Web travel agent Orbitz (www.orbitz.com) is sprucing up its travelers' tool kit with a new flight-search option, an expanded inventory of hotel rooms and a beefed-up lodging locator.

The airfare finder, debuting this weekend, is aimed at people with flexible travel plans. It shows the cheapest fares available over a 30-day period, instead of making users guess which date will offer the best deal (turn to today's Travel section for a look at how this "flexible date" tool works).

Orbitz also has added more hotel rooms through deals with independent hotel operators. The site, founded by American, Continental, Delta, Northwest and United airlines, previously offered rooms mostly through a third-party consortium but now negotiates directly with many hotels. Orbitz can now sort hotel rooms by the availability of discounted "Orbitz Saver" rates, which require full payment in advance.

Lastly, Orbitz's "hotel matrix" search allows users to look for rooms by distance from a landmark, address, price, or quality. For example, you can type "Sears Tower" directly in the hotel search box to find rooms close to Chicago's tallest skyscraper. In some big cities, Orbitz has also added neighborhood pages with maps of nearby hotels.

Name-Brand Bloggers Join the Fray

This week brought a few more announcements from professional writers and executives launching their own daily "Web log" journals -- blogs for short. (By blog-culture standards, these folks are latecomers; many bloggers have been publishing their musings online for the past five years.)

Last week Lycos culture writer Aaron Schatz launched the "Lycos 50 pop culture" blog, which features commentary and tidbits the former disc jockey gleans from Hotbot Web-search data and other online resources.


And at the end of January, the founder of the now-defunct Upside and Red Herring magazines, Tony Perkins, launched the AlwaysOn Network, what he calls a "superblog for business geeks." A community blog created jointly by members, it says 7,000 folks have registered to participate so far. The free site aims to generate revenue by letting advisers communicate directly with members.


Phoning It In

Put that keyboard down: A new service called AudioBlogger lets people post updates to their personal Web journals from any phone. The $3-a-month service includes a dozen two-minute messages: You call a number and record your message and AudioBlogger automatically posts a time-stamped link to the sound file on your blog.

So far, this only works with Blogger, the publishing tool Google bought last month, but AudioBlogger creator ListenLab says it will soon support other blogging systems.


Pay-Per-View Medical Research

McGraw-Hill Professional has launched a paid medical library on the Web called AccessMedicine. Aimed at health care workers but also open to individuals, it features publications on internal medicine, cardiology, genetics and other topics.


E-mail Leslie Walker at walkerl@washpost.com.