BORDER PATROL

Sins of the Past

A CoGo reader was shocked recently to be denied entry into Canada. The reason: Four years ago, he was convicted in the United States of driving under the influence of alcohol.

"I was put on the next plane back home. Sad, humiliating, and I think ridiculous," says the man, who asked that his name not be used.

Actually, most countries bar foreign visitors with criminal records for some period of time. But each country has widely differing rules on what qualifies as a serious enough infraction to bar the door. Canada's rules generally apply to any indictable criminal offense, including drunk driving and shoplifting -- offenses they can find on various criminal databases. Basically, if whatever you did was serious enough for a grand jury to consider, you'd better call the Canadian consulate before heading north. Last year Canadian officials refused admittance to 17,841 foreign visitors because of their criminal records, said immigration spokesman Jean-Pierre Morin.

But he adds that his country allows for rehabilitation. A foreign national with a single offense is deemed rehabilitated after 10 years. If at least five years have passed since your crime, you might be able to apply for rehabilitation by filling out a form; decisions are made on a case-by-case basis at the Canadian consulate. Details: www.cic.gc.ca.

SITE INSPECTION

ISO Best Fares

CoGo has long advised that there is no single place to find the cheapest airline ticket every time. So of course we were anxious to hear what Consumer WebWatch would find during an exhaustive test comparing prices of international tickets at the Big Three online agencies -- Orbitz, Expedia and Travelocity -- and the Web sites of 15 airlines.

This just in: Orbitz had the lowest fares 30 percent of the time, according to the nonprofit consumer watchdog. Northwest/KLM had the lowest fares 27 percent of the time, followed by Expedia (23 percent) and Travelocity (19 percent).

Given that many airlines promise they'll include their best deals on their own sites, how can the online travel agencies ever come out ahead, let alone most of the time? It's because their search engines figure out connecting flights involving different carriers, said Orbitz spokeswoman Maryellen Thielen.

For comparison purposes, the study included only prices that were actually available when it came time to book. But it also kept track of how often initial prices turned out to be higher or lower than originally stated. Orbitz, said study co-author Bill McGee, had that problem more often than any other site.

Thielen said the mistakes occur for a variety of technical reasons, and that the company is in the midst of making software improvements to minimize the problem.

TRAVEL TICKER

"Backscatter" X-ray machines that can see right through your undies will be tested at three airports soon, but the Transportation Security Agency hasn't yet announced where or when . . . The Canadian Embassy in D.C. will host a free travel seminar on Canadian rail trips Thursday at 7:30 pm. Call 866-704-3528 for reservations . . . CNN has launched a behind-the-scenes tour of its studios in the new Time Warner Center at Columbus Circle in Manhattan. The 45-minute tour is $15. The tour of the Atlanta studios continues. NBC is the only other network to offer studio tours, and they're cheaper, starting at $7.50 in Burbank, Calif., and $10 in New York.

BARGAIN OF THE WEEK

Southwest Savings

One-way fares start at $39 with Southwest's systemwide sale. Details: What's the Deal?, Page P3.

Reporting: Cindy Loose.

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