Best Travel Tools

June 23, 2006 at 8:17 pm | Posted in General (tips, etc.), Travel | Leave a comment

Here’s my brain dump of travel tools so I don’t forget and hopefully others will find them useful.

Where to go?

Don’t have a specific destination in mind?  Get the best ideas at:

www.concierge.com
www.about.com/travel

Where to stay?

Stray away from commercially published reviews and ratings  (Frommers, Fodors, etc.)  Stick to reviews from actual travelers but take them with a grain of salt and form your own “mental average” realizing someone use to staying in a 5-star is going to give a different perspective than someone use to staying in a 3-star.  Best site I’ve found is

www.tripadvisor.com

Want to rent a condo or house?  That can take a lot of searching.  There really is no one or two best places as it depends on where you are going. I usually just do a search on “bla bla town vacation rentals” but one of the best places always is:

www.vrbo.com

Where to eat?

www.zagat.com – it costs money but it is always spot-on.  Well worth it for the frequent diner.  Next best free source is City Search (sort by Best of City Search column on the right). www.citysearch.com?choose=1 

What to do once you get there?

www.igougo.com
www.tripadvisor.com

Best way to accumulate and use frequent flyer miles?

If you use a credit card tied to one airline, throw it away.  Wells Fargo has the best credit card reward I know of.  The business card has no annual limit on the number of miles you can accumulate and the personal card you can upgrade to the “enhanced” program to have unlimited miles.  I also have experience with the Chase program but it isn’t as good (50,000 miles for up to an $800 ticket as opposed to only 40,000 on the Wells program.)  The best thing about these programs is you can use any website like Orbitz or Expedia to pick your flights and then just call in and book the ticket.  No blackout dates and no limited seating.  You book the flight the same way as if you were paying for it. The AMEX Rewards program is popular as it lets you combined points with mileage you have earned on an airline by transfering the points to your mileage account.  The downside is that they are not partnered with every airline but if you frequently accumulate mileage (business travel?) on one of their partner airlines this is a great option.  But you’ll have to deal with blackout dates and limited seating availablity since you’ll have to book through the airline using your mileage account. For other great ideas on how to accumulate and use mileage see:

www.flytertalk.com (awesome site)

How do I get the lowest price?

If you’ve read this far, then you deserve my money saving tips.

Lowest Airline Fares

If you are like me you can spend an hour or more searching high and low for the best airfare.  You don’t have to do that (unless you really enjoy spending your free time that way.) 

Step 1) Search www.kayak.com. This is a meta-search engine that searches everyone else including the individual airline sites.  You will most likely find your best fare here and I really like the ability to sort by the trip duration so you can easily find the best combination of decent itinerary and low price. (Lowest price does not necessarily equal best flight.)

Step 2) Search www.travelocity.com  I don’t know why but sometimes this site pulls a lower fare that no other site had.  Worth a look.

That’s it, you’re done.  Seriously.  You don’t need to look anywhere else.  Kayak already searched the other sites you would have normally searched.  If you are like me and really really want to be sure you got the best deal and will waste your time to save a buck, then my third recommendation would be to search www.mobissimo.com  It’s like Kayak but you can’t search by trip duration.  Forget Expedia.  They are the big name in the online travel business but their prices are never lower.  They have good details and photos for hotels though.

International Airfare

There is one site that will always pull the lowest international fare.  I don’t know how they do it, but they do:

www.economytravel.com

Wait, before you book that ticket, make sure you are getting the best seat:

www.seatguru.com

Hotels

Hotels.com almost always has the best price (or same price as everyone else.)  Expedia will have the same prices and inventory but may be worth checking.  Also check the hotel site itself as most guarantee the lowest rate now.

Rental Cars

Use your Entertainment book coupons or go to this site:

www.breezenet.com

Cruises 

Rule #1, never book a cruise based on a price that was advertised online.  This is like buying the new car off the lot for the sticker price. 

First, get knowledgeable about cruises and the different ships by going to:

www.cruisecritic.com

Second, shop online at www.icruise.com and www.cruise.com and find the 2 or 3 or 5 cruises you are interested in and write down the information (line, cabin types, dates, itinerary, published price). 

Second check the www.icruise.com site and see if the live agent option is available in the upper right hand corner and click on it, but don’t start the chat session – just make sure the option is available.

Now call the people at cruise.com and ask them what the lowest price you can get on the various cruises is.  If icruise.com published a lower price tell them at has to be lower than that price.  Once they give you a price get their name and extention and tell them you are going to shop around then call them back.  Call icruise.com and ask them to beat the cruise.com price. 

If you want to get really tricky and save time, start a chat session with the icruise.com agent while you are on the phone with the cruise.com agent and go back and forth and have them beat each other’s price.

Where can I get the best travel deal?

No specific destination in mind and just like to find a good deal? (The first two are all you really need to check.  Don’t bother with Priceline or Hotwire unless you just like spending your free time doing this kind of thing.)

www.travelzoo.com
www.site59.com
www.lastminutetravel.com

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