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Online travel booking sites
The Best Travel Sites
Some days, when I remember life before the Internet, email, and smartphones, I cannot even comprehend how I traveled. Long (long) gone are the days of keeping an atlas under the passenger seat of the car, or rolling down the highway scanning motel sign after motel sign for “Vacancy.” And travel agents? Forget about it. Travel websites have revolutionized how we plan, book, and even pay for travel.
Online travel services make it easy to research those big-ticket items, such as flights and hotels, but also the nitty gritty, such as the best seat on a particular airplane, or the best place to grab breakfast in Chicago O’Hare (the answer is Tortas Fronteras, in terminals 1, 3, and 5).
Most frequent travelers have a favorite travel website, but why stick to just one? There’s no harm in getting to know the many sites that are available and what each of them does best.
You know the usual suspects: Orbitz, Kayak, Expedia, TripAdvisor. While they offer nearly identical core services, they are actually different. The question is: “How?” Which is the best for hotel-airfare combo deals? Which has the easiest tools for booking multi-city flights? And do any give you flexibility in searching for low fares?
That said, for air-travel prices, you really can’t go wrong with any of the major online search sites. Try entering the same parameters across multiple travel-reservation sites, and you’ll see that the lowest fares almost always come up within a few dollars of the other results.
The best travel websites that we’ve reviewed at PCMag are listed below. Click through to read the full reviews, and definitely let us know if you agree or disagree in the comments. Did we miss a site you love? Let us know that, too. We hope that our list helps you a few that will whisk you off to some exotic location soon.
FEATURED IN THIS ROUNDUP
Kayak has grown tremendously in the last few years, and it’s currently our favorite travel site for searching and booking. It excels at helping you search for complicated flight itineraries for both work and leisure. It also includes hotel, car rentals, deals, and vacation packages. It also has an excellent price alert feature that lets you know when a flight price has dropped to your desired price, or it can email you daily or weekly with the current ticket price. It has some wonderful exploration tools that let you virtually roam the world in search of cheap travel destinationsit’s like Google Flights in this regard. You can now often book directly through Kayakwhich wasn’t always the casealthough occasionally Kayak still bumps you to the provider for that last step. Read the full review ››
Orbitz is the most convenient hub for finding low airfares, hotel prices, car rentals, cruises, and vacation packages. If you don’t need to mess with every tiny detail of your flight and just want to book a vacation or business travel, Orbitz gets the job done fast. In a pinch, you can nab a flight, hotel room, and car rental, and have it all paid for in minutes. One of its most recent new features is a loyalty program in which you earn you credit with Orbitz toward hotel bookings. It’s so much more flexible than any other hotel loyalty program and an excellent perk for dedicated Orbitz users. Read the full review ››
Expedia.com has been around for almost two decades. It’s an end-to-end travel search and booking service for everything from car rentals to cruisesand I’d add that it’s much more suited to leisure traveler than business trips. The site also offers a lot of deals you can browse if your travel plans are undetermined, although most of them are tailored to you based on your location (which in my case means a lot of unadventurous packages to Miami and Cancun). Expedia hasn’t innovated to the extent that its competitors have, unfortunately, but it’s still a fine choice for finding vacation deals. Read the full review ››
It’s no wonder the first name in search delivers near-instantaneous air travel results in Google Flights at google.com/flights. The site excels at three things: 1) helping you price out flights (roundtrip, one-way, and multi-city) extraordinarily quickly, 2) letting you scan potential travel destinations around the world during a certain time to find a bargain, and 3) helping you find dates when a particular flight will be cheaper, courtesy of an interactive graph. Google Flights doesn’t offer any purchasing directly, but it provides links to relevant airlines’ website so you can book your tickets directly. Read the full review ››
Hipmunk is a flight and hotel search aggregator, but its strong suit is hotels. Hipmunk actually searches not just a huge database of hotels for availability, but also includes Airbnb and Homeaway to give you the option of staying in alternative accommodations. I also adore its heat-map feature, which shows “hot” areas of your destination that have good nightlife, restaurants, shopping, or are family-friendly. One important thing to know is that you can’t book directly through Hipmunk. Like Google Flights, it pushes you to the relevant provider to reserve and pay for your travel.
Priceline.com puts casino-style flair onto online travel reservations. It’s worth mentioning that Priceline owns Kayak and Booking.com, although its namesake website continues to stand apart from other travel sites for its core competency: letting you name your own price. When you name your own price for a flight, hotel stay, or car rental, you don’t know which company will be providing the travel (i.e., which airline, hotel, or car rental company) until after the purchase goes through, and by that point, you’ve already agreed to pay. Read the full review ››
TripIt! offers a unique and worthwhile service in that it automatically finds email confirmations for upcoming travel plans and collates them into complete itineraries. The mobile appsTripIt! for iPhone and TripIt TripIt! for Android are perhaps more essential to the experience than the website, but it’s still where you need to go to manage some of the service’s deeper settings. Collaborative features let you share your complete itinerary with other friends, family members, and colleagues, or even add them as travelers.
Booking.com specializes in accommodations, going well beyond hotels and motels. Booking.com lists apartment rentals, farmhouse stays, hostels, bed-and-breakfasts, and even options for campgrounds and tenting. For some destinations, Booking.com has more options than other sites specializing in destinations popular among North Americans.
Similar to Booking.com (and probably obviously so from its name), Hotels.com specializes in hotel search and reservations, filling in the gap for international travelers headed for destinations that show up less frequently on some of the bigger travel search aggregators. Any time the mainstay travel search sites fail to find you a suitable hotel, give Hotels.com a whirl.
Do you hate the bulkhead row, or always curse yourself when you land in an airplane seat that doesn’t recline? SeatGuru (owned by TripAdvisor) lets you find the exact aircraft of your upcoming flights and helps you find acceptable seats to reserve ahead of time. It has a great interface full of diagrams and helpful color-coding. A handful of airlines aren’t included in SeatGuru’s database (Japan Airlines, All Nippon, Tatarstan Airlines, and a few others), but you can find information about those carriers’ aircraft on SeatExpert, a competitor that offers nearly the same service.
What makes TripAdvisor useful is its huge bank of user reviews. When you need a bevy of honest feedbacksometimes mixed with cranky complaintsabout a hotel or vacation rental property, TripAdvisor is likely to have it. Sure, TripAdvisor also has flight, hotel, and vacation rental search and booking capabilities, but other sites handle those features better. Go to TripAdvisor for advice.