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Price protection

Technology | New service can help travelers in the airline ticket guessing game

Issue: "Tour d'America," June 18, 2011

The guessing game is familiar to travelers: Buy airline tickets today, and the price may drop substantially next week. But wait, and it may rise. The gamble can be infuriating. But what the vast majority of travelers don't know is that most airlines offer vouchers or credits if prices drop after ticket purchase. To get the credit, however, ticket-holders must know the price has dropped and call the airline before the price jumps again.

To make the process easier, MasterCard recently joined forces with travel website Yapta to form PriceAssure (priceassure.mastercard.com). A number of major airlines participate in the program, like JetBlue and Delta. MasterCard holders can enroll their cards in the service, then choose to have PriceAssure monitor itineraries they've booked directly with the airline.

If the price drops, PriceAssure sends an email to the user, who can then call the airline directly or pay $19.95 per itinerary (regardless of the number of travelers) to have PriceAssure do the work. Because some airlines charge fees as high as $150 to switch to the lower fare, the drop must often be substantial for the service to actually result in savings, but that may be changing: One airline-JetBlue-does not charge a fee at all.

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Users fill Facebook and Twitter with updates on what they have recently done-but what about sharing what they want to do? A new service called WhereBerry (whereberry.com), created by two former Google engineers, lets users log in with their Facebook accounts, then post about activities they'd like to do-a concert to see, a restaurant to try, a place to visit. Users can see their Facebook friends' posts and make plans. And posts are public, so a user might follow a favorite critic's recommendations, or find a new friend with whom to make plans.

Magazines plus

Tablet computers, such as Apple's iPad and the Samsung Galaxy Tab (which runs on Google's Android platform), have made serious waves in the magazine publishing industry over the past year. The shape and capabilities of tablets provide a platform for magazines to produce high-quality, full-color digital issues, often with added features impossible in the paper version (such as video, audio, and animated graphs), and then automatically "push" the new issues out to subscribers. And unlike books, which are meant to be read and then kept, magazines are designed to be disposable; digital versions help cut down on the paper waste-which also cuts down on printing costs.

Several companies got into the business early. Publisher Conde Nast currently makes five titles available for the iPad, including Golf Digest, Vanity Fair, and The New Yorker, for a $19.99 subscription fee. And the Galaxy Tab is getting in on the action: Next Issue Media, a consortium of the four biggest magazine publishers and News Corp., will release titles for the device. It recently previewed titles including Esquire, Popular Mechanics, Fitness, Parents, Fortune, and Time. (WORLD's own iPad app was recently added to the App Store and will soon offer subscriptions, as well.)

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