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Which travel websites can actually help you plan your trip and save money and which are just hype? PC Magazine's Sascha Segan, a frequent Frommers.com contributor, joins David Lytle to review some of the new sites and technologies, and to recommend sites that deserve to be added -- or removed -- from your list. Find out which sites perform the best analysis and number-crunching of fares, which aggregators to check before you go, and hear about some new sites you need to log into.

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Top Tips from This Podcast

See transcript below for links to more information.

  • New Sites to Try: Momondo, Vayama, Fare Compare.
  • Sites to Leave Behind: Sites like Orbitz, Expedia, Travelocity - the first generation of travel agency sites aren't keeping up with the new functionality of the newer generations.
  • Aggregators: The second generation sites such as Kayak and Mobissimo bring in rates from multiple travel agency sites.
  • Research Delays: Try AvoidDelays.com to see the worst times to fly particular airports.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

David Lytle: Welcome to the Frommers.com Travel Podcast. For more information on planning your trip to any one of thousands of destinations, please visit www.frommers.com.

Hi and welcome to the Frommers.com Podcast. I'm David Lytle, editorial director for Frommers.com. Today we're talking with Sascha Segan who's a regular contributor to the site. He's the lead analyst for mobile phones for PC Magazine. He reviews about 100 cell phones a year and posts on several websites including PC Magazine, Gear Log and Abscout. He's also a contributor to several of our books including "Priceline for Dummies" and, lucky for us, Sascha also recently won a Lowell Thomas Award for some of his writing on Frommers.com.

First, congratulations Sascha and hi.
Sascha Segan: Thanks a lot and congratulations to you too David as your editorship of the site has won a Lowell Thomas Award as well.
David: Thanks. We work at that. Pats on our backs here. We're really happy around the office this week because of that. It is nice to get some recognition.

You got recognition for this thing that we love to produce which is consumer advocacy information, which your article on cell phone use that won you the award.

So, the standard question, we ask all the time, will my cell phone work? How do I do this cheaply around the world and I think our readers will really appreciate it.
Sascha: Yes, for me that was a really satisfying article to write because it brought together both the things I do. My work at PC Magazine on cell phones and reviewing cell phones from solving cell phone problems and also my work at Frommer's telling people how to travel efficiently and cheaply.
David: Today what we are going to talk about as we talked in previous conversations, sort of travel 3.0 which is where websites are going now, what we can expect to see in the future. Making accommodations and just accessed information easier for travelers but I think you will probably explain it better.
Sascha: I've seen some really interesting new technologies that are starting to crop up on travel booking websites that I think in the future are going to change at least some of how we think of booking flights. The way I like to think of it is we're entering the third generations of travel booking sites.

The first generation was the traditional travel agency sites that make their own deals with airlines and also access the traditional GDS services. So, we're talking about sites like Travelocity, Expedia and Orbitz.

Then the second generation was aggregators and there a lot of these. It's still a very vibrant field with more popping up all the time. Sites like Kayak, Mobissimo.

And this new one that Arthur Frommer really likes -- Momondo. There's a lot of room for aggregators to improve and for aggregators to get even better for instance one of the things Momondo is doing is combining fares from long haul traditional airlines with fares for the small European low fare carriers.

Traditionally in the past we've seen aggregators cover long hauls and aggregators that cover the European low fares but relatively little bringing them together and Momondo seems to be doing a really good job of that.
David: Right and I think that it's good to point out that Momondo is relatively untested by you and me, we just learned about it today from Arthur that it's a Danish site, so your pricing is going to be in Krones as opposed to dollars right now.
Sascha: Yes, and unfortunately with the way the U.S. dollar is going that may not be the best way for U.S based travelers.

The third generation we're seeing is some sites that are using really new technologies and the two that jump out at me are; Vayama and Fare Compare and you've been checking both those out yourself, right David?
David: Yes, I have. Yes, I'm a big fan of Fare Compare and you heard about Vayama not too long ago on the site and I have been playing around with that since then.
Sascha: One of the things to understand about Vayama is the site that you are looking at right now is almost a demo. It's almost a framework for what they hope to do in the future and what they hope to do in the future is something that I really haven't seen anyone else doing which is a search engine that's based on and can really let you use a map to help you find lower fares. An interactive map, similar to the way Goggle maps work, letting you click on various airports where you see how close they are to each other to look for the lowest fare.
David: One, the map, the interface is super easy to use just your ability to zoom in and out and move around it's a nice user experience.
Sascha: Especially if you're traveling to a place where you kind of don't know the lay of the land. If you're flying to Barcelona and you don't know all that much about Spain, well using Vayama, you click on Barcelona, you notice they're also these other airports, Gerona and Rayus that are kind of close by and so you tweak your route on the map to look for the lowest fares and you get this very visual feedback that a lot more right-brained people will probably respond very well to.
David: This makes much more sense to me than having to just get a list of airfares and some of those can number over 100 for the possibilities that you're looking at and you can only search by pricing or time but not necessarily being able to sort of move your router around a little bit visually.
Sascha: And you can see where on the map you can see where your layovers are happening and if you are actually going forward to go back and all that with strangely placed layovers but the one keystone that's kind of missing from Vayama's system right now that's going to make it really interesting are the European low fares airlines because a lot of the smaller subsidiary airports in Europe are primarily served by these low fare airlines.

Once Vayama gets the low fare airlines into their system you're going to start seeing some real comparisons with, oh my goodness, can I directly fly out of Barcelona first versus flying to London, switching to a low fare and ending up in Gerona and using the maps of these subsidiary airports to make it clearer for you.
David: It's in Beta right now but you can actually book flights through this.
Sascha: Yes and booking flights is a fun to use, relatively reliable, perfectly decent travel agency site, definitely add it to your list of eight or 10 sites that you need to check for every trip.
David: It would be interesting to see when we can start un-recommending sites because we think others do a better job of it and sort of move them off the list.
Sascha: Some of the older ones haven't necessarily kept up; for instance, I'm not really finding a need to go to Expedia or Travelocity or Orbitz any more now that the aggregators can pull in their fares.
David: Right. I find myself starting with Kayak.
Sascha: And I find myself starting with SideStep, which is really six of one and half dozen of the other.
David: Don't they use Fare Compare as part of their site? They do, up in the left hand corner you have the pricing grid over the course of three to six months to see how fares are doing and I thought they were pulling from Fare Compare for that.
Sascha: Yes, I suspect that may be a patented fare technology and that's actually a great segue to talk about Fare Compare where what really impresses me about them is their number crunching. They're doing this amazing statistical analysis to find the lowest fares over time and whether fares are going to go up or down, over the past year what were the best times of year to buy a flight to X. You get this longitudinal analysis that you don't necessarily see on other sites.
David: A common question that we receive is "I want to go from Chicago to Frankfurt. When is the best time to buy a ticket?"
Sascha: Right and Fare Compare can show you that.
David: The answer is never exact. It is based on data collected over time but it is getting you much closer to that actual answer than it is us giving you the rules of the game when they dump flights back into inventory late Wednesday night or whenever that might be now because that also changes. This just makes it easier and it's visual too, which I love.
Sascha: And Fare Compare also brought back a feature which was one of my favorite Travelocity features which seemed to totally disappear which was Travelocity Dream Maps. Fare Compare now calls it Getaway Maps. Those--for crazed travelers like me and you--these maps are--you can basically say, "I live in San Francisco. I have $300. Where can I go?"
David: Provide a different sort of framework for planning a quick trip.
Sascha: Yeah and it lets your imagination expand. Like you'll stumble upon some cheap fare to some location and you think 'Oh, I never thought about going there. But for this little money hey, I'll jump on it.'
David: The upcoming holiday travel season and when are the best days to fly. We've now thrown Fare Compare into the mix. So can you just go over some of that information now about how sites are posting the dates that are better than others around Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's?
Sascha: For some reason I also get the best calendars from Hotwire and Priceline. And that's just a tradition. This year we were also getting data from Kayak and Fare Compare. If you look at--especially our story on Frommers.com because we bring all the calendars together. You find the best days--I don't have the calendars in front of me but you find there are certain days which are less crowded and less expensive over the holidays and you have these four travel websites crunching literally hundreds of thousands of ticket requests to see which are the heaviest travel days. It's really useful. It's a feature we do every year.
David: The days are color coded. Green are the best days, orange are fair to middling, red are going to be the most expensive and of course those most expensive are the most convenient.
Sascha: Now Priceline is doing something particularly interesting with their maps this year which is worth looking at which is Priceline decided to do a calendar both for fares and for crowds. Separate calendars. So that you can look and see if you don't want to be on a completely full flight you can just go by crowdedness. I think that's a really neat feature on Priceline's site at the moment.
David: One of the few times that people do fly is over the holidays to get to family. And for those infrequent flyers I just think it is a slap in the face when you show up in the airport and you realize how crowded it is.
Sascha: Absolutely. If you're an infrequent flyer and you're flying over the holidays the rule is always get to the airport way, way, way in advance. Bring a good book. Get through security as quickly as you can and have a nice long time in the terminal just to relax and hopefully not getting any surprises, hopefully not ending up on the one out of three flights that are delayed nowadays.
David: And if you can, book your flights early in the morning to give you a better chance of getting off the ground. We publish those tips on a regular basis.
Sascha: We had another story a couple months ago that people should look for of tips from air traffic controllers. This is actually a great website. Let me make sure I have the URL right. It's avoiddelays.com.
David: Easy to remember.
Sascha: Yeah. And if you go to avoiddelays.com you see things like the worst times to fly in a particular airport, the most delayed flights and these very personal tips from these guys who are watching these screens all day saying, "Hey, don't try to fly out of Newark after 9:00 a.m." This was a really interesting one. "Don't try to fly into Indianapolis around midnight. You'll get caught in the FedEx crush."
David: Oh, yeah. Interesting. Having lived in Indianapolis I know about the FedEx crush. One of their main terminals is there.
Sascha: This air traffic controller perspective at avoiddelays.com is a good way to get a handle on this unfortunate situation that everybody is in right now.
David: I know that Pauline Frommer has been speaking to the press recently when she's been doing interviews for new shows and she's been talking about the real need, too, to upgrade the air traffic control system. That alone is part of the problem. It's that the system is antiquated compared to the volume of flights in the air. It can't handle it all.
Sascha: Absolutely. It's a huge job. Now before we go--getting back to the topic of travel sites, one thing I wanted to bring up is that if you haven't booked or looked at an actual airline site in a while, you might be really impressed to see how they've improved recently.
David: Oh, really?
Sascha: Yeah, several websites including Delta, U.S. Airways and Iceland Air have all gone to this very flexible calendar based system where you can look a month of flights at a time and pick the days you want to fly a lot more easily than with the old list basis.
David: They're going to stay in the game. They do constantly have to upgrade and I have say I do love the addition of flexibility that they're starting to add in to make it easier for potential consumers to go there and not have to struggle with filtering through so much information that they feel like they're not making an educated choice.
Sascha: I think a lot of people traveling on leisure, especially if you're planing in advance which you should do, are willing to tweak their flight dates a couple of days forward or back for lower fares. These airline websites now will let you do that.
David: Before we go, anything else you want to throw in about some cool technologies that might be coming around the bend in the next few months or years?
Sascha: Well there's a really cool cell phone technology that David Pogue recently wrote about in The New York Times. I'm still trying to get hold of PC Magazine, which is something from Cubic Telecom. It's a SIM card that you put in your cell phone and it gives you simultaneously local phone numbers both in the U.S. and in your destination so people at home can call you on a U.S. phone number and people in say, England, or wherever you are, can call you on a local number there but it always rings on your cell phone wherever you are and it's great because it prevents people from having to make international calls to reach you.
David: Wow! So basically it's turning your phone into two phones at once.
Sascha: It's using some sort of magic involving sites like VoIP system and it all funnels into the real number for your cell phone but, yeah, I saw you can have numbers into 50 different countries so that's definitely worth looking into and I'm trying to get a hold of it.
David: I'll be interested to hear more about that hopefully and we'll pass that information on to Frommer's readers as well. Great. Sascha, thanks for talking today. As always I enjoy talking to you. You're a wealth of information.
Sascha: It's always good to talk to you, David.

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David: For more information on planning your trip, or to hear about the latest travel news and deals, visit us on the web at www.frommers.com. And be sure to email us at editor@frommermedia.com with any comments or suggestions. This has been a production of Wiley Publishing and may not be reused or rebroadcast without express written consent.