Find the best bargains in air travel and cheapest rates for car rentals, hotel rooms and vacation packages, whether you travel in the U.S. or internationally.
You can satisfy your wanderlust without overspending -- and these top Web sites will help you find the best values in travel bargains. We´ve personally used each of these sites to research and book travel and found them superior to others.
For airfare, lodging and car rentals, we identify which links are best for three different types of traveler. So whether you´re pressed for time, looking for the best deal or traveling internationally, you´ll find a site to fit your needs. We also identify the best sources to find bargains on cruises and vacation packages.
Airfares, Lodging, Car rentals, Cruises, Vacation packages,
Kayak.com fetches fares (plus hotel rates and other travel products, if you ask) from more than 120 sources. Click on the best deal, and Kayak.com will send you to a site where you can buy the ticket. If your itinerary is flexible, you can boost your chances of finding a deal by searching for dates up to three days before and after your ideal travel dates. (One flaw: While Kayak.com offers international flights, we´ve found other sites offer better international selections.)
Fares for Southwest and ATA aren´t shown on Kayak.com and most other Web sites. But at Southwest.com, you can check fares for both Southwest and its partner airline ATA. Use this site as a backstop search if Kayak.com doesn´t return a low fare.
As of this writing, Southwest boards passengers onto its planes in three rounds instead of assigning seats. Passengers who collect their boarding passes earliest are put into the first boarding group. For $5, BoardFirst.com will automatically book your boarding pass on Southwest and assure you are in the first group to board the plane-or it will give your money back.
Farecast.com predicts whether fares on most domestic routes will go up or down. Enter your itinerary and the site will say if you should buy your ticket now -- or if an even better fare is probably on the way. To make its forecasts, the site analyzes past fare trends in airline databases and other factors. It updates its fares shortly after 10 a.m., 12:30 p.m. and 3 p.m. eastern time.
From time to time, airlines will offer unbelievably low fares on selected flights or itineraries. These "fire sale" fares, "blooper fares" and "price war" fares are unpredictable. In our experience, Airfare Watchdog posts these bargains faster than other Web sites. To take advantage of these time-sensitive flukes, you must book them right away. This site specializes in deals for flights departing from the 30 largest metro areas.
LowesTravel.com offers international tickets on more than 60 airlines and generally a broader selection than rival sites. (The site also offers rental cars and hotel reservations.)
When flying overseas, you´ll be sitting in your airline seat for an extended time. Make sure you pick the best seat by reading reviews of seat quality at SeatGuru.com.
Traveling to Europe? Note that trains are often the fastest and cheapest way to travel within and between European countries. Our favorite English-language Web site for checking timetables and booking one-way, round-trip and multi-stop tickets on European train lines is RailEurope.
WebFlyer is the most useful site for getting the best seat or upgrade for the miles you´ve earned. See how your miles convert between programs, learn about changes to your frequent flier program or discover how to max out the value of your mileage awards when you redeem them for merchandise or services.
TripAdvisor is the most comprehensive and easy-to-use listing of professional and amateur reviews of hotels in the U.S. and overseas, with about five million reviews. Its photos of the property and maps of the location are uniquely useful. TripAdvisor doesn´t sell rooms, but it lets you compare and book rates sold by Web travel agencies, such as Expedia.com, Orbitz.com and Hotels.com.
Priceline.com offers the best bargains for luxury hotel lodging. You submit a bid on a room after specifying a star class, the dates of your stay and a neighborhood in a metro area. Bids of less than $100 a night on luxury lodgings are often successful. (The site also sells airline tickets and rental cars this way.) There are three catches, though: Priceline doesn´t disclose the name of the hotel you´re booking until you buy; it doesn´t refund your money if you cancel; and it may book you in a hotel at a slight remove from the attractions most central to you. One more hitch: We don´t recommend booking a hotel in an overseas city without knowing its precise location beforehand, so look to other sites to book a room abroad.
Priceline´s rates for four-star hotels are usually the best values available from online travel sites. Yet you can boost the chances that you´ll submit the lowest possible winning bid by checking the message boards at Biddingfortravel.com, where recent Priceline users note their successful and unsuccessful bids.
Priceline and TripAdvisor don´t offer bed-and-breakfast getaways. To find B&B´s offering discounted rates, sign up for free weekly e-mails from Bedandbreakfast.com. Every Wednesday you´ll receive a list of B&Bs offering discounts of typically 20% or more off regular rates for the upcoming weekend in the city, state or region you want to visit.
Consider an alternative to hotels: Condo-apartment rentals. Vacation rentals generally offer more room and amenities for the same price as hotel rooms. Plus, their kitchens can spare you from having to dine out for every meal. The best selection of rental lodgings we´ve found is at HomeAway.com
LateRooms.com emphasizes last-minute bargains at hotels abroad. You know the name of the hotel before you pay, and rates are quoted in the local currency. The site offers a currency-conversion calculator to help you figure the prices.
Here´s a tip: When you pay your hotel room bill on checkout, beware if the clerk offers to convert your bill into U.S. dollars. Resist this offer because hotels usually offer less-favorable exchange rates than ATMs or your credit card. What´s worse, if your credit card charges you a fee (typically 1% of the bill) for currency conversion, your credit card company will likely still require you to pay the currency-conversion charge -- even if the hotel has done its own currency conversion. In essence, you´ll be double charged.
Orbitz fetches car rental rates and displays them in a matrix that is uniquely easy-to-understand. The site also discloses total pricing, including all taxes and fees, unlike many rival sites. The site also sells other travel products, such as plane tickets and hotel rooms).
Hotwire has the best deals for domestic car rentals offered by Avis, Budget and Hertz. Hotwire lets you specify the dates, type of car and pick-up location. Then it fetches rates. You´ll find out which company is offering your nonrefundable rate after you´ve paid. But at least you know the rental will be with one of the nation´s three best-known rental car companies. (Hotwire also sells hotel rooms, airline tickets and other travel products in the same blind-booking format.)
Auto Europe is a rental-car rate wholesaler that specializes in pre-paid international rentals. It returned better rates than other online booking sites (for comparable vehicles) when we recently searched for cars in England, Greece, Ireland and Spain. Plus, this company staffs its customer-service hotlines (toll-free internationally) 24-hours a day.
Be wary that the rental-car chains -- separate from Auto Europe -- may attempt to tack on bogus charges. You may not be expecting additional charges on your credit card because you have already prepaid through Auto Europe. But you should eye your credit-card bill after an overseas trip. If unnecessary charges appear, Auto Europe will assist you in disputing them. (You can also face this problem when you book directly with the rental-car company, particularly if the company is not headquartered in the United States.)
If a hassle-free trip is worth paying a few extra dollars to you, we recommend you book with an American name-brand car company, such as Avis or Hertz. (You may book either through AutoEurope or directly through the company.) Foreign-owned car rental companies often bungle the reservations of American travelers, either by not having the requested cars available on arrival or by adding on surprise charges to the final tab, according to our anecdotal staff experiences and reports from other media.
When traveling overseas, considering paying a few dollars more a day to rent a device that offers driving directions using voice prompts. For example, Hertz has wide coverage in Europe and offers a GPS driving module for about $12 that will give you voice-over, turn-by-turn directions to your destination. (See a list of available countries.)
CruiseCompete offers discounts of up to 25% off standard cruise rates. At the site, dozens of travel agencies vie to give you the lowest prices for dates and ports you specify, whether you´re booking well in advance or at the eleventh hour.
Cruisemates is the most useful cruise-review site. We especially like its advice columns, which are written for people of different ages and interests.
Quick vacation packages
Site59.com does the best job of putting together last-minute vacation packages. It offers the easiest way to book a trip as early as 14 days before you go or as late as three hours before departure on domestic trips. (Tip: When we´ve looked for packages for major holiday weekends, we´ve found deals here as early as 17 days before departure.)
Luxury Link offers discounted package stays in online auctions. You must, however, be flexible about your travel dates: You pick the dates from a limited range only after you pay.
Other helpful resources
Travel insurance. Buying travel insurance from Web agencies or providers, such as cruise lines, is usually a crummy deal because of price markups and restrictions on how the policy claims can be filed. The best value policies we´ve found are those sold directly by the leading travel insurance company, Travel Guard.
Airport parking. To save money at airport parking lots, visit the aptly named AirportDiscountParking.com, which will direct you to the bargain lots.
National parks. For a value vacation, consider a national park. You´ll discover tips on how to stretch your dollars on your next stay by visiting the US Parks site.