"You gotta get a gimmick," sang three strippers in the musical Gypsy, and some wannabe Internet start-up millionaires have taken that advice to heart. By now the "we find the lowest fares" shtick is very 20th century, and innovators realize they either have to add something to the raw fare/rate information or allow you to search beyond the mere base prices. Here are three recent innovations.
The Air Travel Agony: "Skip the agony," says Hipmunk.com. "We sort flights by best price, shortest length, and fewest layovers." The result of a search displays tabulated fares, with departure times, lengths of flight, arrival times, and timing and length of any connections in the form of an easy-to-understand bar chart. On one test, round-trip New York to San Francisco, the lowest fares were for nonstop flights, so the agony factor didn't apply. From Charlotte to Miami, I found the same result on a round-trip, but on a one-way trip the cheapest tickets were $207 to $226, with often lengthy connections at Baltimore or Dulles, compared with $380 for the cheapest nonstop. If you want to see how much a connection can lower the price of a ticket—and how much agony it imposes—take a look at Hipmunk.
How Hi-Fi is the Wi-Fi? On my last trip through London, I booked a hotel that promised in-room Wi-Fi. And when I got there, it did, in fact provide in-room Wi-Fi. But the speed took me back to dial-up voice telephone links. To get any practical speed, I had to schlep my notebook down to the lobby.
Free in-room Wi-Fi comes out on top of many surveys of which amenities travelers want in a their hotel rooms, and that implies Wi-Fi you can actually use. No hotel will ever advertise, "We have free Wi-Fi, but it's glacially slow," so a new website hopes to give you the straight information. That information is user-developed, so when you first log onto Hotel Wi-Fi Test, the site provides a tool that lets you test the Wi-Fi speed, which you can then post. When you're looking for a hotel accommodation, look at the site's hotel recommendations, where for each listed hotel you get a display of the maximum download speed—the best you can expect during periods of low use—along with a speed you can expect at random times and the minimum speed you're likely to encounter. On a quick look for New York City, for example, I found an astonishing range of expected speeds, from lows of 3.6 to 5.6 Mbps to highs of 49.4 to 75.4.
Because the site is new, coverage of major cities and hotels is pretty thin. But even if you can't use it in your selection process, log on anyhow, and add to the database. In another year or so, it should be truly useful.
New Timeshare Exchange: Timeshare owners who no longer want to use their intervals often have trouble finding a buyer. Some owners are willing to take a big loss—even give their interval away—to get out from under the burden of ever-increasing yearly fees. Unfortunately, "we promise to sell" your timeshare—for a stiff fee—has been a troublesome scam for years.
A new website, Vacatia.com, promises no-risk, no up-front-fee sale postings and assistance with closing. You pay only if Vacatia actually sells. I've looked at the deal, and see no obvious gotchas. Of course, if you're buying, you can find some great deals: Vacatia lists many intervals for less than $1,000. Some are as low as $1 from owners who just want out of their contracts. But even if "ownership" is free, you still have to pay the fees, which typically run from $600 a year at inexpensive or off-season intervals up to $2,500 for prime one-week intervals.
Other websites also offer to sell unwanted intervals, and some accept them as gifts for charities. If you're looking to buy a timeshare or fractional ownership, give Vacatia a look—but check some other options, too.
Ed Perkins on Travel is copyright (c) 2014 Tribune Media Services, Inc.
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