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50 most popular travel sites have hidden gems

Chicago Tribune
SEPTEMBER 11, 2005

By Arthur Frommer, King Features

Which are the most popular travel Web sites? And if you knew the answer to that question, would you perhaps be alerted to a site or two that might prove of value to your own travel planning?

I think so. Millions of travelers can't be wrong in making their Internet choices. And the choices of those millions are tabulated on www.alexa.com, which ranks the popularity of travel Web sites, starting with www.expedia.com (No. 1 in popularity) and proceeding on to www.iranair.com (No. 500) and beyond.

But the first 50 most popular travel Web sites are enough to provide us with important leads.

Of those first 50 most popular travel Web sites, six are heavily used U.S.-related airfare search engines (Orbitz, Travelocity, Expedia and all the rest), with which almost all American travelers are already familiar. Eleven are the sites of the biggest U.S. airlines, starting with Southwest and American Airlines, and two are the largest cut-rate airlines of Europe--Ryanair and EasyJet.

Also appearing in the top 50 are the heavily used Web sites of five popular hotel chains and four overseas airlines. You're familiar with all of them. Two are the heavily used currency Web sites--www.xe.com and www.oanda.com--enabling you to know the exchange rates for your U.S. dollar; and one is the Canadian version of Expedia. It's in the remaining 19 where we find useful sites that, popular as they might be, are still not known to everyone.

One of those 19 is the extremely handy, European-operated www.venere.com, which provides rates for thousands of hotels in Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and elsewhere, of which many prices are specially discounted for the site.

Another remarkable site in the remaining 19 is www.vrbo.com, standing for "Vacation Rentals by Owner," listing U.S. vacation homes and their rates, as offered directly by the people who own them.

Of the rental-car firms, only the Web site of Enterprise Rent-a-Car is in the top 50 (and thus in the remaining 19), confirming the surprising fact that Enterprise might be the largest U.S. car-rental organization.

Of the various series of travel books, only the Web sites of my own www.frommers.com and www.lonelyplanet.com are found in the top 50 (which is not why I chose to write about this subject). The continued heavy use of travel agents (and not the Internet) to make cruise reservations probably accounts for the fact that none of the Web sites of the big cruise lines is found in the top 50, although the Web site of one major cruise discounter--www.vacationstogo.com--is.

And finally, if you've ever consulted the various Web sites for hotel reservations in Las Vegas, you'll feel pleased that the impressive www.vegas.com, operated by the city's major newspaper, The Las Vegas Sun, is found in the 50 most popular Web sites. It's a model for Web sites dealing with any location.

To consult the entire list of the 50 most popular Web sites, go to www.alexa.com, click on "travel" (under Recreation), then on "Most popular in travel," and under that listing, click on "See top sites in all travel categories," which will lead you to the top 50.

You might find the exercise extremely valuable.

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