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10/14/2005
02:32 PM
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New Tool Makes Coordinating Travel Itineraries A Snap

Provides a way for two travelers to spend as much time together as possible--or not.

Anyone who's tried to put together a trip in which two people starting in different cities meet in a common destination knows that such coordination requires a flurry of online research, E-mails, and phone calls, often ending in wildly diverging arrival and departure times.

Travelocity's Site59, an online specialist in last-minute travel arrangements, has moved to jump on that opportunity with a new tool that aims to simplify the booking of such complex plans.

Dubbed "Meet Me In...", the technology, which is the subject of a pending application with the U.S. Patent Office, relies on a complex set of algorithms to automate the process of creating a coordinated itinerary. Upon pointing a browser to www.site59.com, users can click on a new tab for booking a trip from two departure cities. The site then walks the prospective traveler through a typical online booking process, asking for departure and arrival dates and hotel preferences, and offering rental car options.

The real innovation happens once the information is entered and the user presses "search." At that point, the site scours the Web for a lineup of discounted itineraries that coordinate arrivals and departures to maximize the time two people will spend together. A sample booking in which two travelers, one starting in New York and the other in San Jose, Calif., want to meet in Chicago in two weeks for three nights at the exclusive W Hotel, with a mid-size rental car, demonstrated the tool's whiz-bang capabilities. After a 30-second delay to perform the search and assemble the data, the site brought up several packages, including one in which the two travelers would arrive in Chicago within 20 minutes of each other and depart just 15 minutes apart--both flying on American Airlines. Total price for the two airfares, the stay at the W, and the rental car: a reasonable $1,672.55.

The tool displays a total "time together" for each alternative, allowing travel bookers to choose itineraries based on how much time they want to spend with their traveling cohorts--in other words, they can maximize the time they spend with a friend or family member, or minimize their time with less-desired co-travelers. (The Chicago trip sampled above yielded results ranging from 3 days, 8 hours, and 31 minutes together to a shorter period of 2 days, 14 hours, 10 minutes.)

One minor quibble: "Meet Me In..." doesn't let travelers specify airlines up front to take advantage of preferred frequent-flyer programs. But there was a field to enter frequent flyer numbers for the selected airline once the itinerary was chosen. Also, although the tool does provide a breakdown of the travelers' individual costs, it doesn't appear to allow separate payment, leaving them to sort out who owes what to whom later. One other consideration: Because Site59 specializes in last minute deals, the beta version of "Meet Me In..." only allows travelers to book trips up to two weeks in advance, with a return date no more than 17 days out.

A beta version of "Meet Me In..." is live on the Site59 site, with plans to expand it to the last-minute packages area of Travelocity sometime early next year.

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