Have Web, Will Travel

Don't fire your travel agent — yet. But surfing the web before packing your bag lets you pick the right seat on a plane, check out hotels before you check in, and arrange a great weekend in a new city.

See also:

"Going Global" "Make Your Own Trip"
"Adventures in Email" "5 Travel Connections"

The Road Warrior knows: business travel always involves three variables — time, money, and aggravation. Of the three, aggravation is always the most, well, aggravating. Take the experience of Amit Mazumdar, director of PC business at General Magic: "I told my travel agent that I wanted to stay at a hotel fairly close to London's Heathrow. It turned out to be on the perimeter of the airport. Short of wearing earplugs, I heard every flight take off and land all night."

The fact is, when it comes to the business of business travel only you know what kind of food you're craving, what kind of car you're secretly dying to rent, what one-of-a-kind artifact you'd like to bring home as a souvenir. And now, with the Web, you've got all the detailed travel information you could possibly want — at your fingertips. Does that mean you're going to book flights, hotels, and cars online? You can, but going online to search for the best deal is still a bottomless time sink. Despite the hype from computer pundits, fewer than 1% of business people are using the Web to make reservations. Weren't travel agents invented for that stuff? The Web, however, can give you more control over your business travel arrangements.

"My itinerary changes so frequently that my travel agent is still crucial to me, says Greg McHale, president of the business products division at MicroTouch Systems. I don't usually book online but I always surf the Web before I call my agent. That way, I can get a sense of where I'm going, how I'm going to get there, and what I'll do when I arrive."

In this edition of @work, we've gathered leading-edge advice from three Road Warriors to help you travel the Web before you travel the world. Whether your business takes you to the farthest reaches of the globe or simply on a series of hops, skips, and junkets, these are the sites and tools you'll need to take control of your own itinerary. After all, the whole point is to get there faster, cheaper — and with less aggravation.

Destination: Domestic

Road Warrior Amit Mazumdar, TK, director of PC business at General Magic, a software-development company based in Sunnyvale, California

Travel Log: 50,000 miles per year

Travel Schedule: One week per month

Regular Destinations: Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Houston, Las Vegas, Minneapolis, New York

Hardware: IBM ThinkPad 760CD with an internal modem

Online Connection: Internal provider TK.

Before Packing: For getting information on hotels, I always check out Reed Traveler.Net (http://www.traveler.net). Its more detailed than the other travel sites. With a few clicks I can view a photograph of my room at the Omni Ambassador East in Chicago to see if it has a good-sized desk and a decent view. I can also get directions from O'Hare.

Favorite Web Site: I use BigBook (http: //www.bigbook.com), an online directory, to track down phone numbers and addresses. I was in Vienna, Virginia this past winter when the company I was calling on closed early because of a snowstorm. I needed to get the number of the guy I was meeting, but I didn't know the town he lived in so I couldn't find him through directory assistance. So I looked him up on the BigBook Web site. We had our meeting after all — over the phone.

Tip: If you're doing a search on AltaVista, be specific. This past fall I was staying at the Marriott Copley in Boston for a convention. I had the weekend off, my family was with me, and we decided to head north to see the foliage. I did a search on New Hampshire Inns and pulled up a bunch of general Web sites. Then I narrowed it down by keying in "Lake Winnipesaukeean" — an area where I wanted to stay. I found a place called the B. Mae's Inn of Suites that was perfect — without scrolling through multiple layers of Web sites. The more specific your search, the less time it takes.

What to Avoid: If you need real-time flight and gate information, airline Web sites aren't always helpful. I wish every airline would emulate the Amsterdam Airport Schiphol
(http://www.schiphol.nl/flights/home.htm), which continually updates arrival and departure times. My in-laws live in Holland, and when they fly out of Amsterdam to visit us I log on and check to see whether they left the airport on time. That way, I have a better idea of when I should leave to pick them up.

Coordinates: Amit Mazumdar, amit@genmagic.com

Here. There. Everywhere

Road Warrior: Greg McHale, 40, president of the business-products division at MicroTouch Systems in Tewksbury, Massachusetts.

Travel Log: Between 150,000 and 200,000 miles per year

Travel Schedule: Three out of four weeks per month to domestic locations; international trips every two months

Regular Destinations: Dallas, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, San Francisco, Japan, Australia

Hardware: Micron Winbook laptop with internal modem

Online Connection: Internet Explorer 3.0 for the Web and Eudora Pro for email

Before Packing: Because my travel is so unpredictable always have to stop off someplace unexpectedly — I'm constantly checking flights from the road. United's site (http://www.ual.com) has the United Connection software, which you can download for free if you've got Windows. (If you're on a Mac, connect through CompuServe). It's so detailed. I can track frequent-flyer miles, check flights, gates, availability, and seating. One time I was in San Francisco and a meeting got canceled. I clicked on to United's page and quickly checked out the availability of an earlier flight. I grabbed a cab, caught the flight, and met a client in Chicago. I took the reins and did it myself. I like that level of control.

Favorite Websites: If you're looking for more than a bland listing of restaurants and clubs, check out Time Out (http://www.timeout.co.uk). It's got attitude in spades. When I'm going to New York, I know to avoid Café Tabac [it used to be chic; now it verges on the overbearingly trendy.]. But things will be fine if I take a client to Café Luxembourg [draws a high-profile media crowd; the food is consistently good and the service sometimes borders on the dramatic.] I read the reviews and I know what to expect before I get there.

I also like Microsoft Expedia (http://www.expedia.com). It's got everything a traveler could ever need. Once I was flying to Tokyo and I logged on to Expedia to compare the dollar against the Japanese yen. Then I checked the view from my hotel room, to see that I was getting what I paid for. I didn't need to surf around. It was all in one place.

Tip: Rather than book online, I use a travel agent. But using the Web helps you become an educated consumer. When I call my travel agent, I don't have to wait around for her to ask me what I want and then see what's available. It saves so much time.

What to Avoid: Don't make a hundred bookmarks of all the different travel sites out there. Think ease of use. Look for sites where you can do more than one thing in just one place.

Coordinates: Greg McHale gmchale@microtouch.com

Globe Trotting

Road Warrior: Steve Kropla, 41, director of accreditation and certification programs for the International Association of Drilling Contractors in Houston, Texas.

Travel Log: 100,000 miles per year

Travel Schedule: On the road every second or third week, with an overseas trip every two months

Regular Destinations: Australia, Canada, Denmark, England, France, Germany, Greece, Indonesia, Italy, Mexico, Oman, Russia, Singapore, Trinidad and Tobago, Venezuela.

Hardware: Gateway 2000 Handbook 486 laptop with Zoom 28.8 modem; runs on Windows 95

Online Connection: CompuServe

Before Packing: I use the site I researched and created, Help For World Travelers
(http://www.cris.com/~Kropla/). It's got a listing of electrical and phone adapters for every country in the world. So if I'm going to Denmark and I want to get online, the listing will tell me that I won't find an American standard-sized jack (RJ-11). I'll need a Danish plug adapter.

Then I do an AltaVista search on the city I'm visiting. Recently, I was driving from Budapest to Miskolc. I did a search on Hungary and came across the Central Europe Online page (http://www.centraleurope.com) and used it to help map a route — I never got lost! I do searches on a case-by-case basis, rather than depend on one general homepage of maps. That way I get specific, up-to-date information.

Favorite Websites: I use Foreign Exchange Rates
(http://www.dna.lth.se/cgi-bin/kurt/rates) for currency rates updated daily You can pick any two currencies and compare them in seconds. When I need to make an overseas phone call, I check Local Times Around the World (http://www.hilink.com.au/times/). It gives me a listing of time zones, so I'm sure to call during business hours.

The night before I pack, I check Intellicast World Weather (http://www.intellicast.com/weather/intl/) for continually-updated worldwide weather reports. I can find the high and low temperatures in San Paulo, and get the next days weather from a satellite map.

Tip: If you use CompuServe, download their software program, WinCIM. It's a database of all the CompuServe access numbers around the world. That way you'll have a local number at your fingertips for whatever city you're in. It'll help you save money, since you're making a local instead of a long-distance connection when you log on.

What to Avoid: When traveling abroad, stay away from hotels with hard-wired phone systems — where all you have is a telephone line coming out of a plate in the wall. Look for hotels with modular jacks like those in the United States. The best setup I've found is the Jakarta Hilton International, where my room had two phone lines and an RJ-11 data port — the American standard. I could read email on one line and check voice mail on the other at the same time! It was a road warrior's dream.

Coordinates: Steve Kropla, kropla@cris.com

Add New Comment

0 Comments