March 12, 2007 - Internet travel sites have become the standard for savvy travelers. But what sites are best? In a series of articles, we examine the travel site phenomenon and the best sites for reservations, ideas, and in-depth information.
Although it may seem that online travel aides have been around for only a short time, they are quickly becoming the only method of travel for many consumers.
The Big Three - Orbitz, Expedia and Travelocity – are used in total by 28% of North Americans who book leisure travel. Their comprehensive offerings and travel packages have pushed them to the top by users.
At each site, you can research flights, cars and hotels by the date and city of travel. You can save by booking flights and accommodation together, and save more by booking all three. In addition, many city tourism vehicles have partnered with these sites to give travelers advance reservations to museums, special events, tours, and public transportation passes.
With this model in mind, other sites have sprung up, each offering a special twist to make them stand out from the biggies.
Site59.com. For the last-minute weekend getaway, this site offers bookings made up to three hours before departure. The site works with partner hotels, airlines and car-rental companies to collect deals on last-minute inventory or services that would otherwise go unsold. They offer packages in specific categories like "Under $250," "All-Inclusive," or "Offbeat." Packages are available in flight/hotel, flight/car and hotel/car combinations.
Kayak.com. This site is unique for offering flight listings from budget air carriers like Jet Blue and Spirit Airlines. It also lets you search more than one airport simultaneously (for arrivals and departures) and includes a movable grid that lets you eliminate flights that don't match your ideal itinerary.
Responsibletravel.com. Looking to travel with a clear conscience? This site offers tour operators and accommodation suppliers that work for the environment and local community.
A plethora of other sites serve as search engines, scavenging other sites for fare comparison on flights, hotels, cars, and more. These sites include: traveljungle.com, farecompare.com, cheaptickets.com, travelaxe.com, and more.
Many sites have opted to focus exclusively on special deals in one area in order to set them apart from the Big Three. If you have your flight or car plans set, check out these sites for accommodation: ridiculously cheap places to sleep between sightseeing, or the best, most luxurious homes away from home.
Priceline.com. A big mover in the initial days of travel websites, allowing consumers to set their own prices for travel, today Priceline is known for one thing: hotels. Since many hotels will have open rooms on any given night, users can try bidding $99 for a four-star hotel and often end up staying in one of the city's nicest hotels.
Booking.com. This site offers savings of up to 75 per cent on 30,000 worldwide hotels and charges no booking fee.
And don't forget about super-low-cost alternatives for finding a bed:
Hostels.com. A site featuring monthly top 10 hostels based on users' ratings and a daily spotlight on a high-ranking hostel. Group bookings can now be made online.
Couchsurfing.com. Find a free place to stay on this site, where you can reserve willing hosts' spare rooms or sofas. A great way to meet local people or visit someplace unique and offbeat. Hosts how long a guest stays at their home, and you can read reviews by other couch surfers who got there first.
Read our other installments in this series, where we examine the online travel industry, techniques to get your ideal trip, and sites offering insider travel tips and reviews.