Ed Perkins on Travel
9:30 AM EDT, September 30, 2013
You seldom have to wait long for the next online innovation. Here are three recent developments that can make your travel a bit easier or more rewarding.
Online Turkish Visa. It's not even June yet, but Turkish Airlines initiated what may become the year's best idea: You can now apply for a Turkish visa online without having to visit any consulate or send your passport anywhere. To use the new "e-visa" program, log onto evisa.com.gov.tr/en, enter your data, and pay a $20 fee by MasterCard or Visa. You need a passport valid at least for another six months and some record of flights in and out of Turkey. U.S. and Canadian citizens can fly in and out on any airline; citizens of a few countries must use Turkish Airlines only. As soon as your visa is allowed, you can download a copy. The service will also mail you a paper copy. Although the e-visa isn't attached to your passport, you must carry it with you at all times when you're in Turkey.
Turkey isn't one of the countries with the toughest visa requirements. You can get one at an international airport on arrival, so you never need to go through the tedious consulate requirement of using a visa service. But having a visa in advance avoids possible long lines and delays on arrival -- and now, with e-visa, there's no downside.
The importance of this innovation goes beyond Turkey. It can serve as a model for other countries that could adopt this easy and sensible approach -- especially those countries that do not provide short-term visas upon arrival. China, India, and others -- are you listening?
Sabre Lists Economy Plus. Sabre (sabre.com), one of the "big three" online travel agencies, and United Airlines have cut a deal for Sabre to list and sell United's semi-premium "Economy Plus" seats. Sabre also handles the small number of "Choice" seats on US Airways, but that's a much less important or useful product than United's. Currently, American, Delta, Frontier and JetBlue offer their own versions of semi-premium economy, but I know of no OTA that can display availability and prices for these lines of sell confirmed tickets.
The question of whether and how third-party agencies such as Sabre can sell premium seats -- as well as a laundry list of other ancillaries -- has become the center of a major controversy between airlines, on one side, and a mix of OTAs, other travel agencies, and corporate travel departments. This deal clearly points to at least one solution to the problem. The next moves are up to other airlines and other OTAs. Stay tuned.
Improved Airfare Search Display. Metasearch site Momondo (momondo.com) has upgraded its search display with three very useful features:
-- A "price calendar" displays the range of prices available for the entire month that includes the dates you initially specify. Presumably, the search would display any substantial day-to-day differences, but in my limited tests, I did not find any big differences. And, of course, the display cannot tell you whether airlines will raise or lower fares for your selected time period.
-- A "best" fit option displays three "sliders" that allow you to filter the results depending on the relative importance to you of price or travel time, departure times, and arrival times.
-- For some itineraries, a third "flight insight" screen allows you to display a graph day-to-day fare variations for the preceding six months, a similar graph showing fare variations depending on how far in advance you buy, bar graphs showing the fare variations within a week, bar graphs showing relative prices on each airline, relative prices at alternative airports, and fare pattern by time of day.
Hotel and Airline Points Together. PointsHound (pointshound.com) is primarily a hotel booking site, but in can also give you miles in some airline programs on some bookings. The "secret" is simple: PointsHound earns enough in commissions from the hotel bookings to buy the airline miles it awards. Take a look if you're interested.
(Send e-mail to Ed Perkins at eperkins(at)mind.net. Perkins' new book for small business and independent professionals, "Business Travel When It's Your Money," is now available through http://www.mybusinesstravel.com or http://www.amazon.com)
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