complex trip from Honolulu to Taipei, Bangkok, Amsterdam, Prague, Bangkok, Bali, Bangkok, New Delhi, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Colombo, Bangkok, Taipei, and back to Honolulu. I combined a series of lectures in Asia and the Czech Republic with some vacation days on the side. Although ITA could not offer the best fares for all legs of the trip (because some airlines such as the top-notch China Airlines based in Taiwan don't offer access to their special rates to Web travel agencies), it came very close for most of them. Additionally, it had, by far, the most comprehensive and easiest-to-compare sets of alternatives, such as the cheapest fare on the top-ranked Cathay Pacific Airlines between Bangkok and Colombo.

One additional nice feature of ITA Software is that it visualizes the total duration time and the layover times in your itinerary, using bar charts and color-coding. Consider this: A 6-hour layover in Singapore (where you can go for a free sightseeing tour and enjoy business-class lounge comfort in the public areas - free Internet, spaciousness, reasonable food prices, and utmost civility) is not nearly as painful as a 2-hour layover in many of the once high-quality airports in Europe and the U.S., which "feature" increasingly miserable services. Singapore-basedno-frillJetStar Asia offers the cheapest fares by far within Southeast Asia at better quality than most of the traditional airlines of the region - and JetStar Asia flights do appear in ITA Software. …

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