Laptop-toting business traveler? Smartphone-wielding tourist? Jamaica-bound cruiser? Whether you’re a starving student, a parent planning a family trip or a road warrior executive, these apps and sites can take some speedbumps out of the road before you.
1) SideStep – Once upon a time, Sidestep was a PC-only downloadable app that trawled the web for the best airfares. It was worth the custom application annoyance because it really did find the best deals. Today, Sidestep.com is a sleek, ultra-customizable travel search engine that can index results by dozens of variables. Want to search a few nearby airports, but not all? Or leave in the late afternoon and return in the morning? You can even specify whether you want to sort times by takeoff time or by arrival time. Sidestep auto-sorts and live updates results with the click of a checkbox. In our tests today versus Expedia, Orbitz and Travelocity, Sidestep still finds the best fares out there. Incidentally, writers at CNN.com, VroomVroomVroom’s Geek Travel Guide and Travel + Leisure all agree with us.
2) Google Maps – Aside from its tie-ins to the entire Google application suite and its ever-increasing map, satellite and street view coverage, the Google Maps/Google Earth network is so thorough that it’s led to domestic lawsuits and censorship by foreign militaries. Recently the site has added click-and-drag route adjustments and terrain views of maps—avoid winding mountain roads—and Google is adding features rapidly. You can download Google Maps for your web-enabled phone for free; carrier usage fees still apply.
3) Farecast – Farecast.com predicts the best dates to buy airfares based on past price trends, but has limited national coverage, and all of its data is U.S. only. In our test of a Labor Day weekend trip from Los Angeles to Des Moines, no predictions were offered, but it recommended to go ahead and buy tickets now (April) for LAX to Boston’s Logan airport for the same dates. Also, the site found some super cheap fares for both trips.
4) SeatGuru – Seatguru.com offers seating charts for more than 300 different aircraft on 45 airlines. If you’re bigger than the average person, hate crying babies, need to have the aisle seat or hate sitting near the wings since you’re always convinced they’re going to fall off, this is your go-to site.
5) Kayak – Travel + Leisure magazine calls Kayak.com the top site overall for booking hotels. Book at more hotels around the world (159,000) than even Hotels.com (70,000) with Kayak’s simple, sleek interface. Some like Kayak for airfares too, but we got the best rates with Sidestep—see #1.
6) Traffic.com – Traffic.com covers 51 metropolitan (i.e. traffic-prone) areas across the U.S. with 0 to 10 jam ratings on local trouble spots. Get warnings about traffic-creating events like concerts, sporting events and natural disasters and sign up for custom SMS, email or cell phone call alerts for traffic flare-ups. There’s also a mobile version.
7) GasBuddy.com – GasBuddy.com finds the best local gas prices in all 50 U.S. states and Canada. Select your state or province, then major metropolitan area, then city, and view a chart of user-reported prices from high to low. Since the prices are user-reported, there’s less data for sparsely populated areas, but with gas prices on the rise, the site has been gaining popularity. The site’s cluttered interface could be cleaned up a bit, but it’s serviceable.
8) Airport Discount Parking – AirportDiscountParking.com’s name says it all. No more circling the lot and hedging your bets. Make reservations—often at a discount over on-site prices—and print coupons to wield at the parking booth.
9-11) Parking Lot Maps – One of the greatest variables in traveling to a new spot is the parking. Will it be more like San Francisco, with $40 a day structures, or like the Midwest, with wide, bare boulevards? Three sites aim at easing the parking pain by mapping parking lots and structures—SpotScout (U.S.), Findacarpark (Australia), and Parkatmyhouse (the U.K.).
12) Trip Advisor – Scout out the best lodgings with user reviews at TripAdvisor.com. Popular properties can attract dozens of review, and it takes some time to learn to distinguish the cranky reviewers who can’t be pleased by anything from the genuinely helpful. Nonetheless, it’s a huge and active user community with plenty to share. (Check out some of the funniest, most negative hotel stays ever here.)
13) Vroom Vroom Vroom – Vroomvroomvroom.com compares car rental prices from major agencies in the U.S., Europe, the U.K., Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. Incidentally, Kiplinger.com recommends that Americans rent from major American companies when overseas—it seems to run more smoothly for everyone, they say.
14) Avoid Airport Delays – The recent grounding of planes for wiring inspections only highlights the growing problem of flight delays. Fight the power with Avoiddelays.com, a site from the National Air Traffic Controllers Association aimed at reporting delayed flights and shaming the most frequently offending airports and airlines. Avoiddelays is powered by FlightStats.com, which offers alerts for delayed flights at selected American airports.
15) Last Minute Hotel Reservations – For a spur of the moment getaway, laterooms.com lists last minute deals at hotels and resorts around the world. Availability varies wildly, but hey, you should have thought of that before you put your planning off to the last minute. For a posh whirlwind getaway, also check LuxuryLink.com—some LuxuryLink users have reported savings of up to 70 percent, according to Kiplinger.
16) Track Mileage Expenses – Despite its rather plain-wrap website, BizMileTracker is a major-league, IRS-approved way to quickly compute miles traveled for business. They say they’ve worked with Canon and Ask.com, among others. Currently, they’re offering free memberships but they usually charge $29. If you drive a lot, you’ll save far more than the $29 membership fee in tax deductions.
17) Save on Currency Exchange – Skip the chintzy, touristy currency exchange kiosks that rip you off—Thomas Cook, are you listening? XE.com is an industrial-strength foreign currency conversion rate site. If you travel with a web-enabled device and are scrupulous about getting the best rates, check XE.com frequently. Also check out the New York Times’s advice on saving when exchanging.
18) Travel Light – Written and illustrated like a folksy textbook with tips for the “compleat traveler,” Onebag.com advertises itself as “the art and science of traveling light.” Although Australia-based, the site aims at an international audience with its universal advice.
19) Create Holiday Checklists – Create customized packing lists at British “holiday checklist service” Dontforgetyourtoothbrush.com. Sign up for custom reminder texts—“Did you water the azealas?”—and print and save packing lists customized by your destination and type of trip. Apparently, it works—the site earned the #7 spot on CNN International’s Top Websites of 2007.
20-22) Make Your Phone a GPS Device – Turn your PDA phone into a GPS device with Telenav.com or 3dTracking.net. No longer restricted to the Nextel network, Telenav charges a $9.99 monthly fee (last we checked) for turn-by-turn navigation on a smartphone screen. 3dtracking offers software that monitors the movements of a GPS-enabled phone—perfect for parents keeping an eye on wandering kids. The first device software install is free; adding additional phones requires a fee. Nextel or Boost Mobile users can also check out Accutracking.com.
23) Make the Most of Your Miles – Got frequent flyer miles with multiple airlines or programs, but not enough to actually take a trip? WebFlyer.com aims to translate, transfer or rearrange those useless points into something usable. The site also boasts “the world’s most popular message board for frequent flyers.”
24) Find a Cheap Cruise – Looking to sail away? At CruiseCompete, travel agents vie for cruise package sales in a LendingTree-style setup that has earned plenty of accolades. Both experienced and newbie cruisers can commune on Cruisemates.com, the cruise lifestyle central, or at Cruisecritic.com, which offers a friendly interface. Neither Cruisecritic or Cruisemates is a booking site, but both sites do link to bargain berths around the web.
25) Find a Hostel – If you’re finally ready to bum across Europe—or across the world—reserve cheapie lodgings at Hostelbook.com. Search and book over 9,000 hostels at the site, or use the Facebook Hostels application powered by Hostelbook. Whether you’re bound for sketchy cots or cushy twin bunks, you’re on your way to cheap digs.
and 26) Hotel Booking – Of course, for ensuring the very best rates and availability on your next hotel booking, visit Hotels Cheap.
Mobile/WAP sites for major airlines
Got a smartphone? Check your flight status, check in, and even use your smartphone as a ticket. The airline sites below will hook you up.
Voice, text or email flight status updates
WAP site (same as main site)
WAP site (same as main site)
WAP site (same as main site)