Divulging Your Data
Airlines and other online travel providers do a better job than other Web businesses in terms of providing easy navigation through their sites, being responsive to inquiries, and having open and honest information about their policies, says a new study by the Consumer Respect Group, a consulting firm that studies online retailers. But they perform less well than other businesses when it comes to privacy.
A whopping 74 percent of car rental companies share data collected from online customers with either business partners or third parties, said CRG spokesman George Cohen. What kind of data? Typically, name, address, e-mail address and phone number, and possibly info customers provide in demographic surveys.
If companies share your data, says Cohen, "You can expect more spam and more junk mail. Plus the more information someone knows about you, the easier it is to scam you."
Two car rental companies, Cohen said, do not share data: Enterprise and Alamo. Only two major providers, Cohen said, share data without your express consent: Orbitz shares with third parties, and Priceline with other entities within the parent company.
Major travel companies that will not share data unless you agree to opt in, according to Cohen: Northwest, Southwest and Air Tran airlines; InterContinental and Hyatt hotel chains; Travelocity, Expedia, Hotels.com and Cheaptickets booking sites; and Amtrak and Greyhound.
New Car Rental Options
Smart phone and PDA users can now use those devices to comparison shop and book car rentals.
Last week CarRentals.com, a search engine for booking car rentals, added new technology that recognizes a smart phone or a personal digital assistant and automatically redirects users to a page that has been simplified and made to fit a small screen. Although smart phones and PDAs provide wireless access to the Internet, they usually cannot access content on travel sites, said CarRentals spokesman David Morton, because the information doesn't fit on a small screen and complicated graphics stupefy the devices.
Also last week, the online travel site Kayak.com added car rentals. The site has a couple of nifty features, including a checklist that allows you to view with one click any or all types of cars by price. So, for example, you immediately can see what the cheapest economy will cost, compared with the cheapest convertible.
The site also offers the option of comparing prices at the airport and other nearby locations. But be careful: CoGo's test search for cars in or near the San Francisco airport included an option with an airport address, but the airport was in Oakland.
CoGo tested both sites against the big three online booking sites, Orbitz, Expedia and Travelocity. All five came up with the same lowest price, albeit from different companies, for an economy car in San Francisco: $29 a day, plus taxes and fees. Kayak.com also gave the option of $22 a day, but only if the car was picked up in Oakland.
Bottom line: Shop around, but if you see a price you like, grab it and get on with life.
Avoid Egypt's South Sinai and crowded tourist destinations in Cairo, the U.S. State Department advised last week. Details: www.travel.state.gov . . . Royal Caribbean and Celebrity cruise lines are now allowing online check-in for Navigator of the Seas and Zenith. Online check-in will be available on all other ships for both lines in September . . . Five beaches in the northern part of Lake Tahoe remained closed last week after 120,000 gallons of sewage spewed from a broken pipe. For recorded updates: 530-584-1500.
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Reporting: Cindy Loose.
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