No doubt you're familiar with the major online travel sites— Expedia, Travelocity, Orbitz. And more people probably now associate WIlliam Shatner with his Priceline commercials than for his role as Captain Kirk.
But there are a number of smaller sites that offer unique travel features the big guys don't offer. The following are our faves.
Planning where to go and what to do
Sometimes when you want to take a trip, you know just where you want to go. Other times you just have the idea that you'd like to get away. Opt for one of these social sites that combine social networking and travel planning for the best ideas.
Think of Trippy as a Pinterest or Facebook that's all about travel. Want to go somewhere? You can search for a specific place, browse Trippy's recommended locations, or even search the travel boards of celebrities. Once you've picked a destination, Trippy will show you things other users have posted and let's you save things you'd like to see later. From there, you can solicit your friends for advice or even create completely friend-sourced travel itineraries.
Like Trippy, Wanderfly offers an easy way to share and browse travel ideas. But we find Wanderfly a bit easier to browse without having any kind of destination in mind. Just enter things you'd like to see and Wanderfly will provide a list of destinations which you can then browse, looking at photos and other user comments, until you see something you like. Save any destinations that look interesting and use them to plan the perfect vacation itinerary!
Where to stay
Once you have a destination in mind, the next challenge is finding the perfect place to stay. These sites will help.
This unconventional way to travel allows owners to rent rooms, apartments or entire homes out to visitors. From a travelers' perspective, it's almost as easy as booking a hotel — and a great way to find an interesting place to stay. And when we say interesting, we mean it: Airbnb could put you in a home designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, a castle, or even an airplane. While there are plenty of reasonable prices and deals to be found on Airbnb, the site is more focused on unique properties than bargain-basement prices.
Hotels.com may not be new, but it's still a great way to find the perfect hotel wherever you might be going. Despite a huge number of hotel listings, the site's search options allow you to easily hone in on a hotel in the right place, at the right price and with the right features. We especially like the ability to view all of your search options on a map, complete with prices and star ratings. And, there's a multitude of hotel reviews available. If you're a repeat customer, Hotels.com has a rewards program that will give you a free night's stay for every ten nights booked.
If your travel plans are more spontaneous than planned, you might find the Hotel Tonight app to be the perfect companion to an impromptu trip. Using Hotel Tonight for iPhone or Android, you can grab last minute hotel rooms — literally, a hotel room tonight — at a bargain price.
This TripAdvisor-owned site uses TripAdvisor's ratings and reviews to help you find the right hotel, but it also guarantees the lowest price: Tingo will match any lower price and refund you the cost difference if the price of the room drops after you've booked. You don't even need to ask — Tingo puts the money on your credit card, automatically. On the downside, Tingo's directory of hotels seems quite small, but you may find that the peace of mind makes up for the limited selection.
Oyster.com doesn't offer the widest array of destinations, but it does offer a huge amount of information on the destinations it has. This "hotel tell-all" checks out hotels before you get there and provides comprehensive reviews — as well as great travel advice — to prevent you from making a vacation mistake by booking at a bad hotel. If your destination of choice is covered by Oyster.com, we highly recommend checking the site for hotel info before you travel.
How to get there
The next step? Arranging travel. These sites make it easy to book and easy to save.
Budget buyers will love Yapta, which alerts you if the price of the airfare you've booked drops after you've booked it. Depending on your airline and the amount the price has dropped, you may be able to get a refund, which makes dealing with price fluctuations that much easier.
The most annoying thing about booking airfare is the way it's expensive one day and reasonable the next. But the Price Predictor on Bing Travel will let you know whether airline prices are likely to rise or fall, so you can book your ticket at exactly the right time.
Don't want to deal with a different sites for booking each portion of your trip? These all-in-one sites let you book everything in one place, making booking your whole vacation only a click away. These all-in-one sites may offer you fewer options, but you can't beat them for ease of use.
This straightforward site searches hundreds of travel sites for you, making finding the best deal simple. Even if you you're not sure you want to go the all-in-one approach — perhaps you like Tingo and Yapta's refunds — Kayak can give you a good price estimate on your entire trip with a single search.
Hipmunk understands that the best trip isn't always about the lowest price. So it automatically sorts flights by the lowest "agony" (a combination lowest price, shortest flight time and fewest layovers). Hotel listings are sorted by "ecstasy" (a combination of lowest price, most amenities and best reviews). You won't find that kind of perspective on any other travel site!
Pintrips is unique amongst our recommendations in that it is an add-on for the Chrome web browser. This browser apps is designed to make tracking travel deals across multiple travel sites as simple as using an all-in-one site. When you find a travel deal you like, add it to Pintrips — it will track the price as it goes up or down, allowing you to easily compare it to any other deals you've found. Traveling with friends or family? Pintrips also makes it easy to share the travel options you've saved with them, so you can make a decision together. And, once you're ready to book, Pintrips lets you do it with a single click.
And now all that's left to do is wish you a great vacation!