Flights and vacations

Here are some of the most useful websites if you’re looking to book flights and vacations. Look here for just about every kind of travel, from simple flights to package vacations to car rentals and group or private tours. Note: many of the all-purpose sites can also be good sources of flight deals.

Trains, planes and buses

Matrix This powerful search engine lets you specify your preferred time, type of seat, and currency, enter a range of durations and view a calendar showing up to a month’s worth of flight options. As well, you can enter multiple airports, search multiple destinations at once, and book multi-leg trips

Google Flights Google’s powerful search engine lets you search for flights in a number of ways: you can even enter your departure city, date and other requirements and it will suggest destinations for you. Uses a great map that will show the best deals from your city to places all over the world.

Airfarewatchdog  These guys will send you an alert when a low fare appears for the route you want to fly. It claims to include more airlines and more special fares than its competitors, and weed out the ones with no available seats. Shows results from a number of online sites.

The Flight Deal This “indie” flight site says it uses a unique search engine to find up-to-the-minute air fare deals while avoiding “stale” deals. It publishes a short post on each deal, including the cities the fare applies to, the available dates and the routing. Also offers information on credit card deals and worldwide destinations.

YYZDeals This Canadian site specializes in finding cheap air fares, and if you subscribe for free it will send you e-mail alerts when a great deal comes up. You can also join its Facebook group to get tips from other travellers.

Secret Flyer This is the international version of YYZDeals. It lists great deals and mistake fares for flights all over the world. You can search by region, and do searches for a specific destination. There’s a hotel section, too. No e-mail notifications, as far as I can see.

Skiplagged Orbitz and United Airlines tried to sue this startup site, which specializes in “hidden city” fares. That’s where you book a two-leg flight but get off after the first leg (this is sometimes cheaper than booking a simple direct flight). Results include a nifty line chart that shows prices over a two-month period.

GoEuro This is the Swiss army knife of European travel. Type in your starting point and destination and it gives you all the practical options — train, airplane, bus and car — along with the time required for each. It even figures in the trip to the airport. Useful, but not all countries are fully covered.

Trips and tours

Expedia This is one of the online travel giants, selling everything from flights to hotels to packages all over the world. Its best feature may be its “build your own” vacation package feature that lets you bundle the flight and hotel you want and save a few dollars.

Travelocity  Another of the major travel sites, with a wide variety of offerings, though the emphasis is on hotels. Lets you build your own package, and supplies both its own hotel reviews and Tripadvisor scores (but no links). Has a comprehensive collection of destination information

Kayak  The king of the aggregator sites, Kayak claims to compare hundreds of travel sites at once, and hits some I’ve never heard of. Then it gives you a choice of which one to book with. Has alerts, and a fun map showing bargain flights around the world.

Priceline One of the original “auction” sites where you can name your price for airline tickets, hotel rooms, car rentals and vacation packages. Also does normal searches. This site looks for senior fares when searching for cruises. Compares up to four cruises, but you can’t book cruises online — you have to phone.

Flight Centre  A major Canadian online booking site with 225 stores across Canada.  It sells a full range of flights, hotels, package, and other services. Says it will beat any price on the same air fare originating from Canada or the U.S., priced in Canadian dollars.  No hotel review links.

Skyscanner Another aggregator site that scans the web for the best deals on flights, hotels and car rentals, then connects you directly to the travel agency or hotel to book. Lets you do an “everywhere” search that returns the best deals to any destinations on your dates.

Tripsavvy If you need ideas on where to go, or detailed information about what to do when you get there, TripSavvy is a great resource. It has sections on many destinations around the world, and categories like Food Travel and Family Travel, and there are tips on things like packing and travel insurance.

Stride Travel This unique site is a great source for tours of all kinds, from African safaris to private tours and river cruises. And it’s aimed at baby boomers: there’s a category for “50-plus travel”. The search engine lets you focus your search by criteria including price, country, theme and physical difficulty. You’ll also find some destination info, and background on the tour companies. This unusual site specializes in tours and cruises. You can search for tours by style, operator and category, and the site is a good source for deals on ocean and river cruises. The flexible search engine offers a lot of useful filters, and you’ll find some good deals: they’ll match prices if you find a better offer.

Trip Central This Canadian all-purpose site features a handy screen that shows the best deals from a list of destinations all at the same time: you can search for tours the same way. As well, it allows you to search flights by combining price and most direct route, and has an easy-to-use process for booking multi-leg trips.