Putting TripIt.com to the Test
For run-of-the-mill trips, it's a cool tool, but our intrepid traveler's itineraries proved too much for the reservation-tracking site.
Before My Trips
Nobody likes getting an e-mail with the word "problem" in the subject line. In the month after registering for tripit.com, a website designed to streamline your reservations and other travel information (with handy supplemental data like weather forecasts and hotel cancellation policies), I received five different e-mails with the same subject line: "Problem with your TripIt submission." Why? According to firstname.lastname@example.org, "We received your e-mail (Subject Line: Fwd: Azores confirmation) but had a problem processing it. This typically happens when your e-mail is not from one of our currently supported booking sites." So, which booking sites does it support? A lot, actually—over 1,000, including everything from well-known airline carriers like Cathay Pacific and JetBlue to obscure travel agencies like Horncastle Executive Travel and California Limousines. So for most people, and most trips, those "problem" e-mails are few and far between. But all it takes is using one site TripIt doesn't support to throw a wrench into the system—and to turn a time-saving tool into a hassle.
I was asked to rate tripit.com on three different levels based on my own personal trips. All of them—a Catskills road trip, a Croatia-to-Switzerland train journey, and a series of island-hopping flights and ferry rides through the Azores—were ultimately too complicated or off-the-beaten-path to maximize the tool.
On the Road
The best feature of tripit.com is the automated trip planner that allows users to forward their confirmation numbers to an e-mail address and voilá! The system automatically understands where you are and where you're going and stores all the addresses and phone numbers of your hotels and agencies. The site seems to cater to trips where you fly somewhere, rent a car, and stay at a nearby hotel. But if you're flying into JFK and then driving north a couple of hours to a cabin in the Catskills, the only way that TripIt can recognize your final destination is if you manually enter it into the system—its mobile app is not GPS-enabled and does not track your location in real time. My BlackBerry can determine my precise location in Google Maps using cellular triangulation technology, but for some reason, TripIt's app isn't able to do the same.
The verbiage in the "problem" e-mail illustrates two major kinks in the site. The first is the idea that anything is typical when it comes to travel. Airlines and airports have spent decades trying to streamline the language and codes of traveling. Tripit.com, launched in 2007, is a Johnny-come-lately to the game and doesn't exactly solve the puzzle. Not all languages are supported, and as a result, it failed to recognize foreign spelling of train stations in Italy. More significant, you can't change your itinerary on the mobile app, so if plans change—as they most likely will—you'll have to hunt down a computer to stay organized.
Another flaw: Tripit.com assumes that all reservations arrive via e-mail. But as is the case in many parts of the world, I had to buy my train tickets the analog way—at a train station in Croatia. Even if TripIt did recognize the codes, I'd have to manually add the various legs of the journey into the system: Trieste to Venice, Venice to Milan, Milan to Zurich. Since I couldn't set the record straight on my BlackBerry, the entire time I was in Croatia TripIt thought I was in Venice, my point of arrival, and kept giving me unhelpful Venice advice. I also could have used real-time train updates: My train from Venice to Milan was 20 minutes late (not surprisingly), but the Swiss train to Zurich was (uncharacteristically) late as well, so I needn't have sweated the connection—I was already sweating enough in the un-air-conditioned car.
C+. When it works, TripIt provides helpful info. But when it doesn't, it requires you to manually add things yourself, which is a pain. I'll keep it, and continue to use it, but on a probation period. I'd like to see adjustments and upgrades made to the entire system—particularly to the mobile app.
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