Features Director Nilou Motamed dishes on the best travel apps and websites right now. Check out Travel + Leisure's top must-know resources for the connected traveler.
Five-course dinners at top restaurants around the country no longer have to be such a costly part of your trip, thanks to an influx of restaurant deals found both online and via mobile apps. The BlackboardEats site offers discounts—such as 30 percent off dinner at Los Angeles’s Mo-Chica or New York’s Matsuri—to anyone who signs up. All you have to do is present the discount code at the restaurant at any time. Every venue is handpicked by a staff of professional restaurant reviewers (many from the now-defunct print version of Gourmet). Sometimes the deals involve mystery dishes that are only available to members, making it more of a food enthusiasts’ club than a coupon service.
A new travel website is turning friends into travel agents, coworkers into guidebooks, and families into concierges. Gtrot.com (short for globetrotters) recently stepped out of its beta phase and is now a full-blown social travel site with various tools designed to personalize trips at home and abroad. The brainchild of Harvard-grad Zachary Smith and co-founder Brittany Laughlin, Gtrot registers past, present, and future trips through Facebook with the vision of friends swapping secrets and gems from around the world.
Who He Is: As founder and CEO of Altimeter Capital, a hedge fund that specializes in travel-themed tech companies, Brad Gerstner spends a lot of time on the road as both a business and a leisure traveler. As a result, he knows how to spot a good hotel room (“on a high floor and away from the elevator”)—a skill he leveraged when creating his latest company.
His Big Idea: The website room77.com promises to help travelers pick the perfect hotel room. (Sort of like what SeatGuru did for airline seats.) The site offers floor plans, pictures, user reviews, and window views for rooms in 2,500 three-star-plus hotels (and counting). A new iPhone app provides the same service for free, on the go. So now guests can book a room and not worry about that blocked ocean view the hotel’s website neglected to mention.
Photo courtesy of Brad Gerstner
Thanks to a recent explosion of online booking sites, the $24 billion short-term rental market is now about one-fifth of all U.S. hotel-room revenue, according to Alexis de Belloy, a vice president at HomeAway and VRBO. De Belloy’s sites, which are among the first generation of online rental agencies, cater mainly to families looking to book entire houses—a great way to save money on the road. The success of HomeAway and VRBO has helped to launch a slew of home-rental sites, many of which serve travelers with ever more particular tastes and interests. With listings in 10,000 cities and counting, AirBnB is like eBay for rentals: each host has a profile with user reviews and images. Plus, everyone is encouraged to submit ratings after a visit, which maintains quality control. Roomorama and iStopOver provide similar offerings, with additional features such as the ability to post requests for specific types of accommodations, in case you want, say, organic food in the fridge or a toddler-friendly apartment. And finally, taking the house-swapping trend to a whole new level is Luxe Home Swap, which lets you trade stays at your chic place with one of thousands of comparably stylish options across the globe for an annual fee of $159. At press time, a high-design house in Tucson, Arizona, and a relaxed beach retreat on Isla Fuerte, in Colombia, were just two of the properties available.
Illustrated by Leif Parsons
It’s no secret that the introduction of iPads into the market, just over a year ago, has resulted in the reshaping of how just about every industry imaginable does business. And as I’ve reported before, hotels are no exception to this.
A relatively new trend that I’m seeing on the rise is the use of iPads as personal, portable concierges.
When it comes to vacation rentals, we’re all familiar with hotels, resorts, villas, yurts, and boats. But what if you had the chance (and budget) to take it to the next level, and rent an entire country? (No, there’s no typo there. And yes, you read that right.)
Airbnb.com, a vacation rental site that lets people rent out their own properties to travelers looking to stray from the typical hotel stay, is really stepping up its game with this offer, which (literally) puts the key to the small country of Liechtenstein (which rests on Austria’s western border) in your hands. But you’ll need to be a high-roller (or at least have a ton of friends willing to pool resources) if you want take advantage; the cost is $70,000 per night.
I've never made a travel itinerary for any trip I’ve taken. Why not? Partly because when I’m on vacation, I like to go with the flow. But it’s also because I don’t really like to spend a ton of time researching. Let’s not forget that half the fun in traveling to a new destination is the excitement that comes from the unexpected.
Knowing there are quite a few folks out there who think similarly, American Express, T+L’s parent company, developed a new booking service it's calling Nextpedition (tomorrow is its grand debut). Primarily targeting twentysomethings, Nextpedition creates trips based on your travel profile. But here’s the catch: you won’t know where you’re going or what you’re doing until the last minute.
Last year Delta introduced the option for folks to purchase tickets through an app built into their Facebook page. This year, it's taking it a step further, and letting users access its boarding passes without ever leaving Facebook. (The same 24 hours pre-flight time limit that's used on the official Delta site still applies.)
What else can you do?
- Check flight status.
- View trip details.
- View what in-flight amenities will be available for your specific flight.
- Share your flight information with your Facebook contacts.
Pretty cool stuff. (And further proof that Facebook is soon destined to be your one stop spot for, well, everything.)
Joshua Pramis is an online associate editor and resident tech guru at Travel + Leisure. Follow him on Twitter: @joshuapramis
Photo courtesy of Lyndsey Matthews.
David vs. Goliath.
Cain vs. Abel.
Tyson vs. Holyfield.
Sure, those fights were pretty epic, but they pale in comparison to one battle that has been going on since the dawn of time…or, y’know, for a few decades. Or something. I’m talking about the duel between NYC and Los Angeles.
Residents from the bicoastal cities historically have been actively engaged in an extreme competition to be the best of the best. But a new blog, based in of one of those cities (New York), is beginning a campaign to win a different, seemingly unexpected title: rudest.