My mother was a travel agent when I was growing up so I've got a bit of a travel bug. And with the end-of-year holidays coming up, followed by the urge to escape the winter blues, lots of people will be planning multiple trips over the next few months. With a few hundred thousand new Internet domain names registered every day, you may not have heard of some of the latest travel booking sites.
For a while I had settled on just using one site at a time, normally Expedia or Travelocity. But today I use a combination of a few newer ones. The best deals seem to rotate among them, although often they produce the same results.
Powered by a large contingent of the original reddit.com brain trust, with Ashton Kutcher as one of the investors, Hipmunk.com seeks to take the aggravation out of travel planning. TIME magazine listed it as one of the Top 50 websites of 2011. It is easily one of the simplest sites to use.
You can see a graphical display of travel options, which can be sorted by price but the default results are sorted by "agony" which is a combination of price, length of travel and number of connections. The least "agonizing" options show up first and I've found them to be quite accurate.
If you are looking to book a hotel, it will bring up a map that not only shows the locations of hotels, but also overlays a heat map to show the range of prices in various neighbourhoods.
Hipmunk is close to Internet nirvana. I'm amazed at how few clicks and how little time is required to get great savings.
Kayak was created in 2004 by co-founders of some other well-known travel sites: Expedia, Orbitz and Travelocity. In fact, you can choose to have Kayak send your travel search to other discount-seeking sites if you want to be thorough. Since Kayak makes its money by selling ads on the site, it just wants you returning again and again as your first stop. (Hipmunk has no ads that I can see, but takes a small cut as a middleman.)
There are a whole slew of websites that allow homeowners all over the world to become 24-hour landlords. If you're willing to give up room service, and in some cases, privacy, you can save big bucks.
Airbnb.com and VRBO.com, which stands for "Vacation Rentals By Owner," provide slick interfaces with large inventories around the world. When I go to a new city, I want to explore it. Staying in a stranger's house could certainly be an adventure, but there are user reviews, plenty of photos and more to help you get cozy to the idea. Hipmunk's hotel heat map includes listings from airbnb.
If you are really looking for an adventure, you could try couchsurfing.com. You might get a bed, but you might get a couch. And you might also get a guided adventure with a new friend. Couchsurfers not only host their homes, they also provide a window into the culture of their cities and countries.
Preet Banerjee, BSc, FMA, DMS, FCSI is a W Network Money Expert, and blogs at wheredoesallmymoneygo.com . You can also follow him on twitter at @PreetBanerjee