Even as the Web opens up new travel vistas, it can also bring a
new set of frustrations until you get the hang of it. Here are
some tips for would-be on-line travelers, geared to those using
the increasing number of French sites.
1. To find the best deals, be patient. Many French travel sites
have not quite made the transition from the old Minitel-based
technology to the full flexibility of the Web. Dégriftour/Réductour,
for instance, is a long-established virtual bucket shop where
great discounts are often available. But getting the information
you need, then finding out whether there are actually seats left
for the flight, hotel rooms, tour packages or whatever youve
picked, takes several steps. (www.degriftour.fr for last-minute
bargains, www.reductour.fr to book farther ahead)
2. When planning a US trip that involves domestic travel, try using
two separate virtual travel agencies a French-based one for
the transatlantic leg and an American one for the internal reservations.
Most American sites are geared to users over there and do not
always list the best rates for flights originating in Europe.
Similarly, French sites rarely offer the full range of US airlines
(especially no-frills carriers) or car rental companies. The cheapest
option may be an open-jaw reservation (www.anyway.fr is the
only French site Ive found so far offering this possibility)
combined with one-way domestic flights on US budget carriers.
3. Pay attention, and read the Web equivalent of the fine print.
The prices listed on most European travel sites do not include
airport taxes. Another problem, noted above, is finding out whether
a given bargain is actually available. The only French site I
know that always gives the total price and only lists deals where
space is available is the speedy, user-friendly www.travelprice.com.
Anyway.fr (see No. 2) does list both before- and after-tax prices.
However, determining availability is relatively easy. The confusingly
similar-sounding www.airway.net gives its prices toutes taxes
comprises or TTC, but after its site has given you the basic info,
you have to order by... Minitel. Once I nearly finalized an order
on www.govoyages.fr before noticing that the itinerary the site
had proposed was for departure a day earlier than I asked, and
there had been no warning of this change. The Nouvelles Frontières
site also has a disconcerting tendency to suggest alternative
dates without pointing out that it is doing so.
4. If you are worried about security, pick an agency that offers
the option of pre-reserving: your booking is made but not finalized
until a human being has contacted you and taken your credit card
info over the good old-fashioned phone or fax. Travelprice and
Voyageurs du Monde (www.vdm.com) are among the sites with this service.
5. Be aware that growing pains in the virtual travel industry can
throw a wrench into the works. The first time I used Travelprice,
for instance, my ticket never arrived I placed my order just
at the moment that Travelprice tripled the size of its operation,
and in the resulting disarray, my ticket fell through a crack.
And a recent attempt to book through www.directours.fr brought up a screen warning of a bug resulting in flights being
listed as available when theyre not really.
6. If youve waited till the last minute to reserve, dont despair.
The Web is full of travel sites for procrastinators. One of the
most interesting is www.promosoldes.com, which offers links not
just to travel deals but for other sales by many different kinds
of retailers. The highly touted www.last-minute.com doesnt always
live up to its billing, but every now and then it features a travel
deal so incredibly cheap that it bears keeping an eye on.
Other popular French travel sites (all the URLs start with www)
look.fr Like many French offerings, this is an established leisure travel
agency (you know, the red monkey) now operating on-line. Best
for package deals.
ebookers.com/fr The French version of a well-known British site; it now owns
the highly regarded lcdv.com (La Compagnie des Voyages) and features
travel planning info from Lonely Planet.
www.voyage.fr The Web site of the French travel channel on TV, full of info
and occasional deals on package tours.
Rebecca Brite is a Paris-based American editor and travel consultant
specializing in northern France. She can be reached at email@example.com.