Traveling is fun and you can do it without breaking the bank — you just have to know where to go online first. And if you’re tired of wondering which sites are best for each part of your trip planning, we’ve got you covered. Here are the best travel sites we’ve found to help you bag the bargains on airfares, lodging, car rentals and all your other travel needs. Best of all, almost all of the travel websites are free to use. Bon voyage!
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Keeping up with airfare prices has gotten easier thanks to sites like Google Flights and Kayak. You just type in your home and destination airport, pick the flights that work best for you and then set an alert to track the price. For example, Google Flights will send you an e-mail showing if your tracked flight went up or down in price. Both sites also let you see which days are cheaper to fly in that month. Airfarewatchdog also lets you search flight deals.
If you haven’t decided on where exactly you want to go, sign up for Scott’s Cheap Flights. The newsletter comes straight to your inbox with deals on domestic and international locations. Or you can follow Twitter handles such as @TheFlightDeal for flights, too.
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Once your flight is booked, you’ll want to keep tabs on gate changes, layover information and more. FlightStats.com can help you plan a smooth trip by advising you on the best time of day to fly from a specific airport and which terminals to avoid when connecting flights. You can also view live updates of flight delays and sign up for free e-mail and phone alerts. Flightaware.com also tracks and predicts flight delays.
If you’re delayed by weather or some unforeseen event, it pays to act quickly. The TripIt Pro smartphone app ($49/year) will send you alerts about cancellations, delays or gate changes, sometimes even ahead of an airline announcement. Use it to locate alternate flights, find out when better seats are available, get fare refund notifications, track your rewards program points, and more.
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Hotels.com lets you search just one site for accommodations at hundreds of thousands of properties. Plus, its rewards program is simple: For every ten nights you spend at any combination of the program’s 500,000 member properties, you’ll earn a free night’s stay. Similarly, HotelTonight is an app that lets users book hotels at low last-minute rates.Priceline Express Deals helps you find the best bargains, but there’s a catch. Priceline doesn’t tell you which hotel you’re booking until after you pay.
And while TripAdvisor.com doesn’t sell rooms per se, it does return a detailed list of hotels that are close to your destination. The site links you to partner sites, such as Expedia, Travelocity and Hotels.com for fulfillment. Click on the “check rates” button and select the site or sites you’d like to try — a new window with results will open for each partner.
For a more intimate hotel experience, check out BedandBreakfast.com
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Vacation rentals are an especially good value for groups because they generally offer more space and amenities for prices similar to or less than hotel rates, particularly if you look at it on a per-bed basis. Check out VRBO and Airbnb to find the perfect experience. For Marriott loyalists, the Marriott Bonvoy lets you browse its 30-brand portfolio — which includes more than 2,000 private homes.
If you don’t mind college-dorm level amenities, check out Hostelworld.com. The site lists 36,000 properties in 178 countries around the globe and includes reviews.
At CruiseCompete.com, more than 500 travel agencies vie to give you the lowest prices for dates, ports and ships you specify, whether you’re booking well in advance or at the eleventh hour. You set up a CruiseCompete account, and they send you their best offers without ever seeing your personal information.
Kayak.com and Tripadvisor.com will knit together vacation packages for you at the best price. Just type in your destination and travel dates.
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Hotwire often offers the best published deals on cars by collecting rates from its eight rental car company partners, including Alamo, Enterprise and Hertz. The site also offers “hot rates” from rental companies that won’t be identified until after you’ve paid.
And while Hotwire does offer some good prepaid rental car deals in certain international cities, you’d want to check out AutoEurope’s for the best deals for driving overseas. It offers rentals at more than 20,000 locations worldwide, and customer service is available 24/7.
AutoSlash is also a good site to find rental deals, as it will apply the best coupons and discount codes to your rental and re-book your reservation if the system finds a better deal.
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Trains are often the fastest and cheapest way to travel within and between European countries. Our favorite for checking timetables and booking tickets on European train lines is RailEurope. But you might be able to catch better deals directly from European railways’ sites, if you don’t get lost in translation.
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You never know when an emergency situation will spoil your travel plans. That’s what travel insurance is for. But don’t just go for the default options from agencies and travel providers. At Squaremouth, you can compare plans and prices from multiple insurance providers with just one search and narrow your search results by specifying the kind of coverage you need. Another option is InsureMyTrip.com.
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Copyright 2020 The Kiplinger Washington Editors