Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Travel Tips

Summer travel has kept me from posting much here lately, but not from discovering some new online travel services.

You're probably using the website of your favorite airline, which is exactly what they want you to do. Sometimes, though, you can find cheaper flights by comparison shopping. Sites like Travelocity, Expedia, and Orbitz allow you to compare prices from different carriers. If you're flexible on your flight dates, you may find a very cheap airline ticket.

A service I use frequently to sanity check flight prices is kayak.com. Kayak claims to scan airline prices continuously, and it appears to me to find cheaper itineraries that incorporate multiple airlines more than other services. Once you find the flights that best fits your schedule and budget constraints, Kayak provides a link to the carrier sites to purchase your tickets.

I learned about a couple of new online travel services this summer. If you want to fly somewhere and are willing to wait for the best ticket price, try yapta. After you enter your desired flight schedule and destination, yapta provides you updates as fares change (which they do frequently). You can use yapta to track hotel pricing at your desination, too.

After you purchase your tickets (or reserve a hotel room or car), try TripIt. I have to admit, this is my favorite new travel service this year. Once you set up your account, you forward email from airlines, hotels, and rental car companies to plans@tripit.com from your email account. TripIt parses the emails and fills in your calendar automagically. That's good enough for me to make TripIt a great service, but TripIt also simplifies trip planning for a groups of people, and let's friends track each other's travel. I also can track friends' travel in my calendar if I want.

Now that you've purchased your travel, automatically entered your itinerary in your calendar, and alerted all your friends, you'll want SeatExpert to find the best seat for your travel. I haven't tried this one yet, but my friend Brad likes it. If it can help me and my friends put seats together for our next flight, I'll be dancing in the aisles.

Here are some other travel tips:
  • Consider driving if your flight is an hour or less. Given the time it takes to get through airport security, it may not take much longer to drive. End-to-end from San Francisco to Los Angeles, it takes about two hours longer to drive. The big advantage is that you have a car to drive when you get there.
  • Consider taking the train. In the U.S., Amtrak is a great alternative, especially on the east coast where a four or five hour train ride takes you to the center of several major cities.
  • If you're renting a car, use sites like Travelocity to compare rates. Sometimes you can do even better by calling a nearby Enterprise office.
  • If you're booking a hotel, use sites like Travelocity or Hotels.com to find the best rate. Sometimes you can call a hotel directly and negotiate an even better rate.
  • When you're purchasing travel, you may get discounts because you're a member of AARP, AAA, or other associations or clubs. Look for places on the travel site to enter your membership information. Sometimes you have to contact your association for the code you need to enter.
Happy trails and safe travels for the rest of the summer. Let me know if you have other favorite online travel services.