TRAVEL LAB REPORT

RESEARCH QUESTION: When visiting San Francisco, it's often much cheaper to fly into nearby Oakland or San Jose--but is it equally easy to get into the city from the two distant airports?

MOTIVATING FACTOR: Coming across a $213 BWI-Oakland round-trip fare last month when fares to San Francisco were $325 round trip.

RESULTS:

From San Francisco International Airport (15 miles from downtown), you can:

* Ride the SamTrans BX bus from the terminal to the Colma BART station ($1.10, 15 minutes), then take the train into the city ($2.25, about 20 minutes). Total time: 35 minutes (plus waiting). Total cost: $3.35.

* Catch a shuttle van (companies include Door-to-Door Airport Express, 415-775-5121, and Advanced Airporter, 415-550-1112). Total time: about 40 minutes. Total cost: $10-$25 (the high end represents reserved seats).

* Take a taxi. Total time: 30 to 40 minutes. Total cost: about $35.

From Oakland International Airport (20 miles), you can:

* Ride an Air-BART bus to the Coliseum BART station ($2, 10 minutes), then take the train into San Francisco ($2.75, 15 minutes). Total time: about 25 minutes (plus waiting). Total cost: $4.75.

* Catch a shuttle (companies include Air-Transit Shuttle, 510-568-3434). Total time: 30 to 40 minutes. Total cost: $15-$40.

* Take a taxi. Total time: 30 to 40 minutes. Total cost: $30-$35.

From San Jose International Airport (40 miles), you can:

* Ride the No. 10 bus to the Santa Clara Caltrain station (free, about 20 minutes), then take the train (Caltrain, 650-508-6200) into San Francisco ($4.75, 1 hour 25 minutes). Total time: 1 hour 45 minutes (plus waiting). Total cost: $4.75.

* Catch a shuttle (lines include Silicon Valley Airporter, 650-869-4476, and SJC Airporter, 408-499-2691. Total cost: $59-$69. Total time: 75 minutes.

* Take a taxi. Total cost: about $85-$100. Total time: 40-60 minutes.

CONCLUSION: San Jose's bus/train combo takes too long, and its taxi and shuttle rides are too costly. But Oakland's taxis and shuttles compete with similar options from San Francisco. We flew into Oakland, pocketed our $112 air-fare savings and enjoyed a smooth public transit commute to San Francisco.

--John Briley

WHAT'S THE DEAL?

Tahoe Skiing, Russian Touring

* With Heavenly Tahoe Vacations, you can save more than $500 to ski--and drive around--the mountain resort on the California/Nevada state line. For $292 per person, the land-only deal includes: four nights at the Forest Inn Suites (suite rates usually start at $150 per night), three-day lift ticket (usually $54 a day) and a four-wheel drive vehicle (13 percent tax not included). Complete your stay by Jan. 25; car pickup is at the airport, an hour-plus drive from the mountain. The two-bedroom at the Forest Inn, just a mile from the mountain, sleeps four and includes continental breakfast, though each suite has kitchen facilities. Flights from BWI to Reno, Nev., start at around $200. Details: 1-800-2-HEAVEN, www.skiheavenly.com.

* Eastern Tours is offering a trip to two Russian cities for not much more than air fare to one. The $599 deal, plus about $205 in taxes and visa, includes: round-trip American flight from Dulles to St. Petersburg via New York (usually about $600); three nights at the Hotel Okhtinskaya in St. Petersburg; overnight train to Moscow; two nights at the Alfa Hotel in Moscow; four sightseeing tours (two city tours, the Hermitage Museum, and the Kremlin and Moscow cathedrals); tickets to the Moscow circus and the ballet or a folk show; daily breakfast; and that all-important security guard. Depart by March 30; a 30-day advance ticket purchase is recommended to allow time for the visa. Details: 1-800-339-6967 or 212-683-8930, www.traveltorussia.com.

--Andrea Sachs

TRAVEL TIP 128

Tracking Your Mail

PROBLEM: When traveling by cruise ship or on land (especially on long trips), you wonder if all mail is being received by family, friends and business associates back home.

SOLUTION: Number all correspondence sent to each person, advises Alberta D. Hamilton of Mitchellville, Md.--especially if some of that information is instructional, such as "Pay this bill." If the person receives Letter 5 and did not get Letter 4, he or she will be aware of it. Of course, if you're going to be this organized, you probably don't also need to be told to keep a record of your outgoing mail by letter number, so that when you return, you can determine if it was received and acted upon.

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TO DO

HOME NEXT WEEK?

Drink wine, eat cheese and sing French songs, Friday, Alliance Francaise, 202-234-7911, www.francedc.org.

THE REGION

Frederick, Md.: Feb. 12-13, Cabin Fever Festival, 301-898-5466, www.cabinfeverfestival.com. Lift your winter blues at the arts and crafts shop-a-thon, housed in seven buildings.

Cape Fear, N.C.: Feb. 26, Ceilidh Festival, 910-763-0000. Kilts are de rigueur when jigging like a Highlander and whistling to bagpipes.

THE NATION

San Francisco: Feb. 12-14, International Antiquarian Book Fair, 212-944-8291, www.sanfranciscobook- fair.com. Words are precious, but even more so, say, in a15th-century schoolbook with chewed pages.

Oklahoma City: Feb. 10-12, WinterTales 2000, 405-270-4848, www.artscouncilokc.com/winter- tales. The spoken word is expressed through folklore and fantasies, five-string banjo, even sign language.

THE WORLD

Sapporo, Japan: Feb. 7-13, Sapporo Snow Festival, 212-757-5640. International sculpting teams carve out frozen masterpieces--the Taj Mahal, St. Paul's Cathedral, Mona Lisa--that outsparkle the originals.

Send news about events, festivals and other things To Do by e-mail to travcal@washpost.com.