As Phineas and Ferb – two of my daughter’s favorite animated TV characters – like to say, there are 104 days of summer vacation. How are you going to spend it?
If you’re like me, your summer plans probably include a family vacation. Whether your destination is across the globe, across the country, or just across town for an increasingly popular stay-cation at the grandparents’ house, saving money and finding ways to travel for less are probably high on your “must have” list. But how can you make sure you’re getting the most bang for your proverbial buck? There are gazillions of travel websites out there, all touting travel advice to help you travel for less: but how do you know which ones are right for you?
I’ve already done the research for you. Here are my top 10 travel websites for all your vacation needs.
Getting to your destination is half the battle these days, especially with the average price for a gallon of regular unleaded gas encroaching on the $4 mark. The 2,000-mile round trip drive from Cleveland, Ohio to Orlando, Florida can cost between $350 and $400 in fuel costs alone – far more than the cost of a single airline ticket between Cleveland Hopkins and Orlando International airports. That means it actually might be more affordable – and far less time consuming – to fly instead of drive.
- Bing’s airfare prediction tool acts as a free travel agent. All you have to do is enter the information for the flight you want, and Bing does the rest. The site not only tracks fares for you, it also gives you predictions regarding when flights for your desired route will have a price drop, based on historical data and complicated algorithms. Bing claims its airfare prediction tool is accurate 75 percent of the time, saving the average air traveler $50.
- While travel websites like Travelocity and Expedia track ticket prices on larger airlines, they don’t always represent the little guys. That’s where Which Budget comes in. This site monitors airfares for smaller airlines, whose routes aren’t always tracked by the bigger travel websites.
- Yapta helps ensure you don’t pay too much for your trip, by protecting your pocketbook both before and after you book your flight. Like Bing, Yapta uses historical data to predict price drops for certain airline routes. If you do book a flight and the price for that route later drops, they work to refund you the difference.
Your hotel is likely to take a bigger chunk out of your travel budget than any other single element of your vacation. Just like airlines, hotels have slow seasons where they are more likely to dramatically drop the price of a night’s stay. But remember – the brand name hotels like Holiday Inn, Hilton, and Marriott aren’t the only ones out there.
- What Yapta is to air travel, Tingo is to hotel rooms. When you book through Tingo, you’re guaranteed to get the lowest price out there. Tingo promises that if the price of your room drops, they’ll refund you the difference – unlike Orbitz, you’ll get that money back whether another customer books the same itinerary or not.
- Want different hotels to fight for your business? That’s what BackBid is all about. This travel website allows you to register your upcoming hotel reservations and travel preferences, then sends the information – anonymously – to your current hotel’s competitors. The result? Hotels undercutting one another to win your reservation – and the ability to travel for less.
- Everyone’s heard about the large hotel chains, but there are plenty of smaller chains and individually operated boutique hotels that offer stellar service at rock-bottom prices. Hotel Sweep examines the nightly rates for hotels large and small, finding the fairs directly on the hotel’s own website, where many hotels record their lowest rates.
- Thought hostels were a European travel fad? Think again. Hostelz.com bills itself as the world’s largest database of hostels, providing rates for facilities in more than 9,000 cities worldwide. Staying in a hostel is a great way to save huge amounts of money.
- While HomeAway has become the flagship for the new home swapping travel craze, it’s just the tip of the iceberg of travel websites that offer this service. FlipKey, Airbnb, and VRBO (a subsidiary of HomeAway, which focuses on vacation home rentals, instead of primary residences) all offer home swapping rental information as well.
Other Travel Websites
Looking for help managing your money or travel points? That’s where my last two travel websites come in. These sites don’t necessarily promise to help you travel for less; rather, they work to help ease those headaches associated with traveling.
- Can’t keep track of your HiltonHonors points? Not sure how many frequent flyer miles you’ve collected? Sign up for a free account with Award Wallet. This site tracks reward points for credit card companies, hotel chains, and airlines.
- If you’re looking for a one-size-fits-all credit card that makes traveling a breeze, look no further than the PenFed Premium Travel Rewards card. Backed by American Express, this credit card – a product of Pentagon Federal Credit Union – is loaded with plenty of perks. Airfare purchases nab you five points for every dollar you spend, plus you’ll earn 20,000 points (a $250 value) when you spend at least $650 during your first three months as a cardholder. This card – which carries a respectably low APR and boasts no annual fees – is ideal for international travel, since you’ll never pay a foreign transaction fee when using it.
There you have it – my top 10 travel websites (with a bonus site or two thrown in for good measure).
Which websites do you rely for travel advice, or for steals and deals when you need to travel for less?