My go-to tool for travel planning is and will probably always be Excel. However, there are a few sites that I use frequently for planning travel:
1. Google Flights
This is a new addition to my arsenal. I had previously used flight alerts on Expedia (and their family of brands), but found their e-mails to be less than helpful because they e-mail you the lowest price for a route, but not necessarily the itinerary you’re interested in. That might be fine if you’re mainly just price sensitive and are willing to take a less convenient flight in exchange for the cheapest price. However, traveling with a toddler and a full-time work schedule means that I also need a flight that won’t conflict too much with bedtime and won’t mean I take a day off just to spend half of it flying. With Google Flights, I’m able to track the specific itinerary that works best for me and view the tracked prices on a graph. When you’re ready to purchase, Google will provide you with links to the airlines (or multiple links when it’s a flight offered by partner airlines like Delta/Air France/KLM) so that you can book directly.
For our upcoming trip in April, I tracked a multi-city itinerary from Seattle to Rome, and then from Paris back to Seattle (I was already planning on using a small carrier to get from Rome to Paris) as well as our intra-Europe flight from Rome to Paris. I’ve kept tracking the flights after booking so that I can keep the info in mind for our next travels. The inter-continental flights were trending in the $4,000 range for the 3 of us on Air France’s website, but I bought them for $2,770 and they’ve still been trending down (the risk you take by booking 3 months in advance). The intra-continental options have been trending up, so I’m at least happy to have saved money there! One other tip, if multiple links are offered, check all of them. The Air France itinerary was still higher than Google’s quote, but the KLM website worked appropriately. I think it better understands the child fare, and does better at looking at the varying levels of fare classes.
This is another Google product. I haven’t found the mobile app very helpful (it seems to have trouble with multiple layers, for example, and I don’t find it easy to edit a map in-app), but the desktop version is great for a couple of purposes:
a) I use it when I’m initially planning a trip to help me decide where to stay. I make a list in Excel of the attractions that I think we might want to see. Then, I plot them on MyMaps to see where they’re concentrated. We love to walk as much as possible when we’re vacationing in a city, so we prefer to stay near our priority “to dos” and good transit. As an example, I loved the place we stayed in Lisbon (The Lisbonaire Apartments) because we could easily walk or take transit to most key destinations. It also offered a simple bus from the airport within blocks of the door. Once I nail down an area to stay, I use the layers feature to add in our accommodations, restaurants, and key transit stations. You can customize the icons and colors to make it easier to see layers on the map.
b) Booking.com used to allow you to see your “favorites” on a map when you had saved them, but seems to have removed that feature. I now use a temporary MyMaps layer to plot key contenders so that I can see where they line up with the things we want to do. I’m often willing to pay a little bit more for an apartment or hotel if it’s going to save me money on a cab from the airport, or time crossing the city.
Example from our Spain/Portugal trip last year:
This is a mobile app that I love for keeping travel confirmations together on my phone. I still usually print out an Excel spreadsheet with the information to have on hand as a back-up, but this has been the easiest way to see things quickly on my phone. Once you’ve registered, you just forward the e-mail confirmation for your flight/hotel/car rental to firstname.lastname@example.org, which is then scanned for key information and available in a user-friendly format. It does have trouble with some of the less common confirmation e-mails. For example, when I got a confirmation e-mail from VRBO recently, TripCase stored it in a new “Inbox” feature, but couldn’t pull out the key details. I was able to add them in manually (much easier to do with the desktop version), but just something to keep in mind if you’re going to be booking a lot of boutique lodging. I also really like this app for storing travel information that our families forward. I frequently find myself frantically trying to figure out what time my in-laws are supposed to arrive because I can’t find the confirmation e-mail that they kindly forwarded 6 months ago. If I’ve remembered to forward it to the app, I just pull it up and typically can see if it’s delayed or on time.
Desktop view of an excerpt from our trip to Spain and Portugal last year:
In addition to the above, I still primarily use Booking.com to book accommodations for our trips because I like their user interface better than most other websites (better filters, easier to search with children added, lots of reviews). I typically cross reference it with TripAdvisor and the hotel’s own website (if applicable; I have to Google to find it because Booking.com doesn’t show the website) to make sure I’m getting the best deal.
What are the travel planning websites and tools that you find the most helpful?