Travel alerts ward off travel annoyances
Electronic alerts can give the traveler an inside edge on information affecting their plans.
By Donna Rosato, MONEY Magazine staff writer

NEW YORK (MONEY) - There's nothing more annoying than getting to the airport and finding out your flight is delayed. Or arriving at your hotel and discovering it is in the midst of a noisy renovation.

You can reduce those types of travel headaches by signing up for electronic "travel alerts." These are text or voice messages that warn travelers about gate changes, flight delays and cancellations, weather issues and other travel troubles that might affect a trip. You can get these warnings via e-mail, cell phone and other devices.

"It's a challenge getting around these days and we want people to have more control over their travel experience," says Orbitz's Randy Wagner.
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Major airlines and the biggest online travel agents have offered these alerts for years, but Orbitz and Travelocity have recently expanded their offerings. Signing up is easy and free, though you usually have to register your information with the airline or Web site on which you're booking your travel plans.

"It's a challenge getting around these days and we want people to have more control over their travel experience," says Randy Wagner, chief marketing officer for Orbitz. "Travel alerts are a way to differentiate ourselves (from other travel providers) and help our customers have a better travel experience across the board."

The alerts are essentially an early warning system aimed at saving travelers' time by providing information when they're mostly likely to be in-transit. Knowing that a flight is cancelled or delayed before you arrive at the airport gives you more time to rebook or make alternate plans.

In 2001, Orbitz was the first travel Web site to launch an alert service, and it now has a staff of 20 former air-traffic controllers, travel agents and airline workers who flag problems and help customers rebook flights or hotels or cope with travel problems.

During New York City's transit strike last year, for example, Orbitz not only let travelers to New York know about the subway disruption but also provided tips on how to get around the city.

Orbitz says it transmits an average of 65,000 "care alert" messages a day to travelers. Earlier this month (March), Orbitz expanded its TLC alert system so now even mid-air delays are covered.

That's helpful if you've got friends, family or business contacts picking you up at the airport. You can include up to six contacts for travel alerts so prior to departure, you can add the person picking you up at the airport and they will be notified if your flight is late because of congestion, a diversion to another airport or for any other delay.

Travelocity also goes beyond basic flight problems to warn travelers about potential issues at their destination. It's part of their recent push to expand their customer service program and be more proactive about preventing travel problems.

Travelocity's travel alerts will tip customers off to a wider variety of travel problems, from airport construction delays to closed hotel swimming pools. For example, Travelocity recently sent an e-mail to customers flying to Los Cabos International Airport suggesting that they allow extra time at the airport because of renovations.

Even if you don't book your trip through Orbitz or Travelocity, you can sign up for travel alerts with your airline. Virtually all major carriers offer automatic notifications on arrival and departure times, including information about delays, gate changes and even where your bags can be picked up.

Travel experts say the early warning systems are a positive for travelers, especially as the busy summer travel season approaches and delays increase. "In today's travel environment, the more information you have the better. As long as the information is accurate, I don't see any downside for travelers," says Ed Perkins, a consumer travel expert at


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