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by Lloyd A. de Vries

Vol. 19 - Traveling By Web

I was halfway to the airport on my way to Pacific 97 when I realized my airline tickets were still in the foyer of my house, where'd I'd put them so I wouldn't forget to take them.

By the time I managed to turn around, go back to the house, get the tickets, and get to the airport, there was only enough time to send me or my luggage to San Francisco, but not both. My bags, boxes and I took the next flight.

In two stamp show trips in 2001, to Denver (Americover) and Chicago (Stampshow), all I had to bring to the airport was one of the credit cards that are always in my pocket. I had obtained paperless "e-tickets."

Since then, that's always the way I fly. I even purchase those electronic tickets online.

In fact, most airlines now charge you extra if you don't book online — as much as $100 if you use an airline's own walk-up counter at an airport!

I used one of the commercial travel Web sites not only to book the flights, but to explore the possibilities and keep track of fare sales. While my airline ticket to Stampshow 2001 cost $265, Travelocity's Fare Watcher a few weeks later told me that fares had come down, and I decided I could now afford to bring my son Marc with me, for $171, and did.

The Fare Watcher system notifies me when there are changes, up or down, in the fares for routes I have specified.

Even with that aid, I still prowl around the flight listings. This summer, if I had taken 5 or 6 connecting flights, I could have saved $100 — and wasted 18 hours in travel. Flights that left at 7 a.m. were cheaper than those that left later in the day. For Americover, arriving in the early evening the day before was much less expensive than anything I could book the following day, a Thursday. (That allowed me to take the city tour anyway, so it worked out well.)

This past year, I played Travelocity off against booking directly on Continental.com for the same flights. I saved a $5 Travelocity fee by booking on Continental.com, and picked up some additional miles as a bonus for using the airline's own Web site.

For Nordia/Aripex/AmeriStamp 2001, I discovered that flying from New Jersey to Phoenix was hundreds of dollars cheaper than flying from New Jersey to Tucson, where the show was being held. (In fact, several itineraries would have required me to change planes in Phoenix.)

Then I asked MapQuest, another Internet site, to tell me about driving from Phoenix to Tucson, and went back to Travelocity to explore rental car options. I picked a regional company, booked the car, then went back to MapQuest to print out the driving directions.

In other cities I've visited for stamp shows, I've used airport and municipal Web sites to tell me about transportation to and from the airport. I don't usually rent a car — why, when I spend the entire weekend inside at the show? — but take either an airport shuttle or public transportation.

Most hotels involved with stamp shows have their own Web sites, too. The major chains have a page for each location, and these can tell you what amenities the hotel offers, what's nearby, how to get to it, and more.

Wondering what sort of clothes to pack for Tucson in January or Denver in August? The Internet not only yielded the weather forecasts, but what the usual weather is for those cities at those times of the year.

Then surf the Internet for the sites of nearby attractions you might wish to visit. Practically all have a site now. If the hotel site doesn't have a link, try one of the search engines. My favorite is Google ( www.google.com ).

Want to go to a local stamp show but not sure how to drive there? Check MapQuest or a similar site. The driving directions don't always make sense — sometimes MapQuest has tried to send me on a limited-access highway when there's a more direct route on local roads — but it does give me a general idea of how to get there from here, and if I'm not familiar with the area, the directions usually are fine.

(I did once have trouble with MapQuest directions to NAPEX in McLean, Va., so don't take them as gospel. Check a map, if you can — maybe even a MapQuest map!)

When I travel, I visit discussion groups for that area and seek advice in stamp collecting forums from people who live in that area. AmeriStamp 2002 was held in Riverside, Calif. I learned, online, that the best airport for the show was Ontario, Calif., not Los Angeles International. (You Californians may laugh, but you'd probably take Travelocity's suggestion to book at the cheaper airport "near" Newark Liberty — which involves crossing through Manhattan on the way to MacArthur Airport on Long Island.)

Finally, if you can't go to a distant show, you may be able to do "the next best thing" via the Internet. Information and news from many major shows have been posted online on The Virtual Stamp Club within hours of the events. "Palmares" (the lists of exhibit awards) often go up on the Internet within days.

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