Best Sites for Cheap Travel and Vacation Planning
Momondo receives rave reviews for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that it often finds the lowest prices for flights.
Pros: The site offers a variety of incredibly useful ways to sort searches including by cheapest flight, quickest flight, and best overall flight. Momondo also has a handy airfare calendar that shows the costs of flights for one week before your departure date and two weeks after, allowing users to easily see if another flight date might be less expensive.
Cons: Flights are not booked directly on Momondo. It directs you to the site offering the identified airfare.
Alpha Flight Guru
Want to fly first class without paying first class prices? Travel industry insider Clem Bason (who used to run Hotwire and now heads up goSeek), says Alpha Flight Guru is the site to bookmark. The site's gurus work with travelers to find unpublished discount airfares, accessing inventory that average travelers can't see using typical flight and search engines.
Pros: The site can save travelers 30 percent to 75 percent on business and first-class tickets. It will also get you access to business and first-class lounges, lie-flat beds, priority boarding, priority check-in, and more.
Cons: Travelers cannot instantly book tickets online using this site. The process requires submitting a travel request through the site, and then a personal flight consultant contacts you with the cheapest fares. If you need to make a change to a ticket after booking, the change fee is around $250.
While cruise prices can often be largely the same no matter which site you use to book, there's typically a big difference site to site on the incentives offered. Incentives are such things as onboard spending credits, discounts on shore excursions, and cabin upgrades. When considering cruise prices price and incentives, CruiseDirect.com is one of the best choices.
Pros: The site offers a best price guarantee. The site works with the industry's top suppliers to secure the best rates available. But if you find a lower advertised fare, CruiseDirect.com will match it.
Cons: The best price guarantee applies to lower rates found within 24 hours of booking.
Want to skip the ticket line at iconic sights like the Eiffel Tower and score a bargain, too? Or go shark diving in Cape Town on a budget? GetYourGuide.com offers bookings for more than 31,000 tours, activities, and attractions in more than 7,300 destinations across the globe and guarantees that by buying tickets through them, you will pay the lowest price.
Pros: Every activity on the site comes with a best-price guarantee. In other words, if you can find the same ticket elsewhere for less, the site will refund the difference, no questions asked. There are also helpful user reviews for each tour or activity listed on the site.
Cons: The site offers a dizzying amount of information. In Rome, for instance, there are 1,100 tours and activities listed, which can be a good thing or a bad thing depending on how you look at it.
HotelPlanner has become the go-to site for booking group hotel stays, says Bason of goSeek. Even major online travel sites like Expedia, Kayak, and Travelocity use HotelPlanner to power their group hotel bookings. Simply enter your travel information and the site returns travel bids from its pool of tens of thousands of hotel partners.
Pros: Whether you're booking rooms for a sports team, a reunion, a wedding or any other type of group travel, HotelPlanner can save more than 70 percent on group reservations. It works with major hotel chains, such as Starwood, Hilton, and Best Western. An added bonus, the site will meet or beat any price on your group's hotel booking. And finally it allows for booking as a group, but paying for rooms separately.
Cons: Price quotes are emailed to you, it's not possible to simply peruse offers and hotels on the site itself once entering your travel information.
Tired of having to review multiple sites in order to find the best price on a vacation home rental? Tripping.com is a metasearch site for home rentals. As the world's largest site for searching home rentals, it aggregates listings from VRBI, HomeAway, and many others. The site currently has about 10 million listings in 150,000 destinations.
Pros: Tripping.com saves travelers time and money by making it easy to search and compare millions of rentals side-by-side on a single site. You can also sign up to have vacation rental deals sent to your inbox.
Cons: Searches return thousands of results, so be prepared to spend some time and dig in to search through your options.
Travel insurance covers everything from trip cancellations to interruptions, delays, accidents, and sickness. Finder.com provides unbiased comparisons of the various policy options and allows users to conduct searches based on specific needs such as cheapest plans available, or plans tailored to families, senior citizens, students, and others.
Pros: Finder.com provides a range of helpful information, including the difference between budget and comprehensive coverage, how to spend less without compromising coverage, and common cheap coverage traps to avoid.
Cons: The site provides side-by-side comparisons of policy offerings from various insurers but does not provide prices. In order to get a price quote, you're redirected to the travel insurance provider's site.
Wanderu is a website and app that helps travelers find and compare bus and train travel options in North America and Europe. It is an aggregator site that promises to help find transportation deals to more than 10,000 destinations in North America and Europe, partnering with such providers as Amtrak, Greyhound, Megabus, Peter Pan, and others.
Pros: The site's unique routing technology automatically groups trips from different carriers together to get you where you need to go when there's no direct trip serving the route you're searching. The site also allows for sorting searches by cheapest trip, shortest trip, and more. Feeling adventurous? Wanderu's Explore tool helps travelers find cool places to visit based on budget, city of origin, and travel dates.
Cons: It can be difficult to do long-range planning with this site, as some bus carriers only release schedules six to eight weeks in advance.
Last Minute Travel
As its name implies, Last Minute Travel specializes in last minute deals on trips booked with little advance notice -- offering as much as 65 percent off. The site covers flights, cruises, hotels, car rentals, and more.
Pros: The site partners directly with travel providers all over the world, allowing Last Minute Travel users to access bulk-rate, travel agent-level prices without markups, either for day-of travel or travel booked in advance. The Last Minute Travel app features a dynamic homepage that intelligently displays nearby day-of hotel rooms that are available, saving on-the-go consumers time and money.
Cons: This is a membership site and membership costs $50 per year. But if you don't save what you spent on membership, the site provides a promo code worth the difference.
Get Me to Europe
The team of travel experts at Get Me to Europe searches for the best deals online to build the cheapest possible trips to Europe.
Pros: Users have saved hundreds of dollars thanks to Get Me to Europe, some have saved thousands. The average savings is about $500.
Cons: This is a subscription service, meaning you must sign up to have flight deals emailed to you. Those who don't like filling their inboxes with yet another email subscription may not be fans. In addition, the site's team does the research to identify the bargain flights, but then you must do the actual booking.
There are sites aggregating nearly everything related to travel these days, including airport parking. CheapAirportParking.org is an airport parking aggregator site designed to help travelers find deals on parking near major U.S. airports. It works with more than 200 off-site airport parking lots at least 25 major airports.
Pros: Travelers can search by departure airport and compare parking-lot options based on rating, type of lot (valet, covered lot, etc.), shuttle times, and distance to the airport. In addition, the site offers daily promo codes for an instant savings of $5 off the total parking reservation cost.
Cons: Some lots require a prepaid deposit, usually in the amount of a day's rate or 15 percent of the quoted price in order to reserve a parking space. Cancellations made within 24 hours of a reservation start time are refunded the total amount less one day's parking rate.
Campanda is the Airbnb of RV rentals. It is a peer-to-peer RV rental marketplace where travelers can rent camper vans, luxury motorhomes, and trendy Airstream trailers.
Pros: Much like Airbnb, because many of these RVs are listed by individual owners, the nightly prices are much lower than those offered by large commercial rental companies. A 32-foot RV that sleeps five people, for instance, can be found for $177 per night.
Cons: To rent an RV through the site, you must be at least 25 years old.
For those who'd like to camp the old-fashioned way, in a tent, there's also a site dedicated to finding the most affordable (and unique) options. Hipcamp allows for searching and booking more than 285,000 campsites -- including sites on ranches, vineyards, farms, tree houses, yurts, and more.
Pros: Hipcamp empowers people to share their land with campers, providing travelers with new places to camp while offering landowners a new stream of revenue.
Cons: In order to modify a reservation once it's made, you must contact the host directly, rather than make any adjustments via the website. Some campgrounds are not directly bookable from the site, such as public campgrounds on land owned by the federal government.
Hostels are a favorite accommodation choice for the budget traveler, and Hostelworld has some 35,000 options in 170 countries. The site also has 9 million verified guest reviews and customer service 24-hours a day, seven days a week.
Pros: In addition to providing an exhaustive database of cheap hostels, the site also produces an annual HOSCAR awards recognizing the top hostels around the world based on 1 million reviews. The awards include categories for such things as best small hostel, best medium hostel, best hostel by continent and by country.
Cons: Booking through the site requires paying a deposit. In many cases the deposit is non-refundable unless you choose either the Standard Flexible Booking option or the Free Cancellation Booking option at check-out, each of which have certain terms and conditions.
GuruWalk allows travelers to book tours around the world. The site offers tours from local guides and experts, and the amount paid for the experience is up to you. Travelers pay whatever amount they want in the form of a tip.
Pros: You're helping to support locals and local businesses. The site is focused on promoting tour guides in developing countries, where people can't necessarily afford their own website or marketing to attract customers. Some of the places where tours are offered include Havana, Cuba, and Marrakech, Morocco.
Cons: There are many places where this site still does not offer tours. In addition, anyone who wants to can join the site, publish a tour and become a guide on GuruWalk, so you may not necessarily get a polished guide. But that too can be part of the adventure.
For travelers who need a place to stay for just a few hours, perhaps during a layover or to freshen up during a long day exploring a destination, HotelsByDay offers rooms between early checkout and late check in.
Pros: The site allows for experiencing a great hotel by day without paying the cost of staying the night. Hotel day rates are as much as 60 percent cheaper that night rates.
Cons: The site only allows customers to book as far as 90 days in advance. For those who need to make a reservation further out then three months, HotelsByDay is not the best option.
Bookit is one-stop shopping for booking all of your vacation needs -- from hotels to flights and activities. It regularly offers significant discounts on all-inclusive resorts, and it allows you to bundle hotels and flights to create the best deals.
Pros: The site has a unique "price calendar," which displays an entire month's worth of prices for the tour or activity you want to participate in, allowing you to identify the cheapest day in a 30-day window to purchase tickets.
Cons: You need to read the fine print. The cost to cancel a hotel booked through the site can vary and depends on the terms and conditions of your specific booking.
Most people are familiar with Costco selling bulk groceries and gas. But the company also sells travel on Costco Travel, says Bason of goSeek, and Costco's sweet spot is rental cars. In some cases, it saves travelers as much as 30 percent to 50 percent by shopping all available coupons and discounts.
Pros: You can search the Costco site for car rentals even without a membership. Many times, the deals are significant enough that it's worth it to buy the $60 membership.
Cons: The aforementioned membership fee.
Glamping has been a trendy thing do for several years now. So it's only natural there's now a site devoted to this activity. Enter Glamping Hub, which lists more than 22,000 offerings from around the globe.
Pros: The site lists glamping on nearly every continent and there are truly budget options -- from eco-friendly tents in Tulum, Mexico, starting at $43 per night to tree houses in Washington state for $159.
Cons: The site charges a 6 percent to 12 percent non-refundable service fee for bookings.
Given Lonely Planet's long-standing reputation as a travel authority, it should be no surprise that the company runs one of the top budget adventure travel websites.
Pros: The site allows you to sort by price range (from as little as $10), duration, country, and more. And importantly, for an adventure travel booking platform, the site allows for further sorting of results based on type of adventure -- such as "18-to-thirtysomethings," "family," "active," and more.
Cons: Unlike many other sites, Lonely Planet does not include user reviews.
GoEco is one of the leading eco-tourism sites, offering more than 150 community, wildlife, and environmental volunteer travel opportunities around the world. It was named one of the top volunteer organizations by GoAbroad, a leading authority in rating meaningful travel programs.
Pros: The site allows users to search by country of interest, eco opportunity of interest (such as agriculture, conservation, wildlife), and by the amount they want to spend (ranging from $350 to as much as $4,200).
Cons: Participants are required to pay for the opportunity to volunteer -- as taking on volunteers incurs a variety of expenses for the local organizations. The cost of airfare is not included in the pricing.
Home swapping is one of the best ways to travel on the cheap, and few sites make that process easier than Home Exchange. It is the world's largest network of home swappers, listing 65,000 properties in 150 countries.
Pros: By listing your home, you gain access to thousands of unique properties around the world. Swapping can be done on your terms, and your schedule.
Cons: There is a $150 membership fee. But once you pay that price, members are able to begin staying in properties around the globe.
Hopper is one of the easiest platforms for booking cheap travel on your phone. This app is known for saving users as much as 40 percent on flights. It combines trillions of data points and powerful machine learning to save users time and money.
Pros: Hopper allows for monitoring flights and provides notifications as soon as the price drops to its lowest point, ensuring you don't miss a deal. The app also predicts future prices for flights and accommodations with 95 percent recommendation accuracy.
Cons: There is no actual Hopper website, only an app. For those who like to be able to go back and forth between an app and a website when researching travel, Hopper does not provide that option.
No list like this one would be complete without mentioning Airbnb, the alpha dog in the home-sharing space.
Pros: Between its constantly growing number of listings and an ever-expanding variety of homes (tree houses, igloos, celebrity's homes, yurts, and more), Airbnb is remains the site to beat in this space. It also continues to offer an amazing variety of price points for all budgets. In addition, Airbnb has recently rolled out a flexible payment option, doing away with the requirement that 100 percent of the accommodation costs be paid up front. In many cases, the initial deposit is now just 50 percent.
Cons: Airbnb accommodations often lack the frills of hotel rooms and the properties don't always live up to your expectations.
Visit.org is one of the world's leading platforms for finding affordable social-impact travel experiences. The site offers immersive day activities for as little as $18 and allows travelers to book tours and activities that benefit important causes -- ranging from women's empowerment to economic empowerment and human rights.
Pros: By participating in the activities offered through the site, such as cooking workshops or weaving classes, visitors provide support and income for local organizations around the world.
Cons: These activities typically only last a few hours, which for some travelers may not be a long enough experience.
Upside gets consistently high marks from business travelers. The site promises users the lowest prices available online and even more savings when bundling (that is, booking all portions of your travel through Upside).
Pros: Upside allows for booking flights, hotels, and rental cars (or Uber), combining all of these items into one low-cost package that's discounted 5 percent to 10 percent off of regular rates. What's more, every time users book flights, hotels, or rides together through Upside, the site provides a gift card from any one of 50 top retailers.
Cons: Upside is unable to book multi-city flights, but promises that service is coming in early 2018. In addition, the site is only for business travelers, so average vacationers are not able to use Upside and earn a retailer gift card.
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