Point, Click And Travel

Activists of Pakistan People's Party shout slogans as they hold pictures of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, now exiled, during a demonstration in Lahore, May 5, 2007. President Pervez Musharraf banned Bhutto on Friday from returning to Pakistan for upcoming elections.
Arif Ali/AFP/Getty Images
A long winter has many people looking ahead to summer vacations, and more and more, the planning is being done on the Internet.

Regina Lewis, AOL's online adviser and author of "Wired in a Week," in an Early Show interview, describes how best to take advantage of online travel resources.

The Internet has really transformed the travel industry forever, she says. Online travel is actually the biggest e-commerce category, making up about 30 percent of all online sales. So to the tune of about 60 million online travelers and several billion dollars, it's really gone mainstream.

There are three key ways people use the Internet when it comes to travel:

  • Research: "I'm thinking about a cruise, but would like to know more about how they work."
  • Planning: "We're driving across country and need to know where the campgrounds are."
  • Booking/Purchasing reservations: "We want to go to see Grandma this summer and are looking for the best fares."
If you have access to an online service provider like MSN, CompuServe or AOL, you can start by going to their Travel Channel where all of the resources will be pulled together in one place. You can search by destination, interest, or price.

To get the great deals, it's important to be flexible. It also helps to travel in the off-season and to take advantage of packages. Says Lewis, "Being a dedicated bargain bee means logging on regularly to keep tabs on the latest deals, which change regularly."

For instance, if you're planning a weekend trip, Wednesdays and Thursdays are key days. That's when the airlines start to offer deep discounts on undersold flights.

You can also have this information sent directly - or "pushed" to you. For instance, you can subscribe to newsletters from airlines, which are sent out weekly with the best deals, based on which flights have seats left.

Among the carriers offering newsletters are United Airlines, American Airlines, and Northwest Airlines.

What's the best-kept secret in online travel? A new program by American Airlines has the largest incentive miles program in the world. Now, you can earn and redeem airline miles online.

Miles are a new kind of currency. So, if you take online surveys, book your reservations online, all of those miles add up and can be put toward a trip. Also, if you have unused miles (and millions of people do), especially those small increments that aren't enough for a trip to Florida, you can use the miles toward books, music CDs and other products. So, that's buying power a lot of people didn't even know they had.

In planning road trips, the Internet can be enormously helpful, too, says Lewis. Sites like DigitalCity.com have all kinds of information on area events, from craft fairs to parades.

Also, before you get in the car, map sites can be a terrific resource for driving directions. In addition to allowing you to print detailed directions with mileage, you can even ask it to pinpoint rest stops along the way, and if you've ever traveled with children, you know how important that can be.