Got a Special Travel Interest? There's a Newsletter for You : Publishing: Small periodicals can provide valuable information for readers who bear in mind potential biases.

TIMES TRAVEL WRITER; Reynolds travels anonymously at the newspaper's expense, accepting no special discounts or subsidized trips

I've been reading travel newsletters, and because I have, I can pass along the following intelligence:

USAir, hoping to attract more business from undertakers, is offering them a free round-trip ticket for every 30 corpses they ship with the airline. In Paris, The Factory Bar, a trendy nightspot on rue Quincampoix, is dominated by twin neon Studebaker signs and inspired by Andy Warhol.

Not everyone is vitally interested in all these things, but for the reading traveler with a particular curiosity, travel newsletters can be a valuable source of information, and their numbers continue to grow.

By the count of the 1994 Oxbridge Directory of Newsletters, 192 travel newsletters are now doing business in North America, up from 187 in 1992 and 140 in 1991. Their specialties run from Mexico to Germany, gay travel to railroads.

Most newsletters are 8 1/2-by-11 inches and tend to use graphics and line drawings but not photography. The most serious are long on phone numbers, addresses and prices and relatively short on colorful descriptions.

Several newsletters, including the Consumer Reports Travel Letter and Andrew Harper's Hideaway Report, accept no under-writing or freebies from the hotels, restaurants and transportation-providers they write about. But some other publishers frequently accept free and specially discounted service. Their publications may still include valuable information, but travelers should keep possible built-in biases in mind.

Because of the high mortality rate among young newsletters, I've limited this short list to special-interest publications (that is, those built on ideas such as budget travel or train travel, rather than specific geographic destinations) that have been printing since at least 1992. There are many other newsletters of merit not included here. The best place for a reader to browse among titles and get further information is the Oxbridge Directory of Newsletters, which is available in the reference department of most large public libraries.

* Consumer Reports Travel Letter (P.O. Box 53629, Boulder, Colo. 80322; tel. 800-234-1970). The foremost travel newsletter in the country. Veteran editor Ed Perkins carefully appraises bargain opportunities and freely criticizes major players, concentrating more on ways and means than on specific destinations. The prose is quantitative, not descriptive, and the traveler who spends $75 per night on hotels gets much more attention than the one who drops $200. Twelve issues yearly. Typical issue: 24 pages. Circulation: a bit over 100,000. One-year subscription: $39; two years, $59.

* Inside Flyer (4715-C Town Center Drive, Colorado Springs, Colo. 80916; tel. 719-597-8889). For the fanatically frequent flyer, this is the bible. Publisher Randy Petersen explains how to exploit frequent-traveler offerings of the airlines, hotels and rental car companies, and so on. Accepts advertising but known for editorial independence. No coverage of destinations. Twelve issues yearly. Typical issue: 36 pages. Circulation: 79,000. One-year subscription: $33; 2 years, $55.

* Andrew Harper's Hideaway Report (P.O. Box 50, Sun Valley, Ida. 83353; tel. 406-862-3480) Got too much money? This 15-year-old publication, which prides itself on the many top executives among its subscribers, will tell you some of the best places to spend it. Readers are unlikely to find mention of a hotel charging less than $150 nightly, but they will find critical judgments. (The Caribbean isle of St. Martin, for instance, was dismissed in January as "an overpriced construction site with beaches and bistros.") Twelve issues yearly. Typical issue: 8 pages. Circulation: 17,900. One-year subscription: $100.

* The International Railway Traveler (P.O. Box 3000, Dept. IRT, Denville, N.J. 07834; tel. or fax 502-454-0277). The publication, about 11 years old, features glossy white paper and black-and-white photos of trains, train stations, train tracks and train workers. The January-February issue includes detailed articles on a tram in Oslo, commuter lines of Manila and St. Louis (no, they're not connected) and a winter scheduling update on Israel Railways. Six issues yearly. Typical issue: 16 pages. Circulation: about 3,500. One-year subscription: $39.95.

* Passport Newsletter (350 W. Hubbard St., Suite 440, Chicago, Ill. 60610; tel. 800-542-6670). Founded in 1965, this has been called "the grandaddy" of travel newsletters. Concentrates on upscale destinations and is usually rich in information on hotels, restaurants and shopping. Twelve issues yearly. Typical issue: 20-24 pages. Circulation: the owners won't say. One-year subscription: $65.

* Out & About (542 Chapel St., New Haven, Conn. 06511; tel. 800-929-2268). The subtitle, "essential information for the gay & lesbian traveler," says it all. Though they only started publishing in September, 1992, O & A publisher David Alport and editor Billy Kolber, both formerly of American Express Travel Services, have built a thorough, handsome and rapidly growing newsletter. Ten issues yearly. Typical issue: 16 pages. Circulation: 6,500. One-year subscription: $49.

Next week: a sampling of newsletters that concentrate on specific destinations.

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