Websites to Make Your Travel Planning Easier Great websites that can help you plan for any trip, save money and time. BY BOBBY HICKMAN & JONI STRANDQUEST
Traveling can be a lot cheaper and efficient with the help of some websites.
Over the past few weeks we’ve tallied a great collective of websites through our own research along with suggestions from our helpful readers. These sites deliver everything, including money-saving tips on airline tickets and gasoline, where to dine and shop and how to share photos with friends.
Most of us love to fly, but one can’t help but wonder whether or not we got the best deal on our ticket. One site that helps you get, and keep, the best airfare is Yapta (www.yapta.com).
According to Yapta, the average price of a flight can fluctuate 400%. Most airlines have policies that guarantee their prices: if the price goes down after you buy your ticket, they’ll give you a refund or travel voucher for the difference. But who has time to constantly track fares after they buy a ticket?
Yapta (short for Your Amazing Personal Travel Assistance) takes care of those details free of charge. Like many travel sites, Yapta will help you determine your ideal flight options based on your travel schedule and personal preferences. But there are additional features to track fares, both before and after you book your ticket. The site tracks airfare prices on specific flights before you buy your tickets and alerts you when prices drop or when the airfare hits a specific price point. You can also tell them the price you’ve already paid for a ticket and they’ll track previous purchases as well.
After you book your ticket, Yapta keeps tracking prices for your flight. When prices drop below what you paid, they’ll alert you when you're eligible for a travel voucher or a refund from your airline. They’ll also give you detailed instructions on how to claim that refund from the carrier or will contact the airline on your behalf for a $15 fee.
Since Yapta launched in 2007, the company says, it has alerted its customers to more than $66 million in airfare savings.
When driving, there are sites that will help you find the best deals on gasoline. For example, when this summer’s hurricanes drove up gas prices and caused shortages across the Southeast, a number of local newspapers and television stations added links on their websites to help readers find cheap gas. Many of them link to services such as Gas Buddy (www.gasbuddy.com), where their national network provides up-to-date information about gas prices and availability.
To figure out how much gas your trip will take, visit Cost2Drive (www.costtodrive.com). Just input the starting and ending cities for your trip, as well as your car’s make and model, and the calculator estimates how much gas you’ll need based on the typical miles per gallon for your car. They also supply an estimated gasoline cost for your trip based on average national gas prices.
Whether you’re driving or flying, you’ll also want to check the weather at your destination. There are plenty of sites that offer that service, but The Weather Channel goes above and beyond with their free services. In addition to their vacation planner (www.weather.com/vacationplanner) another section focuses on the weather for your honeymoon, babymoon or wedding anniversary. Use www.weather.com/weddings to track the weather for your special trip. The web page also has tools and tips geared towards taking romantic trips.
And where will you eat, shop and sightsee when you arrive? Look for on online city guide such as Yelp (www.yelp.com), where you can find reviews of local businesses written by the people who live there. Yelp can help you plan your trip in advance or find goods and services after you arrive. Yelp is active in most major U.S. and Canadian cities, and their network is constantly expanding.
Another source of travel information is Shutterfly, the online photography service. This summer they launched a microsite called "Hit the Road" (www.shutterflyhittheroad.com). You can search for destinations within 150 miles of your home, which works great for a weekend getaway to keep the romance and fun going. Shutterfly also shares tips and best practices on what to pack, taking photographs, and related areas of interest. There’s even an interactive Google map mash-up where you can upload and tag your photos of places of interest.
Shutterfly also recently began their Share 2.0 service, which can be found at (www.shutterfly.com/learn/newshare). Share 2.0 allows you to create a personalized website to share, connect and collaborate with friends and family. A couple can create their own site to post pictures and messages about their travels or multiple couples traveling together can share their photos on the same site. Share 2.0 provides a private and secure site for sharing photos, messages, calendars and other information among visitors.
These are just a few of the many services that are constantly being rolled out to help couples plan, enjoy and share their travels. So, whether you’re planning a major event like a second honeymoon or if you just need to drive a few miles for a long weekend, there are plenty of online tools that can help make your life easier.
Sharing a passion for adventure, Bobby Hickman and Joni Strandquest own and operate EaglesQuest Media Inc., a freelance writing service focusing on business, lifestyles, travel and tourism within the U.S. and abroad. To learn more, or to suggest ideas for future columns, check out their website at www.eaglesquestmedia.com.