Airlines, Sell Thyselves

When airlines last month again cut commissions they pay to travel agents for selling tickets, the question arose, If the airlines squash agents like bugs, how will people buy airline tickets? One possible answer emerged this week.

Four big airlines--United, Northwest, Continental and Delta--plan to launch an "independent" Web travel site by mid-2000, designed to sell tickets online and attract customers from traditional agents and online agencies like Expedia and Travelocity. The group promises a comprehensive air/hotel/car/package/destination site, adding one-stop shopping for many lines' Internet-only air offers. The plan could cut airline costs by eliminating commissions paid to intermediaries.

Krista Pappas, senior analyst with Gomez Advisors, says "this could make it a lot harder for travel agents" of all types to "find a place" in the changing world of online travel.

For a report on the state of the online travel industry gleaned from PhoCusWright '99, the industry's annual convention, see Page E9.


Morning in . . . Lubec

Lubec, Maine--a picturesque but innocuous fishing village that happens to occupy the easternmost point of land in the United States--is hosting celebrations to greet the first rays of sun on U.S. soil in the year 2000. Gimmicky? No more so than other Y2K schemes. A color guard and children's singing group will perform New Year's Eve; early-morning fireworks and a prayer service are planned for Jan. 1. The truly committed will be invited to take a new-year dip in the Atlantic.

Details and accommodations: 207-733-7508, www.nemaine.com/lubecmillennium.


Uninsured at Sea

It's getting harder buy travel insurance for a Renaissance Cruise. Four leading travel insurers--Access America, CSA, Travel-Guard and Travelex--will no longer write policies for Renaissance cruisers.

"Insurers are not dropping Renaissance because of doubts about its financial condition," says Dave Lemieux, owner of Santa Barbara Cruise & Tour Concierge. They're reacting to Renaissance's notorious inflexibility. If you cancel a Renaissance booking within 119 days (about four months) of sailing, you lose the entire fare. Unless you're insured, which means the insurer has to cough up--and which explains why many quit underwriting Renaissance sailings.

The company's policies are famously hostile to changes. A CoGo reader in Bethesda called this week to report about a fellow passenger whose husband died three weeks before the trip. To sail in his place, the passenger's daughter had to pay an additional fare. Lemieux says such callous treatment is "one of the tradeoffs for getting super deals."

Renaissance provides customers with a short list of lesser-known agencies that still sell policies for the line. If refunds and cancellability matter, though, consider sailing Carnival, whose policies are more flexible.

Bargain of the week

Take the Gang Downhill

Take your kids skiing to Utah, for free. Southwest Airlines is offering a kids fly, stay and ski free promotion. One child age 2-11 goes free for each adult purchasing a two-night or longer ski package. A five-day, four-night holiday package for two adults and two children, including round-trip air fare from BWI to Salt Lake City, hotel room, car rental and four days of lift tickets good at several resorts, was quoted at $1,774. A similar package in mid-January was priced at $1,317. You must book by Jan. 31 and travel Nov. 30-April 13. Information: 1-800-754-8438, www.swavacations.com.

Help feed CoGo. Send travel news, road reports and juicy tattles to:

cogo@washpost.com. Fax: 202-334-1069. Mail: CoGo, Washington Post Travel Section, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071. Include name and phone number.