Airfare: Google Flights
Google Flights is great for comparing multiple airfares. It spotlights itineraries with the best combination of price, duration, stops and more, while map, calendar and bar-graph tools help you explore cheaper destinations and dates.
Kayak.com scours hundreds of online sources for the cheapest fare available. The more flexible you are on time and destination, the better your chances of finding a great deal. Search for dates up to three days before and after your ideal travel dates or on any weekends in the next year. And with the site’s Explore tool, you can scan a world map for all the places you can reach within a specified per-ticket price range. It also lets you specify your preferred flight time, vacation activities (beach, gamble, golf or ski?) and weather (based on temperatures).
Kayak can also help you bite the bullet and buy your ticket, or not, with its “price predictor,” which forecasts whether fares will go up or down. Enter your desired itinerary and the site will return a list of flight options, along with a recommendation to either buy now or wait for a fare drop. But the tool is not omniscient. Predictions appear with confidence rates and are limited to certain cities, round-trip, coach flights and specific time frames depending on your departure and arrival cities.
Lodging: Hotels.com, HotelTonight, SnapTravel
Hotels.com lets you search just one site for accommodations at hundreds of thousands of properties. You can find particularly good last-minute deals, which are updated daily. But even advance-travel planners can score big bargains with the site’s seasonal sales, destination-specific deals and other special offers. Frequent travelers will appreciate the simplicity of the site’s rewards program — for every ten nights you spend at any combination of the program’s 100,000 member properties, you’ll earn a free night’s stay worth up to the average daily rate of your ten nights.
Priceline offers standard online travel agent services. But its Negotiator is uniquely suited to help you haggle for the best bargains on hotels. Select a minimum star class, your dates of stay and preferred neighborhood, and then name your price. You can save up to 60% off published rates, and bids less than $100 a night on luxury lodgings often win — particularly for last-minute bookings.
But here’s the catch: Priceline doesn’t tell you which hotel you’re booking until after you pay, so you won’t be sure exactly where you’ll end up. Blind booking like this can be particularly risky when you’re visiting an unfamiliar area, especially overseas. Note: The site also allows you to Name Your Own Price for flights and car rentals.
TripAdvisor is the most popular hotel-review site, offering millions of professional and amateur reviews of hotels in the U.S. and overseas. Search for your destination, and the site will return a detailed list of hotels, bed and breakfasts, vacation rentals and other lodging options. You can filter the results to find which hotels are best for value, families, business, romance or luxury.
Watch out for possibly fake reviews from cronies trying to push up their own hotel’s ratings or flame their competitors (the site flags some suspicious postings). Ignore reviews on either extreme and focus on those with midrange ratings — they’re more likely to be the most helpful. TripAdvisor doesn’t sell rooms or offer any actual deals, but it links you to partner sites, such as Expedia, Travelocity and Hotels.com. Click on the “check rates” button and select the site or sites you’d like to try — a new window with results will open for each partner.
As you can see there are many options when it comes to travel deals. Do your due diligence and it will work out for you in the end.