Whether you’re a seasoned road warrior, a student getting ready to backpack in Europe or a novice preparing for his first flight, this list of top travel sites will help you plan your trip, get the most out of it, and save you time, trouble and money.
After decades of domestic and international travel plus continual reading about travel strategies, resources and bargains, I’ve assembled a list of ~60 of the top travel sites available today. They range from the well known (kayak.com, priceline.com) to the exotic (abercrombiekent.com) to the upstarts (yapta.com)
Feel free to scroll down to review the entire list, or use the links which follow to jump to the section which interests you the most. Keep in mind that a couple of websites may appear more than once on the list. Bon voyage!
Travel Oriented Social Networking Sites
Food on the Road
Definitely worth checking out, particularly for travel in the U.S., is Bing Travel. The site utilizes the technology that was developed for Farecast, which was ultimately purchased by Microsoft. The result is Bing Travel’s Price Predictor, which enables you to home in on the best time to purchase your tickets.
Also at the top of the list is SkyScanner, which has a decidedly international flair (you’re able to select your currency, for instance.)
Since its acquisition of rival Sidestep in late 2007, kayak.com settled any questions as to which travel meta-search engine is the dominant player. Top site features include “SmartSort,” which lets you filter your criteria in order to narrow the results, and of course the Matrix View which enables you to compare fares and carriers at a glance. (Click on the thumbnail to the right to see an example of how search results are displayed.)
Also worth checking is Yahoo Farechase. In head to head comparisons with Kayak, utilizing various itineraries, I found that Farechase occasionally delivered slightly lower fares.
One of the best airfare search engine out there, however, is a Denmark-based site: Momondo.com In head to head comparisons with the other major players, it generally does as well as and occasionally better than the rest.
Are you a procrastinator? Do you occasionally have to travel on little notice? If you answer “yes” to either of these questions, check out AirfareWatchdog. The site has a solid record of posting bargain, fire sale and price war fares more quickly than other sites. Type in your city name, select your airport, and the site will provide “Today’s LIst” of bargain fares. The site works with partners CheapAir.com and Travelocity. Note that some fares will involve multiple stops.
Relatively new player (since the spring of 2007) yapta.com‘s point of difference is that they’ll track fares for you and if your fare drops significantly after you book your flights, they’ll provide you information about how to claim a refund or voucher.
Bonus Tip: When using meta search engines (Kayak, Hotwire, etc.) don’t assume the price you see after your initial search is the final price! Click through as though you are going to book the flight – prices will often change, sometimes going down by as much as 10 – 13%! This is particularly true on complex international itineraries.
Online travel agent Expedia offers thousands of negotiated-rate hotels to supplement those supplied by Worldspan, the global distribution system that links it to hotel, airline and rental car suppliers worldwide. By combining these hotels with airfares, it’s able to provide competitively priced packages that are suitable for business travelers with inflexible itineraries.
Hotels.com specializes in net-rate hotels and has reduced its cancellation fee to $10 to make the site more appealing to business travelers. In addition to its own site, HRN distributes its rooms through subsidiary TravelNow.com, and hundreds of affiliate sites. The site offers a neat interface which enables you to filter your search results:
Kayak.com has over 160,000 hotels in its database; by contrast, hotels.com lists about 70,000 properties. As with flights, you’re able to filter results according to price, ratings, and hotel brands.
Priceline.com arguably offers the best deals on luxury hotel rooms. As long as you are comfortable specifying an area of a city you want to stay in, and accepting whatever hotel the site comes up with, bargains can be had. Keep in mind that Priceline charges your credit card right away and doesn’t refund your money if you cancel. NOTE: if you’re going to use the “Name your own price” option at Priceline, check hotel rates by visiting at least three hotel sites of the same star/quality rating that you’re going to be bidding on BEFORE bidding; do NOT rely upon Priceline’s retail site, Expedia or travel agency websites for price checking as their quoted rates may not be accurate.
Quickbook is an independent site that essentially functions as a consolidator; it offers excellent prices on hotels in a number of major U.S. (and international) cities and you do not have to pre-pay for your stay. Click on the image to visit Quickbook.
Quickbook’s Hotel Marketplace offers solid deals on hotel rooms in smaller cities worldwide; prepayment is required at Hotel Marketplace.
Also recommended: Hotels-Shopper.com provides worldwide hotel information and rate comparisons from several sources for each hotel, including from major reservation services, direct hotel prices, discounters, and consolidators.
I have had good experiences booking rooms with Hotwire.com Like Priceline, you select the area of the city and the star rating you prefer; if you find a combination of rating and location that sounds good, you can book it. You won’t know which hotel you’ll be staying at until the purchase is complete.
Bonus Tip: if you’re using an third party service like Priceline or Hotwire and are a member of the hotel’s loyalty program, call the hotel after you’ve made your reservation and ask if they can add your member number to the reservation. If you’re able to do this, you stand a greater chance of getting a better room.
Bonus Tip 2: The front desk clerk has nothing to do with what you pay for your room, but they do have a fair amount of control over what room you receive (assuming they aren’t fully booked.) Guests who’ve made reservations through the chain’s website and through travel agencies tend to get better rooms; online 3rd party bookers are at the end of the line. BUT… there is no substitute for simple kindness and human decency. If you are friendly and treat front desk clerks with respect, your chance of getting an upgrade or better room increase.
NOTE: Five of the country’s largest hotel groups – Hilton Hotels, Hyatt Corp., Marriott International, Six Continents Hotels and Starwood Hotels – joined Pegasus Solutions in creating discount site TravelWeb (TravelWeb has since been purchased by Priceline). . Most of the hotels in these groups offer best rate guarantees to anyone who books directly with (including via Travelweb.)
Bonus Tip 3: Experienced travelers sometimes research hotel rates online and then call the hotel directly to negotiate. If you’re a member of the hotel’s loyalty program, you’ll be well equipped to get a better room and a great rate.
Luxury Hotels: see Luxury Travel section below.
Hotwire.com has very solid deals on car rentals, partnering with several major rental firms. You won’t learn which agency you’re renting from until after you lock in your rate, but all the firms are well known national brands.
Orbitz displays search results in a simple matrix. Of note is the fact that the site displays total costs including all fees and taxes, which regrettably enough is not always the case with competing sites. As with Hotwire, Orbitz of course offers pricing on airfare, hotel rooms, cruises and vacation packages.
Also offering deals on all of these is Priceline.com I’ve had good luck renting cars through Priceline, even getting a refund when we had to change our plans due to weather delays. I’ll mention it later in this post, but
if you are giving consideration to using Priceline, consider visting BiddingForTravel.com, where Priceline bidders note their successful – and unsuccessful – bids. Click on the thumbnail to the right to see an actual example:
For best deals, consider cruising during the January-March timeframe, as that’s when the cruise lines do about a third of their annual business; as a result, they offer their best deals at this time.
A great place to start is in the Sunday travel section of large metro-area newspapers. If you don’t live in a large city, you can do your research online or at the library. Check the papers for cities which typically serve as departure points, e.g., Miami or Fort Lauderdale.
With CruiseCompete, select the cruise you’re interested in and dozens of travel agencies will compete for your business. You specifiy your dates and ports; disounts up to 25% can be had.
Also worth checking out is the Cruises section at TravelZoo – several good deals are always featured there.
If you’re looking for a deal at a luxury hotel, check out LastMinuteTravel.com Select your city and search by hotel ratings for discounts up to 25%
LuxuryLink offers discounted packages at luxury resorts via online auctions. One big caveat: your travel dates must be flexible.
If you’re looking to book the luxury vacation of a lifetime, check our Abercrombie & Kent; the firm offers set packages to exotic locales, or will develop a specific trip per your desires and specs.
There are a myriad of sites catering to the international traveler; here are a handful of the best:
For starters, whether you’re a U.S. citizen who’ll be traveling internationally or a citizen of another country contemplating a visit to the U.S., a great starting point to sort out the required documentation and other issues is the U.S. State Department’s travel site, Travel.State.gov
Need a Visa or passport quickly? See TDS. They consistently receive outstanding reviews from users.
Farecompare partners with nine travel search engines – including FlyCheapo, Vayama, cFares, BookingBuddy and several others already mentioned in this post to find you the best international airfares (of course the site’s searches are not restricted to international destinations. (FlyCheapo, by the way, focuses on 45 European low-fare carriers.)
LowesTravel offers deals on flights, hotels, and cars; the site offers international tickets on 60 different airlines!
Widely regarded as the best English-language website offering schedules and ticketing on European train lines, RailEurope‘s website offers a familiar looking interface for researching and booking tickets.
A terrific resource for learning about health and safety abroad, TripPrep offers information about vaccinations, embassy listings and crime advisories for 200+ countries. Select your destination and you’ll discover a wealth of information about it as well as any advisories and concerns. The site does require registration in order to access the information.
Also, check out the State Department’s “Tips for Traveling Abroad” site.
If you’re making last minute plans for travel abroad, check out LateRooms.com Type in your destination, arrival date, # nights / # guests, and you’re treated to one of the nicest interfaces available on any of the sites listed here (click on the thumbnail below to see an example.)
The hotels are mapped via Google Maps, distance from the center of the city, guest ratings, star ratings and nightly rates are displayed – plus there’s a handy currency calculator. The results are sortable by any of these criteria, by the way. Find a hotel that sounds appealing, and click on it for more details. The site positions itself as “The Discount Hotels Specialist,” but there’s a range of properties represented. You can also book restaurants, theater tickets and cottage rentals at the site.
NOTE: Late Rooms.com also offers deals on hotels for 11 U.S. cities – NYC, Chicago, New Orleans, Washington DC, Orlando, Miami, Houston, Los Angeles, Denver, Seattle, & San Francisco.
AutoEurope offers extremely competitive rental car rates and offers 24/7 customer service via a toll free line.
When driving in Europe, check out ViaMichelin. The multilingual site offers driving directions and maps for 42 European countries.
Find international dialing codes & reverse search international numbers at Kropla.com; the site will also help you figure out what each country’s electrical system is and which adapter to pack.
If you travel internationally frequently, consider joining IAMAT (the International Association for Medical Assistance to Travelers.) Membership is free, although donations are accepted. IAMAT member physicians have agreed to a schedule of set fees for services, and when you join you’ll receive an international guide to member physicians. Click here to visit the site; here’s a picture of what you’ll receive when you join – click on it for a close-up view:
A quick rundown on a number of sites which offer reviews, itineraries and tons of useful information:
TripAdvisor features about 10 million amateur and professional reviews of hotels in the U.S. and overseas. Search results can be sorted by user reviews and hotel class. The site doesn’t sell rooms, but let’s you compare and book rates offered by online travel agents.
IgoUgo offers user reviews, stories and trip reports including photos of numerous cities and attractions. The site also works with several travel search engines to offer booking options and deals.
As mentioned previously, BiddingForTravel offers user reports on bids made at Priceline.com
TripTie.com is similar to IgoUgo, but I prefer its interface – plug in your destination and you’ll receive a reader-type listing of reports and reviews separated by category: Trip Plans, Accomodations, Dining, and Sights & Activities. Very handy before you visit a new city.
Although FlyerTalk‘s homepage looks as though it was designed by a committee, the meat of the site is the forum. If you’re a travel junkie you could get lost here – there are a lot of interesting posts and good information, much of it shared by veteran travelers.
Distinguished by a somewhat offbeat sensibility (the homepage recently featured a link to an article entitled “5 Creative Uses for a Bidet”) BootsnAll bills itself as “The Ultimate Resource for the Independent Traveler.” The site features forums, blogs, stories and guides from every continent; dig in and you’ll find some valuable information.
Virtualtourist.com offers features tips and reviews by over one million members. Recent tips include “Restaurant tips on La Paz,” and “Tip on Rome’s Vatican Museum & City.” Tips are organized geographically, making them easy to find. The site’s tagline is “Real Travelers · Real Info;” check it out.
If you’re looking for reviews of hostels in Europe, check out eurotrip.com The site also features podcasts, forums, Editor’s Picks, and a host of information; aimed at younger travelers.
Eurail Stories is a site devoted to exploring Europe by rail – you’ll find stories, tips and even videos submitted by travelers!
Finally, RealTravel.com mixes links to hotels, airlines, and other partners with user stories and pictures. The site was voted one of the 12 Best Travel Sites by Forbes.com A neat feature is the free Trip Planner.
I’ve written about this site several times on Practical Hacks, and it’s still a favorite: the bible of traveling light, Doug Dyment’s OneBag.com Check it out if you haven’t already; it’ll change how you travel.
A single post, not a site, but Tim Ferriss of Four Hour Work Week fame posted about traveling the world with 10 lbs. or less – definitely worth a read! Click Here
I recently discovered Packing Light – a site devoted to travel gear, clothing, and gadgets. Of note is the fact that their price on the Rick Steves Convertible Carry-on was $10 lower than that on Steves’ own site. I’ve not purchased from them and the site is a bit funky, but they’ve been around since 1978 and the prices seem reasonable.
For quality gear aimed at the minimalist, “one bag” traveler, check out RedOxx.com Their products are manufactured in Montana and are of exceptional quality. You can search this site for reviews of their Air Boss and Metro daily bag.
Everyone loves saving a buck; here are a few sites that cater to the budget / student traveler:
Hostels.net Online network of hostels in over 150 countries.
Backpackers.com Blog devoted to backpacking includes hostel booking tool and forums.
The Indie Travel Podcast is a weekly travel show developed by Practical Hacks guest contributor Craig Martin for backpackers and independent travelers; a new podcast is usually released each Friday.
Couch Surfing is a global social network aimed at connecting travelers (“surfers”) and free accommodations provided by other members (“hosts”) in the countries being visited. If this sounds weird or risky, be reassured that there’s a verification system whereby members can vouch for one another – think of it as similar to the eBay feedback system.
If Couch Surfing sounds interesting, you might also want to check out WWOOF – World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms; in exchange for volunteer help, you can receive food, accommodations and the opportunity to learn more about organic farming. WWOOF was started in the UK and is also global in scale.
BackPackEurope.com Tons of helpful tips and info; recommended by Frommer’s.
Eurocheapo.com Focus is on reasonably priced European hotels.
TravelPUNK.com HIghly rated; aimed at students.
Budgettravel.com U.S. / Western Hemisphere-focused.
RickSteves.com Europe through the back door – the original “Europe on a Budget” site.
CheapestDestinations From Tim Leffel.
If you’re really on a tight budget, check out SleepingInAirports.net It’s a fun and fascinating read, even if you’re staying at the Ritz-Carlton!
Restaurant reviews are available on a great number of sites; here are a couple of other sites for the traveler who’s also a foodie:
Chowhound.com is a community focused on food, restaurants, bars, and wine, and spans several continents. The site features recipes, videos, and a blog. Fun reading!
MenuPages.com features user reviews of 25,000 restaurants across 8 cities – NYC, Boston, Philadelphia, L.A., Chicago, Washington DC, San Francisco, and “South Florida.” Choose a neighborhood, cuisine, or price and you’re off an running.
Zagat offers over 40,000 reviews of restaurants, hotels, and nightspots across the U.S.
Also, check out Gayot for International and U.S. restaurant reviews
Vegetarians: check out VegDining.com for locations and reviews of vegetarian restaurants around the world!
I’ve been using a travel checklist based on a little app at micapeak.com; you can read about it here. …or just go to my FREE Downloads page – click on the link here or in the header. I’ve added a couple of pre-formatted checklists – one for men, another for women.
Dontforgetyourtoothbrush enables you to create a checklist online. Although highly rated, I found the interface to be a bit time consuming. YMMV.
Need travel insurance? Want to figure out where the best seats are on an aircraft? Looking for reviews of travel gear? Here are some sites that are great, but don’t fit into the above categories:
Dedicated to the frequent flyer, WebFlyer.com focuses on frequent flyer programs and getting the most out of the programs in which you participate.
Discover last minute second vacation deals at lastminute.com The site claims to offer savings up to 70%!
Trip, medical/health and accident insurance is offered by TravelGuard.com TG offers 24/7 customer service.
If you’re already on the road and realize you wish you’d secured traveler’s insurance, check out World Nomads; their tagline – “You can buy, extend and claim online even after you’ve left home” just about says it all.
Find the very best seats – and avoid the stinkers – with the help of SeatGuru.com Read about it here.
Find reviews of travel gear at Tim Leffel’s blog – PracticalTravelGear
Frommers.com is a mainstay – tons of information for the traveler, including travel guides, tips, and the Frommer’s bookstore.
In the market for travel gear? Check out this post about where to find travel gear bargains!
I hope this list is of help to you! This post is by no means complete – I’ll continue to tweak and add to it, and you can too - let me know if I’ve missed a site that you think is essential for the traveler by commenting.
Thanks for visiting, and happy travels!
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