When it comes to travel, the internet is a cornucopia of information. When I started travelling, planning and booking a trip required hours in the library and a visit to a travel agent; these days, you can get all the information you need, shop for fares and book the whole trip online — in your pyjamas. The problem is, which websites do you use, out of the many thousands out there? As a travel writer, I book a lot of trips. So I thought I’d help by sharing a list of my favourite travel websites.
I should add, right up front, that these aren’t the only websites I use to plan and book a trip; you can find a comprehensive list of useful sites, and a few that are just for fun, under the Resources tab at the top of this page (hover over the title to see the categories). But I find that when I need some detailed and reliable information, or want to book a trip at a good price, these are the sites I find myself going to most often.
So here’s the short list of my favourite travel websites. This week, I’ll present the sites that focus on flights and other forms of transport, as well as those dedicated to cruising. Next week, I’ll look at the accommodation sites, and those that provide info to help with my trip planning.
Trains, boats and planes
In truth, the major booking sites are pretty much alike, but I like Expedia’s simple, practical search engine. The results show the airline I’m flying on, with the flight details easily available, including where the plane stops over, if applicable. As well, I like the option of combining my flight with a hotel and saving a few bucks – I get to choose the hotel, so it’s like a custom package tour. There are Canadian and U.S. sites, so I can get prices in my own currency. And finally, I have an Expedia account, so I get points that may some day buy me a free flight.
I use a lot of sites to find air fares, but many of them make you grope around in the dark looking for the cheapest dates to fly. Matrix will give me a 30-day calendar of days around my preferred date, showing which offer the best fares. It will even let me enter multiple airports, and plan multi-leg trips. Best of all, it quotes prices in the currency of my home airport. However, it doesn’t book the flights; you have to go to a booking site for that.
This is Google’s own search engine, so it can find just about anything. But mostly, I like the simple way it lets you search flights: enter the destination and sates and it presents a list of airfare options; adjust your dates, day by day ,and you see them change — not as good a Matrix’s calendar, but still good. Google also has a neat map display that lets you click on places around the world and get instant quotes – great when you want to travel but don’t know where. It recommends hotels, too.
Travelling around Europe can be a challenge, so I make it simple by using GoEuro. I just type in my destination and it generates all the options: plane, train, bus and even car, with the time and prices for each. It lets me search for the fastest trip, the cheapest, or the smartest, combining the two. Click on my selection and it sends me to the carrier’s website to book. This site is a great find.
This site is mostly for Canadians, and it’s not a search engine, but it can be a great source of airfare bargains. Owner Chris Myden searches the web constantly for cheap fares, and e-mails them to his subscribers as soon as he finds them. I generally get one or two e-mails a week, and they can be spectacular: last December I used one of his tips to fly to Vietnam for less than $600 Canadian.
Booking a flight isn’t all about the price. These days, I like to be comfortable when I fly. So if I’m in doubt about a flight, I pull up SeatGuru and type in the flight number. Up pops a seating diagram of the plane, with information about the amenities, leg room and which are the good and bad seats. There’s also information on the plane itself. I don’t use this site every time I fly, but it’s a handy tool to have.
This is my go-to site when I’m looking to see what’s available in the cruise universe these days. It has a clear, easy-to-use interface that lets me choose the destination, length, month and cruise line I want – I can even have it check for seniors rates. Then, it produces a list of cruises with the itineraries shown and the taxes included in the price. (There are U.S. and Canadian sites, so I can get the prices in Canuck bucks.) I can book online or call to discuss the cruise – though generally, I book through my personal Cruise Ship Centers agent, Roberta Westwood, to see what perks are available.
This is one of the major U.S. clearing houses for cruises, so if a cruise exists, they’ve got it. They always have special fares and special perks on offer (like free drinks packages), but what I like is the way they list the cruises in a long, easy-to-read graphic that shows the itinerary for each one – a big factor for me. I’ve booked cruises though CruCon and had a good experience; I’d do it again.
This is the site I go to when I want information on a specific cruise, or cruising in general. It has an encyclopedic catalogue of information about every cruise line, and every cruise. There are ship profiles and deck plans, plus lots of informative articles. But the most valuable thing may be the forums where veteran cruisers swap advice and reviews, and the “roll calls” where you can get to know others booked on your sailing (great for single cruisers). Cruise Critic also sells cruises, though I haven’t found many great deals here.
This is another great source of cruising news and information, with regular updates on the cruise industry and current events, like the recent hurricanes. However, it also has lots of cruise tips and port information — even webcams of the major ports. There are also cruise deals, price drops, and a search engine that surveys several popular online cruise agencies, though in some cases you have to call in order to book.
Those are some of my favourite travel websites, the ones I go to most often when I’m looking to book a trip. I hope you’ll find them useful. In next week’s post, I’ll look at sites for booking hotel and other kinds of accommodations — there’s quite a range out there these day. And I’ll look at some sites that offer valuable background information and practical tips on planning my trips.