25 “Must Visit” Online Travel Sites For Planning A Vacation

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Traveling can be a lot of fun, but some folks feel intimidated by the travel planning process.  As a result, they often overpay for vacations because they only do one travel search on a single website.  One of the best ways to save money on vacation is to spend a little extra time on the front end researching the best price.

If you prefer to use miles and get free travel then you might consider a membership with the Travel Hacking Cartel.

Most people I know would willingly do a little more travel planning if they had some ideas about which websites could potentially lead to the greatest travel savings.  Out of the hundreds of thousands of travel websites, here are the 25 websites that are my travel bread and butter.  Don’t plan your next trip without visiting some of these sites.

25 Best Travel Planning Websites

On my travel blog I’ve just introduce a page you can use to book your travel.  We’re even offering free travel booking help to be sure you get the best deal!

Best Money Saving Travel Websites

Priceline.com and Hotwire.com

Both Priceline and Hotwire are opaque booking websites.   This means (using hotels, as an example) you don’t know the exact hotel brand before you pay for the hotel.  Instead, you only know the area where the hotel is located, its amenities, and the its rating (i.e. 4 Star).  However, since you don’t know all the booking details, these sites drastically reduce the prices.  As such, they are a preferred choice for hotel bookings.  By being flexible, you will get huge savings – like 50% or more.  Here’s a guide on how to get the guaranteed lowest price between Priceline and Hotwire.  You can also book car rentals and flights through Hotwire and Priceline.

Carrentals.com

CarRentals.com searches several car rental companies and comes back with the lowest price.   I recently booked a car using carrentals.com and I found the price was better than Priceline and Hotwire.  The best part?  I even got to choose my rental location.  This was good because I could guarantee an airport location, and I will be able to get frequent flier points with my rental.

Expedia.com

If you’re not a Hotwire or Priceline fan because you want to know the exact travel details, Expedia will likely have your best price for hotels and a competitive price for cars and flights.  For hotel stays, they tend to offer many discounts for stays over 3 days.  Those prices are rarely found on other websites.  Also, if you are a Thankyou Rewards member, you get Thankyou Rewards points when you book through Expedia.

Orbitz.com

When booking airfare, Orbitz typically has the best price.  In addition, they have a price assurance guarantee which is an extra nice perk.  I’ve never taken advantage of the Price Assurance so I can’t vouch for its effectiveness and validity.  All of my recent international flights have been purchased from either Expedia or Orbitz.

Yapta.com

I just recently discovered Yapta, and it is a great tool for tracking the price of plane tickets either before you book or after they have been purchased.  If your airline offers a refund for price drops then Yapta can save you hundreds of dollars.  Best of all, it is a free service.  I recently got an email that a ticket I bought dropped $146.  Unfortunately, the airline I booked with doesn’t offer a price drop refund.  Next time, I’ll check Yapta’s list of airlines that offer price drop refunds and book with one of those airlines if they have a competitive price.

WhichBudget.com

If you’ll be traveling overseas, Which Budget will save you a ton of money.  Most of the sites mentioned so far won’t be checking prices on budget airlines.  Be sure you don’t overlook a budget airline by visiting Which Budget.  Which Budget will let you know if there is a cheaper flight alternative for your city pair.

Cheapoair.com

Looking for discount airline tickets?  Before booking, be sure to check out cheapoair so see if they have a competitive price.

Sidestep.com/Kayak.com

Sidestep and Kayak are owned by the same company and do the same thing – get travel information from a bunch of websites and easily show you the prices in one click (aggregation site).  Sidestep is often the first site I visit when planning a trip.  It is a quick way to get a good idea of ticket prices.  From there, I always dig deeper, but for the most results with the least amount of effort, Sidestep is the way to go.

Tripeedo

Tripeedo is much like Sidestep except it will open your search into multiple (10+) windows.  This sometimes allows them to find a lower price, but some people find the multiple windows quite annoying.

Sky Scanner

Sky Scanner is another aggregation site that tends to pick up more budget airlines.  In addition, if your travel is flexible, you can search by month allowing you to build your vacation around the cheapest prices.

Southwest and Southwest Vacations

I am a huge fan of Southwest Airlines.  The fact that they don’t charge for baggage is reason enough to book travel with Southwest.  On top of that, their airfare tends to be lower than other airlines.  It is a fantastic organization with great customer service.  If you’re traveling as a family, the only downside is their family pre-boarding policy.  Also, for one way travel, it is hard to beat Southwest’s prices.

Bonus:  Here’s one more money saving website – the cheapest way to buy foreign currency.

Best Trip Planning Websites

Finding the best deal is only a small part of the vacation planning process.  Here are some website that will help make your travels more enjoyable.

SeatGuru.com

When you visit SeatGuru, you can enter your airline and aircraft type, and they will help you find the best seats for your flight.  When my wife and I flew to Australia several years ago, we got seats at the back of a Qantas flight where there were only two seats in the row (instead of three).  We loved the extra space.  We never would have known about the seats unless SeatGuru pointed them out.

TripAdvisor.com

When you’re trying to decide between a few hotels or planning what to do on vacation, you should visit Trip Advisor.  They have customer reviews and suggestions that can save you a lot of hassle on vacation.  Our family has avoided certain hotels just because of the Trip Advisor ratings.  In addition, we’ve planned an extra day trip just because of the positive reviews we read on Trip Advisor.

Award Wallet

If you have more than one frequent flyer account, this free service (you can get a paid service if you wish) will be appealing to you.  It helps you easily track all your award points in one single location.  As an added bonus, when you make travel bookings, those are added to your profile so you can have all your upcoming trips in one easy-to-access location.

Best Road Trip Websites

I get it.  Not everyone flies on vacation.  So here are some great tools to help you plan your road trip.  Of course, one of your first decisions will be if you should rent a car or drive your own on the road trip.

Gas Buddy.com

Plan to get gas at the cheapest destinations along the way.  Last year on a trip from Wyoming to Nebraska, I didn’t stop for gas in time and ended up paying an extra .50 cents per gallon.  Gas Buddy could have saved me that money.

Fuel Cost Calculator

When planning the road trip, the fuel cost calculator will give you an estimated fuel cost for your trip.  It is a great tool for helping you set your vacation budget.  Just enter your vehicle type along with your departure city and destination, and you’ll get your results in seconds.

Best Reward Programs

This part will be the most debated of all.  The “best” reward program really depends on your travel preferences, travel destinations, and so many other factors.  However, in my opinion, the best reward program is …

Starwood Hotels Starpoints

I only discovered the Starwood Starpoints program 3-4 years ago, but it is the best travel rewards program out there.  They have excellent earning opportunities and a fantastic rate of return on your points.  You can use your flight to book hotels, book flights, or even transfer to other points programs.  In my experience with collecting points, they offer the most flexibility and most value – all in one reward program.  Top it all off with excellent customer service and nice hotels, and I’ll give Starpoints two thumbs up.

Other helpful sites if you want to collect a lot of reward miles:

Free Frequent Flyer Miles

If you’re into accumulating frequent flyer miles, you need to check out this website.  This site tips you off any time there is a flyer miles related promotion.  If you’re going to travel, you might as well get free travels.

Mr. Credit Card

If you want to use credit cards to score flyer points, Mr. Credit Card will gladly help you develop a good strategy and point out the best deals via his blog.

Best Free Travel Newsletter

Frequent Flyer

I subscribe to the Frequent Flyer Newsletter (free) to be sure I don’t miss any travel related promotions and the buzz in the travel industry.  You’ll enjoy reading about travelers’ experiences with different airlines and that will help you pick a better airline for your upcoming travels.

Best Travel Related Blogs

Help Me Travel Cheap

Full disclosure – this is my blog.  The blog is geared towards frugal family travel.  We cover all sorts of topics from saving money when you travel to sharing the best airplane games for kids.

Nomadic Matt

Matt shares his travel experiences as he crisscrosses the globe.  Those who are fulltime travelers or wanna be fulltime travelers will enjoy keeping up with Matt’s endeavors.

Upgrade: Better Travel

When you subscribe to this blog, you won’t miss any of the latest travel news.  You’ll know who’s changing their policies, who’s going bankrupt, and who’s talking mergers.  If you want to know the latest industry news then this is the blog to visit.

Chris Guillebeau

Chris isn’t really a travel blogger per se, but he travels a lot and often blogs about his experiences.  If you want to live vicariously through another traveler then Chris is the guy to follow.  By the way, if you’re in small business, you’ll also pick up fantastic business tips along the way.

Well, there you have it.  Enough travel websites that you don’t have any excuse for overpaying on your next vacation.  Do your research, pack your bags, grab your tickets, and get ready for a relaxing summer vacation.

Anyone else have any good travel related websites you would recommend?

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