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Travel trends you can sink your teeth into

Special to The Times

KEEPING abreast of travel industry news is a good way to stay on top of trends that can save you money. Here’s a look at some things that may affect you in the future:

* The decision by United Airlines to reduce domestic flights while beefing up international flights gives us a glimpse of the future of aviation in the United States.

United’s change in emphasis reflects the triumph of such low-cost carriers as Southwest, JetBlue, Spirit Air and others, which may soon dominate many domestic routes. Does any smart traveler fly anything other than a cut-rate carrier to cities like Fort Lauderdale, Fla., where the upstart airlines offer surprisingly low fares?

In seeking out the fares of these cost-cutting companies, more and more travelers will turn to the fare-spotting websites of the so-called aggregators, the companies that show you many fares offered for your flight, then permit you to contact the winning airline on your own, without booking through the aggregator.

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A new entry into this field can be found at www.kayak.com, which has been in a “beta testing” phase. Even in its experimental form, it is impressive.

Go to www.kayak.com, complete the registration process, insert your dates and destinations, and what springs to the screen is an array of objective alternatives. There are no “preferred carriers” that magically appear at the top of the page regardless of the real rank of their fares.

* Medical tourism -- a trip to Central European or Asian capitals that’s motivated by the use of low-cost medical or dental services while there -- is becoming more commonplace among United States residents. While U.S. physicians and dentists criticize it and warn potential patients about the results, substantial numbers of people are deciding otherwise, possibly because they can’t afford to get treatment at home.

For years, Americans unable to pay the costs of elaborate dental work have gone to Budapest and other Hungarian cities for low-priced root canals, bridges and crowns offered by English-speaking (and sometimes U.S.-trained) Hungarians. Google.com has several listings for “Hungarian dentists.”

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According to trade newspapers published for U.S. travel agents, an even larger number of Americans is traveling to Singapore; New Delhi and Mumbai (Bombay), India; Bangkok, Thailand; and Cape Town, South Africa, for various low-cost medical services, including operations. Although public hospitals in these countries might be poor, each country is said to have privately run hospitals that compare with any in the world.

Among those frequently mentioned are Bumrungrad Hospital in Bangkok, where elaborate cardiovascular and blood tests cost well under $100; Wockhardt Hospital in Bangalore, India; and Indraprastha Apollo Hospital in New Delhi.

Still other luxurious foreign hospitals perform cosmetic surgeries that aren’t covered by U.S. health insurance. (Please note that I am not recommending any of these places, simply reporting news that thousands of U.S. residents are now using them, according to the leading trade journal, Travel Weekly.)

* What’s the hottest destination in the tropics?

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It’s Mexico, where the currency sells at an advantageous 11.5 pesos to the U.S. dollar, a factor that attracted thousands of U.S. tourists last winter. Perhaps there will be a repeat in the cold months ahead.

Mexico escaped the tropical storms that ravaged some parts of the Caribbean, and its low price structure should attract those sun worshipers who will not be able to vacation in Grenada and the Cayman Islands. The four current Mexican favorites are Cancun, Cozumel, Los Cabos and Puerto Vallarta.


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