I’ve been an avid traveler since I was a kid when I would hop on planes with my father, who worked for the airlines. Dad was particularly skilled at finding bargains, but for the 21st-century traveler, it has never been easier to book a ticket online. Gone are the days of dusty travel agencies and dog-eared brochures.
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At the same time, doing everything yourself can be stressful. What airline should you fly? Where should you stay? How will you find the best deal? For that matter, where do you even start, with so many online companies vying for your credit card?
Each service has its pros and cons, but these are the brands that I most fervently recommend. They are comprehensive, easy to use, and cater to a variety of needs and interests. And while most customers will be searching for flights, hotels, and rental cars, remember that many of these services can book cruises and activities as well.
Here are my personal top five:
Travelocity is one of the largest travel sites in the world, and although it has a lot of similarities to other sites (like Priceline and Expedia), I am consistently impressed with its travel packages. Instead of just booking a flight and room, you can combine airfare, hotels, rental cars and more.
I'm often surprised by how many people book these elements separately, or just wait until they arrive at their destination to figure out the details. If you're not using rewards points to fly, Travelocity is one of the best services for saving money on the overall cost of your trip. According to the company, people who combine even just their flight and hotel save $525 on average. That’s a lot of cocktail money.
Like a lot of great travel sites, Travelocity has a free app for the Apple and Android user. Its primary service is called Farewatcher, which monitors deals on desired locations. Once you inform the app that you want to travel to Cancun, for example, you will receive notifications as prices drop.
Some travelers are more spontaneous than others. For people who like to hop on planes on a whim, Airfarewatchdog will quickly become your best friend. This service sets itself apart by monitoring airline sites for sales and discounts.
The best part? Airfarewatchdog employs flesh-and-blood people who spend their days seeking out the best fares. It's kind of like having a personal travel shopper. Airfarewatchdog does the research for you, and all you have to do is sit back and wait for the deals to rush in.
The company specializes in last-minute fares, particularly the “blooper” and “mea culpa” fares that result when an airline messes up. Unlike many companies, these folks incorporate smaller airlines as well, such as Southwest and Allegiant, which are known for great prices but are often skipped over. If you're not tied to a particular brand, this is a great way to save money.
About 27 million members can't be wrong: Travelzoo has become a popular venue for great savings, as the site has partnered with over 2,000 companies.
Travelzoo’s search capabilities are breathtaking, and you can even use multiple search engines to track down the best offers. CEO Chris Loughlin has boasted in interviews that the site never publishes a deal he wouldn't book himself.
Travelzoo has won a lot of accolades for its quality, especially when it comes to international flights. Want to backpack through Europe, but you're not picky about where you start? You can even search deals by continent.
For years, Kayak was the reigning champion of travel sites, aggregating the data from hundreds of services, including booking companies, airlines and travel agencies.
Kayak is particularly suited for people with open-ended travel plans, enabling you to find recommendations within a certain budget. The site’s “Explore” tool shows you a world map that highlights each destination and a conspicuously cheap fare. For example, you might scroll over Asia and find a flight to Tokyo for $650. The dates might not be ideal, but the information will help you figure out the best times to book.
While many services will track airfares and notify you when they rise or drop, Kayak boasts a “Price Predictor,” which anticipates the fluctuation in price before booking. Remember, nothing on the internet can perfectly prognosticate the future, but Kayak’s metrics are a helpful gauge.
1. Google Flights
Few will be surprised that Google Flights ranks number one on my list, but for me, it's not just because Google has so much data at its fingertips. It's nice to be able to compare so many different airlines and agencies, but the real reason Google excels is this: The search engine can tell the difference between a cheap flight and a good flight.
Many of us have made this mistake, booking a flight for a song, only to end up with a cramped seat, hidden baggage fees, and no meal. Even if you like to rough it, there is nothing wise or convenient about a 3 AM departure from Guatemala City. Click here to learn more about how to avoid this situation.
Google Flights allows you to set certain parameters when you search. Although many services let you modify your search options, let's just say that Google Flights is particularly good at it.
For fly-by-night tourists, Google’s most impressive feature is searching within a date range. Suppose you want to travel somewhere in Africa in October. You can select the dates you're available, and Google will figure out the best days and destinations for you.
As most serious travelers know, the best journeys are full of pleasant surprises.
However, if that's all you use it to do, you're missing out. There are some amazing features built in that make planning that vacation so much easier. Click here for five secrets to using Google Flights for the best deals.
Also, make sure you have everything you need for your next trip, grab your travel accessories in my shop today!
What are other ways you can take advantage of online savings? Be sure to listen or download my podcasts, or click here to find it on your local radio station. You can listen to the Kim Komando Show on your phone, tablet or computer. From buying advice to digital life issues, click here for my free podcasts.
3 secrets to booking a cruise online
I have relatives who take up to three cruises a year and can't get enough of them. They love the food, entertainment, exotic locations and just hanging out as the boat chugs along. Of course, that's all less enjoyable if you feel like you overpaid, or you picked an option that you later regret.