T+L's Top Travel Websites of 2008
Booking a last-minute flight? Trying to score impossible restaurant reservations? Here are 33 websites that deliver.
Airports and Airlines
Predict the ideal moment to buy a ticket
Farecast uses historic pricing data to anticipate whether or not a fare is likely to fluctuate in the next week, even providing you with a rating.
Get your money back if a fare drops
If you’ve booked a flight directly through an airline website, Yapta will monitor the fare, alert you if the price drops, and instruct you how to get a refund from the airline for the difference (yes, it’s often possible).
Find on-time flights at 60 U.S. airports
Learn the odds of an on-time departure, the expected length of delays, and the likelihood of a cancellation for any given flight. Caveat: predictions reflect past delay patterns, not real-time data.
Snag a seat with the most legroom
With 436 detailed seating maps for 62 airlines and 74 plane models, the site makes it possible to pinpoint the ideal spot for the most space, access to power outlets, and distance from the lavatory.
Increase your odds for a hassle-free flight
Meticulous online bookers will love the TripQuality function on this site, which lets you search flights based on factors such as the carrier’s record for losing bags and the aircraft’s age.
Secure prime parking at the airport
This directory of more than 500 airport parking lots around the world gives you prices and distances from the terminals, plus maps and user reviews. Caveat: contact info is included, but reservations can only be made online for lots at 15 airports (with more added each month).
Get the best deals on flights and hotels
These two aggregators (now both owned by Kayak) are still the ultimate source for deals on airfare, hotels, and car rentals. Their new Flight Quality tool highlights itineraries with long layovers or short connection times. And the Every Hotel on Earth (EHOE) program allows users to search a database of 130,000 properties by amenities and location.
Book low-fare carriers within europe
You can search 75 low-fare carriers that service 700 destinations. Two numbers pop up—the fare and the price—so pay close attention. The fare is the base cost, while the price includes taxes and hidden fees, which can add as much as $65 to the cost of a ticket.
Identify the fastest, most direct routes—taking into account speed limits and delay times—in more than 100 U.S. cities. Real-time data is used for info on roadwork, car accidents, and even traffic-camera locations.
Tune in to stations around the world
From your PDA or iPhone, punch in your zip code and download a list of stations—from talk radio to jazz and country—in your area; the site has 14,500 AM and FM stations in the United States and 6,000 abroad.
Make restaurant reservations abroad
For the food-obsessed, no more staying up until 4 a.m. to call a soba spot in Tokyo. OpenTable, which links into the reservation systems of more than 8,500 restaurants around the world, makes it easy to secure a table at any time of day or night.
Stay current on the local food scene
An obsessive community of nearly one million foodies dishes about restaurants, recipes from top regional chefs, and local markets around the world.
Reviews by user
With eight years’ experience, this site is a leader because of the sheer volume of entries—nearly 20 million reviews of hotels, restaurants, and attractions, and more than 1.3 million photos. Be forewarned: opinions range from candid to nitpicky and suspiciously enthusiastic.
Compare hotels in a destination
Preview all aspects of a hotel and compare it with its competitors. Short videos take you inside more than 8,000 properties, from the lobby to the bathroom of a master suite.
Pinpoint the best room
Get the floors to avoid and the suites not to miss in 450 hotels across the United States. You can compare rooms based on noise level, view, location, and bathroom size. In the coming year, the site will expand to include hotels in Europe, South America, Mexico, and the Caribbean.
More than 1,000 reviews detail the high and low points of each listed property, from a bungalow in Bali to a château in Bordeaux. You’ll know what to expect, whether it’s a stellar menu or pesky highway noise.
An igloo in Switzerland, a castle in Australia, a prison in Turkey: these are just some of the oddball finds on the site. A colorful interactive map makes it possible to search by region and then ranks each property by its “wow” factor.
Customize trip plans
Fill out a Trip Request form (identifying your budget, where and when you want to travel, and more), and you’ll receive personalized itinerary options from a travel agent who specializes in your destination of choice.
Coordinate Group Travel
Get all your friends or family members on the same page—literally. Everyone can have an equal share in the planning, thanks to a personalized website that lets you create to-do lists, chat on private message boards, and build day-by-day itineraries.
Package deals, one week out
The site’s Last-Second Deals tab allows you to search, by destination and date, a list of packages that include reduced rates for flights, hotels, and car rentals. At press time, we found a round-trip flight from New York to Seattle, plus a three-night stay at the downtown Hotel Vintage Park, for $622 per person.
Create no-fuss online itineraries
Forward your many confirmation e-mails (car, hotel, flight, restaurants) to this site, which synthesizes them all by time and date and creates a streamlined itinerary, including maps, weather conditions, and driving directions.
Bid on over-the-top hotel stays and cruises
This user-friendly site turns up hundreds of five-star hotel and cruise deals (with savings of up to 50 percent). Thanks to extensive slide shows, you’ll know exactly what to expect.
Fulfill singular requests
Annual membership to the Quintessentially Group is steep—from $1,800 a year—but it gets you a team of multilingual, multitalented staffers who can take care of any travel need—in person, over the phone, or online—whether it’s planning a one-of-a-kind trip to Thailand or snagging front-row seats for a fashion show in Milan.
Google Maps still soars above the competition with easy-to-read maps, street views of most U.S. cities, live feeds of traffic conditions, and detailed car, subway, and walking routes.
Get suggested routes for 61 countries around the world (24 in Europe) along with estimates about what you’ll spend on gas and tolls. New technology sends the route directly to your GPS, and distances are available in both kilometers and miles.
Navigate major U.S. transit systems
A simple search yields point-to-point bus, subway, and taxi directions in six major U.S. cities. Helpful extras include trip cost, expected travel time, and amount of walking en route.
All 50,000-plus listings feature photos, Google-powered maps, and ratings and reviews from previous renters.
Plug in when you want to go and how much you want to spend on your next vacation, and Tripbase will identify a handful of destinations that match your needs. Each will include an overview of the city, average flight and hotel costs, and expected weather.
Ship luggage in advance
With fees for checking bags on the rise, this site’s service is comparatively reasonable: between New York and California, it’s $96 for a small duffel (40 pounds) to $140 for a large upright (70 pounds). T+L Tip: it takes two to six business days for the bags to arrive domestically, and seven to 10 days internationally.
Additional reporting by: Christine Ajudua, Lisa Cheng, Jennifer Flowers, Sarah Gold, Alison Goran, Adrien Glover, Catesby Holmes, Sarah Kantrowitz, Shira Nanus, Kathryn O'Shea-Evans, Joshua Pramis, Charlotte Savino, Ann Shields, and Katherine Wiley
1. The New Booking Model
With so many booking agents to choose from, travelers are turning to a new group of sites that is moving into travel-agent territory. “People are frustrated,” says Henry Harteveldt, lead travel analyst at Forrester Research Inc., an independent research company in Cambridge, Mass. “Online booking tools haven’t inspired customers, helped them plan, or made them feel smarter.” In response, the new hybrid models are trying to lure customers by offering insider advice on destinations and organizing custom itineraries. Nileguide.com, for example, allows you to create individualized itineraries in more than 20 countries by clicking and dragging listings of restaurants, hotels, and attractions into an online trip calendar.
2. Word of Mouse
As the popularity of social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace grows—a record 70 percent of all Internet users in the U.S. logged on to a community-based site in August of this year—travelers are benefiting from their virtual friends’ experiences. By adding applications such as Rummble to your Facebook profile, for example, you can share and receive tips on hotels around the world. The website Socialight provides maps that are annotated with food, drink, and entertainment recommendations from friends in your network. You can also join “channels,” such as “Free WiFi” (members note where you can find it worldwide) or “Farmers’ Markets” (locate the closest ones, wherever you happen to be).
3. User-Generated Feedback
For years, booking sites such as Orbitz and Travelocity relied on standard hotel-star ratings to help travelers distinguish between properties. Then came TripAdvisor and TravelPost, which offer user-generated ratings and rank properties by their highest combined scores. Newer sites are taking comparison shopping to a more nuanced level. On UpTake, you can search for U.S. hotels by theme: “romantic,” “cheap,” or “pet-friendly,” to name a few. The site then scours more than 1,000 websites, blogs, and online magazines to find which hotels are most often tagged in surveys with that keyword. For airline travel, InsideTrip organizes flights by price and creates a score based on 12 “pain points,” including the likelihood of a delay and the minimum amount of legroom to expect.
4. PDA Applications Take Off
The success of the iPhone and its “application store” has spawned a new era for those on the go—and copycat cell-phone companies are clamoring to add similar capabilities. Among the more than 3,000 iPhone applications available, there’s Urbanspoon, which provides restaurant recommendations in your neighborhood; iWant, which lets you search for everything from cocktail lounges to antiques shops and then plot the places on a map; and iLingo, which allows you to download hundreds of useful phrases in several European and Asian languages. Airline companies are also hopping on the mobile bandwagon. With Southwest, Delta, and American, you can check in from your PDA. Other airlines will soon follow suit.
The Fare Alert tool, downloaded to your desktop, tracks flights for your desired destination and price range.
Under the site’s new Price Assurance policy, Orbitz will monitor any flight you’ve booked up until the day of departure. If, within that time, another customer books the same itinerary at a lower price, Orbitz will send you a cash refund for the difference.
The Insider’s Guide shows you how to find the best deals on airfare, hotels, cruises, and car rentals, such as flexible-date shopping and dateless hotel searches.