Do a Google search for “travel,” and you’ll see that there are nearly 800 million sites on the topic.

So how do you know which travel sites can actually help you with your trip planning, and which ones you should check out first?

If you read Trip planning basics – three key questions to ask yourself before you plan a trip, you probably have some idea where you want to go.   So figuring out how much it will cost to get there is a good first step.

There are several sites that compare airfares, but a couple are head and shoulders above the rest.  For airfare within or originating in the United States, Kayak.com is hard to beat.  Not only do they list fares for virtually all domestic carriers, when you click on the fare you want, you’ll be routed directly to the airline’s website for booking.

A calendar showing fares by date makes it’s easy to see how much you could save by traveling midweek or going a earlier or later than planned.

 

Sidestep.com is another excellent airfare comparison site.  It pulls information from over 600 airlines.

You may have heard about the ridiculously cheap airfare in Europe — sometimes it costs as little as $2 to fly from London to Italy.  There are plenty of hidden charges, but if you’re flexible and traveling light, they can still be a bargain.

Dohop.com is the best place to find these deals.  It lists fares for EasyJet, Ryanair, and other discount airlines.   Just be sure to read all the fine print before booking.  Last time we looked, Ryanair led the industry in customer complaints.

Recently, the airlines have begun charging for advance seat assignments and exit-row seats.  Before you pay for the privilege, you should probably visit Seatexpert.com or Seatguru.com.   Either one will help you find the most desirable seats on your flight.

Once you have your flights figured out, or at least know how much to budget, you can start researching hotels.

Many people love tripadvisor.com.  In fact, it has over 25 million user-generated hotels reviews.   We use it to get ideas, but the couple of times we’ve reserved hotels based exclusively on tripadvisor, we’ve been disappointed.  Not everyone has the same taste, so even though tripadvisor users think a place is great, you could still hate it.

If you do find a hotel on tripadvisor that interests you, look for a professional recommendation before you book.  Fodors.com and Frommers.com both provide objective, professional reviews.

Venere.com is a great travel site for European hotels.  It represents lots of small inns that you won’t find on bigger sites.

When you’ve chosen a hotel and you’re ready to book, don’t waste a lot of time comparing prices.  Two or three parent companies own most of the hotel booking sites, so prices don’t vary much.  If you find a room for a lot less, make sure you’re comparing apples to apples.  Rates can vary a lot by room type.

Many sites now require payment upfront for the best available rate.  And often, these rates are nonrefundable.  So read the terms and conditions carefully, especially the cancellation policy.

And before you make your reservations, be sure to contact the hotel directly – especially if you’re making your plans at the last minute.  They’re often willing to negotiate.  They usually don’t require prepayment except in high-demand periods.  And their cancellation policy is usually more liberal.

With a place to stay and a way to get there, all the heavy lifting is done.  The next phase of trip planning is figuring out what to do when you get there.  For advice on that, read Travel planning tips to help you save time, reduce hassles, and make the most of your vacation.

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