How to plan your next trip online

June 10, 2012
The choices for planning your next trip online can be daunting.

Being your own online travel agent, while empowering, can also be daunting. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer number and dizzying array of websites.

According to, an industry analyst site, about one-­third of travelers consistently book their trips online, and 76 percent use one or more websites to choose a destination.

Where to look? Most online travel forays begin with a search engine (such as Google, Bing, or Yahoo) but after that, hold onto your hats:

Looking for inspiration

Not sure where you want to go or what you want to do? Some sites are designed to whet your appetite for specific destinations, properties, or activities. For example, a new site called — with a home page resembling a slot machine — helps you choose and design a trip uniquely suited to your tastes and interests. operates like a matchmaker, picking local guides who provide unique “insider” tours and experiences for travelers.

If you have already homed in on a destination, many convention and visitors bureaus (CVBs) sponsor websites (and mobile apps) with extensive descriptions of hotels, restaurants, and attractions for an area — including maps, weather, and information on what to wear. For example, showcases wineries and other tourist attractions in Napa Valley, Calif. The official website of greater Fort Lauderdale, Fla.,, has live beach cams on the site.

Niche­based affinity sites

Whether you are a foodie, dog lover, or wildlife enthusiast, there are sites that can help you design your travels and help you find kindred spirits, including, (which provides a directory of pet­friendly properties), or

Families might head to for vacation suggestions. Cruisers can look to a variety of online brokers offering reviews, advice, and message boards, such as or

Shopping around

Review sites (which often book travel as well) offer opinions and ratings along with photographs from experts and users. Many travelers also ask “friends” on Facebook or other social networks where to stay and what to do.

Despite recent controversy about some vendors scamming the integrity of its review process, (once owned by Expedia) remains the most trafficked review site, with approximately 60 million user reviews. Sites such as (which focuses on hotels) and offer professional vacation reviews. Some large hotel brands are incorporating reviews from users directly onto their sites.

Checking prices

In the air travel category especially, meta­sites such as,,,, and aggregate searches from multiple sites to help consumers find the best deal, in terms of schedule and cost. does this for cruisers.

A number of sites advertise protections for price drops after purchase. For example, the Price Assurance program automatically tracks and processes refunds if another traveler books for less before the start of a traveler’s trip. automatically rebooks hotel rooms at a lower rate if the price drops.

Flash­sale sites (such as,, and offer time­ limited opportunities for price­conscious travelers to take advantage of significant price reductions on rooms and vaca­tion packages.

Many travelers check prices directly with airline, hotel, travel, cruise, auto rental, or rail suppliers (United Airlines, Marriott, Hertz, etc.) to take advantage of special offers or to confirm they are getting a good online deal elsewhere. (Booking air directly offers the convenience of selecting seats and obtaining credit for frequent flyer miles on the same site.)

Booking,, and are full­-service, online travel agents (also called third-­party intermediaries) who broker airlines, hotels, car rentals, cruises, and vacation packages for travelers. In recent years,, which started with a name-­your-­own-­price model, has moved to include conventional sales similar to the other big brokers.

Numerous tour operators, Pleasant Holidays ( and American Express Vacations (, to name just two, also offer one­-stop-­shopping online packages.

Travel Utilities

Online tools have the potential to make it easier to organize trips. Utilities like help organize all the details of flight, hotel, auto rental, and restaurant reservations. The site allows travelers to forward e­mail purchase confirmations to their TripIt accounts, automatically adding the information to their itineraries, which can be shared with family and friends. takes the guesswork out of knowing how much legroom you will have, whether your seat is in the path of the restroom, and whether it reclines and has a tray table.

Google Maps and its mobile apps can be invaluable in planning your trip and figuring out how to get back to your hotel room if you get lost in a new city. It can also point you to directions for using public transportation. tracks the status of your incoming flights if you are worried about bad weather diverting or delaying your plane’s departure. helps you determine how to pack and whether you will need your umbrella.

For more information on planning travel online, see: Online travel trends: Continually changing and getting better

[This article was published in the Boston Globe Travel Section on Sunday, June 10, 2012.]


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