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Google Brings Room 77 Into Its Fold

Yesterday we found out that Google has brought Room 77 into its portfolio of travel tools—and we think it’s big news. While the deal may not be the largest of the company’s partnerships or acquisitions to date, it’s a sign of what’s to come: As far as we can see it, Google is positioning itself to disrupt the travel sphere. Simply consider the acquisitions already in its portfolio, including travel search tool ITA—a $676 million buyout four years ago—Zagat, and Frommers (though the latter no longer belongs to Google, its content was integrated back in 2012). What it all adds up to is a growing arsenal of travel tools ready to be unleashed—the only question is when.

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Nikki Ekstein is an Assistant Editor at Travel + Leisure and part of the Trip Doctor news team. Find her on Twitter at @nikkiekstein.

Earn Free Stays Through Peer-to-Peer Rental Site Cosmopolit Home

Cosmopolit Home

The latest player in the peer-to-peer vacation rental game? The France-based Cosmopolit Home, which is trying to revolutionize a concept they call “nightswapping.” The idea is the brainchild of Serge Duriavig, who, after experiencing some downfalls of home swapping—agreeing on dates, finding accommodations up to his standards—created a new avenue to book free overnight stays.

Here’s how it works

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Kayak's Package Search: A New Way to Find the Best Deal

Kayak

True or false: booking a hotel and airfare package is cheaper than booking each component separately. If you guessed true, you’re right—most of the time, anyway. But there are exceptions. Helping you navigate those murky waters is Kayak, which has just launched a tool to aggregate package pricing and help you find the best options.

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Little Passports Inspires Newbie World Travelers

Little Passports

A new kids program, littlepassport.com, promises to turn your toddlers into international pen pals. Here's how it works: your kids get real, actual, non-virtual mail every month from Sam and Sofia, two characters who travel around the globe embarking on various adventures. The first delivery is your Explorer's Kit, with a tiny suitcase, a personal letter from the mini-globetrotters, a world wall map, a passport, activity sheets, and special access to games online. Every time Sam and Sofia visit a new country-Italy, France, Brazil, Japan-you'll get another package with stickers and photos of famous landmarks, souvenirs, and a note detailing their journeys. It's sure to inspire wanderlust in you and your little ones.

Clara Sedlak is a mother of two and Special Projects Editor at Travel + Leisure. Follow her on Twitter at @csedlak1.

Photo courtesy of Little Passports

Test Your Africa Smarts With This Speedy Game

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Think you know Africa? Guess again. YouDontKnowAfrica.com will test your knowledge of all 54 countries nestled in the world’s second-largest continent—a challenge for even the most seasoned traveler. Start the game off slow with 20 random countries and work your way to the “super-difficult” level (that’s 50 countries, and no hints!). Keep at it and you’ll be an Africa-aficionado in no time, from the Saharan sands in Morocco to Zambia’s mighty Victoria Falls. 

Maria PedoneMaria Pedone is contributor to TravelandLeisure.com. Follow her on Twitter at @mariapedestrian

Photo Courtesy of YouDontKnowAfrica.com

Two New Ways to Learn Chinese

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Looking to brush up on your Mandarin while Chinese New Year is still hot? We’ve recently discovered two apps and websites that might help you along. To get you reading in no time, there’s Chineasy, a clever site designed by a Taiwanese venture capitalist turned entrepreneur. The method is simple: traditional characters are converted into stylish illustrations that serve as visual pneumonics. Once you’ve learned a few basics, you’ll be shown compound characters that read like math problems (to come + to return = round trip). It’s all very playful, fun, and easy to use. For now, it's all online, but an app is slated to hit the iTunes store next month.

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Orbitz Steps Up Their Game with Orbitz Labs

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The OTA wars are heating up: just weeks after Expedia released three smart new features, Orbitz has one upped with their cutting-edge Orbitz Labs, meant to give travelers a whole new level of transparency when booking their flights and hotels. Think of Orbitz Labs not as one tool, but as a whole new toolbox: inside, you’ll find personalized hotel picks based on properties you’ve said you love (like Pandora for hotels), a hot rates heat map that lets you compare hotels’ average daily rates to historical trends, and “best bets,” a feature that lets you see which days or weeks offer the best hotel prices in any city. Also available: charts that show you when it’s most affordable to head to specific destinations, and trend maps that offer insight on where other Orbitz customers are traveling.

The takeaway? From loyalty programs to user-friendly functions like these, OTA’s are racing to meet their users ever-growing needs—and consumers have everything to gain.

Nikki Ekstein is an Editorial Assistant at Travel + Leisure and part of the Trip Doctor news team. Find her on Twitter at @nikkiekstein.

Photo Courtesy of Orbitz

 

New Website Trip Rebel Offers Hotel Savings

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A new website called Trip Rebel—currently in beta—is aiming to be the next Tingo. The concept is simple: You book your hotel stay through the Germany- and Austria-based site, which currently lists more than 200,000 properties around the world. It then tracks your reservation for price reductions every day until you check in. If the price drops, you’ll be automatically re-booked at the new rate, and the difference is refunded to your credit card.

There’s no limit to how much you can receive, and you can adjust your “money back level”—or the amount at which you would want to get a refund (it defaults at 1 euro). When booking, you can filter by type, room features, TripAdvisor rating, and amenities (including the puzzling “accessible path of travel” and “accessible bathroom”).

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Manage Your Airline Miles With Easy TripIt and Superfly Apps

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Good news for travelers who made “Manage my miles” one of their 2014 New Year’s Resolutions: top itinerary-management app TripIt can once again track frequent-flier miles from American, Delta, Southwest, and United airlines. It doesn’t happen automatically, though. TripIt Pro members will need to forward their monthly or quarterly statements to points@tripit.com and the service will extract the relevant balances and information.

Also worth considering: the new, still-in-beta “Superbox” service from Superfly, which automatically searches your emails for mileage statements and updates your account. (It works for all carriers but Southwest.) Currently, only Gmail users can take advantage of this function, but Superfly plans to work with other email providers soon.

Amy FarleyHave a travel dilemma? Need some tips and remedies? Send your questions to news editor Amy Farley at tripdoctor@aexp.com. Follow @tltripdoctor on Twitter.

Photo credit: iStockphoto

Expedia Introduces Three Killer New Features

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Our kudos goes to Expedia; the online booking giant has kicked off 2014 with a slew of intuitive, new features. Filling a void we’d always lamented, there’s itinerary sharing, by which customers can share live itineraries with whomever they choose (updates on delays get sent as real-time notifications). Also new: Scratchpad, a dashboard where you can save your searches and then access them from any device, or sign up for email notifications on price drops on your select routes. And finally, there’s Flight Recommendations, which analyzes your search parameters and suggests alternate airports or itinerary tweaks that might get you a better deal. And none of this could have come at a better time for Expedia, given the groundswell of rumors surrounding Google’s reinvented travel search tools—likely to hit the web come March.

Nikki Ekstein is an Editorial Assistant at Travel + Leisure and part of the Trip Doctor news team. Find her on Twitter at @nikkiekstein.

Photo Courtesy of Expedia

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