UPRIGHT AND LOCKED

SkyTeam Expands

Northwest, Continental and KLM Royal Dutch airlines will announce Sept. 13 that after two years of negotiations, they've become part of the SkyTeam alliance. That means, among other things, that frequent-flier miles earned on any of the three carriers can be redeemed for flights on the other alliance carriers.

Current SkyTeam members are Delta, AeroMexico, Air France, Alitalia, Czech Airlines and Korean Air. Last week, China Southern Airlines started the process involved in becoming a SkyTeamer. Aeroflot, Russia's state airline, is also in the process of joining the alliance and expects approval sometime next year.

Airlines hope to benefit from such alliances by attracting new customers and expanding their flight options. For consumers, such alliances open more possibilities for using frequent-flier miles and streamlines ticket purchases by allowing travelers to buy one ticket while flying more than one airline on connecting flights. SkyTeam alliance members operate more than 13,000 flights a day to more than 600 airports. The alliance also enables members of one carrier's airport club to have reciprocal privileges at the lounges of other members.

Info: www.skyteam.com.

PLAN AHEAD

Vote on Vacation

Now that the political conventions are over, all eyes are on Election Day. If you're away on Nov. 2, you can still vote via absentee ballot. But remember it's a two-part process, so don't wait until the last minute. Here's what you need to know:

* Maryland. Absentee ballot applications are available on the Maryland State Board of Election's Web site, through county election offices (contact info is listed on the same Web site) or by phone from the State Board of Elections or local boards of elections. Applications are due Oct. 26 by 4:30 p.m. by mail, or midnight by fax. Ballots will then be sent out and must be received by mail by 4 p.m. on Nov. 3 (domestic) or 4 p.m. on Nov. 12 (overseas). Alternately, with a completed application in hand, you can vote in person between Oct. 27 and 8 p.m. Nov. 2. Info: 800-222-8683, www.electionsmaryland.com.

* Virginia. Absentee voting applications -- available on the Web site of the Virginia State Board of Elections or at your local voter registration office (facilities listed online) -- must be mailed or faxed by Oct. 28. Ballots are due by 7 p.m. on Nov. 2 (mail only). You can also vote in person at local registrar offices after Sept. 18 and before 5 p.m. Oct. 30. Info: 800-552-9745, www.sbe.virginia.gov.

* D.C. Walk-ins can cast an absentee ballot at the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics office (441 Fourth St. NW, Suite 250) from Oct. 18 to 4:45 p.m. Nov. 1. By mail or fax, applications must be received by the board of elections office by Oct. 26. Mailed ballots must be postmarked on or before Nov. 2. Info: 202-727-2525, www.dcboee.org.

HOBBIT WATCH

A Lotta 'LOTR'

CoGo may not be proficient in Elvish, but we somehow found ourselves at Boston's Museum of Science checking out "The Lord of the Rings Motion Picture Trilogy -- The Exhibition," the show's only scheduled North American stop. For $19, we thought, it better be good. So is it?

Filled with displays of costumes, weaponry and special effects wizardry, the show is all about the details -- from the carved handles of Elven swords to the scale models of the Two Towers.

CoGo particularly enjoyed the "Scaling Interactive" booth, where for $5 you get pictures of you and your compatriot in Gandalf's horse cart. Depending on where you sit, you're as small as a hobbit or as big as a wizard.

Bottom line: It's great for uberdorks and non-geeks alike. Even if you only have a passing interest in the Oscar-winning flicks, you might enjoy this pricey little trip to Middle-earth.

The show runs through Oct. 24. Details: 617-723-2500, www.mos.org/lotr.

BARGAIN OF THE WEEK

See Seattle

Fly nonstop to Seattle for $187 round trip, including taxes. Details: What's the Deal?, Page P3.

Reporting: Andrea Sachs, Cindy Loose, Elizabeth C. Gonzalez.

Help feed CoGo. Send travel news to: cogo@washpost.com. By fax: 202-912-3609. By mail: CoGo, Washington Post Travel Section, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071.