Thursday, November 5, 2009

05/11: Travel tidbits!

My erstwhile intention for this blog was to create a forum for more than just trading discussion. With this big-picture in mind, allow me to share in this post some of my most valuable travel resources, ranging from online tools, to communities of travellers, to insightful blogs.

Before I embark, however, allow me to present an overview of my involvement with the realm of travel. A product of Chicago's Northwest side, I grew up with a steady stream of low-flying aircraft on arrival to the then-busiest airport in the world, O'Hare; airplanes were a part of my daily milieu. Moreover, my father was a one-time airline mechanic and glider pilot, both decades ago; hence, stories about the field (aviation) and business (airlines) were omnipresent. Day-trips for us included jaunts aboard Chicago's Blue Line to O'Hare, where we'd clear security and walk the terminals, my dad serving as guide and noting the difference between a Delta DC-10 here and a United 727 there.

My travel interest jumped into an altogether higher gear during the sophomore and junior years of high school, when I became cognizant of and excited about managing my dad's and my own frequent flier accounts. Neither of us was a frequent traveller by any means, yet my father began using an airline-branded credit card and I, too, was seeing more intensive mileage accrual by virtue of VFR (visiting friends and relatives) trips to Europe and some domestic travels for skiing or introductory scoping-out of colleges. At this time, I developed affinity for United Airlines and the Star Alliance. Given my relatively meager quantity of mileage-earning possibilities, it became imperative to focus on one travel program, and United won-out thanks to a heavy Chicago presence, partnership with Lufthansa, LOT Polish Airlines, and SAS (carriers that were most conducive to my VFR travels), and certain emotional goodwill earned by the airline's artistically inspirational Gershwin-based advertising campaign and avant-garde O'Hare terminal, particularly the psychedelic neon-light and surreal audio (I'm mindful of croaking frogs meet a Steinway, for some reason) of the inter-concourse, under-tarmac walkway.

Finally, and as indicated in earlier posts on this blog, my travel interest really took-off (apologies, urbane reader) with commencement of mileage running during my freshman year of university. Whether this pivotal move, which led to flying -- and especially the labor-intensive search for airfare deals -- becoming **at times** a psychological crutch and/or an avoidance mechanism, was utility-generating or -destroying is up for debate. It's undeniable, however, that my move towards flying one hundred thousand miles (and up) per annum was monumental in the development of my interest in travel and airlines. The experience has been profoundly instructive, and I shall now endeavor to share a sliver of the online resources, communities and blogs that I personally find most value-creating:


Online resources

Without a doubt, the greatest online travel resource I've come across is ITA Software, a powerful booking engine through which an advanced user can conjure up elusive travel options according to her criteria. (Note: If clicking on the above link, choose to log-in as a guest.) What about Orbitz, Expedia, et al, you might ask, and rightly so. ITA is head-and-shoulders more powerful than any other booking engine, but only if the user takes the time to learn its jargon -- which, incidentally, is too much for this post, but can be accessed via the 'Help' link on the site and, additionally, on, the subject of the subsequent paragraph.

Online communities

Forgive me, dear reader, for the audacity of including but a single resource in the above, plural-labeled 'Resources' section. I shall not cheat you in this section; I promise. The most important online community in the travel universe is undoubtedly The website is a hub for travel geeks -- and, after having met dozens of site users, many are indeed 'geeky'! -- yet one should not be put off by that veneer. Flyertalk is awash with travel-related tips and tricks, and the treasure trove of information is conveniently arranged on message boards grouped according to specific travel program, e.g. United Mileage Plus, Starwood Preferred Guest, etc. The community can be a tremendous resource; yet, that rose of information is surrounded by unusually vitriolic thorns of waste. In my experience, Flyertalk can become addictive and ultimately utility-sapping (as can any endeavor-turned-addiction), and the travel aficionado should be on perpetual guard.

Another interesting community is, a hub for minutiae relating to airline operations and strategy, and also the online mecca for aircraft photography. I've less experience with, but I do sometimes venture there for insightful analysis of airline news.

Travel blogs

It's risky to make recommendations on travel blogs, as this category is most temperamental and volatile. Blogs pop-up constantly, and the majority have Lilliputian half-lives (and lives). That said, I value the contributions of One Mile at a Time and Wing and a Prayer. Neither is everything to everyone, yet One Mile is valuable for its breadth and Wing earns accolades for literary flair (an accomplishment that's certainly rare for the dime-a-dozen format that is the blog).

Thanks for reading!

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