Ten Indispensable Websites That Will Improve Your Travel Life

For my most frequent readers there’s probably nothing new here, and I suppose I usually just assume everyone is familiar with all the tools for making travel better — from improving the booking process and earning cash back, to getting the best prices, to selecting the best seats — but after making suggestions on a nearly daily basis for how folks can reduce their travel costs or manage their miles I thought it might be useful to share a list of ten different websites (and more, since in some cases I’ll list a couple in tandem) that are public but surprisingly secret.

  • Autoslash. About three weeks ago I introduced folks to this new website. It’s the best search tool out there for rental car pricing, because it searches not just regular rates but automatically searches for the best publicly available discounts (applies discount codes and coupons). And it keeps searching for improved pricing and notifies you of price drops for your rental.

  • The Intercontinental Hotels Friends & Family Rate is still available on-line and usable by anyone. It’s a prepaid, non-cancellable rate but when available is usually good for 40% off the best available (cancellable) rate. It’s a bigger discount than standard advance purchase. When the rate first came out, more often than not it earned points and stay credit despite terms and conditions to the contrary. Now most hotels have caught on, you won’t earn points with it. But elite benefits are generally not a problem. So a really good, deep discount for Intercontinental, Crowne Plaza, Holiday Inn, et al properties.

  • Awardwallet is the best tool I’ve found for managing frequent flyer accounts. You enter your account numbers and passwords, and can check all your account balances in a single click, or log into an account with a single click. There are several sites offering similar services, like Mileage Manager and Miletracker. But I find Awardwallet to offer the best coverage and reliability. I’m happy to kick in my $5 for six months of their premium service, which includes showing expiration dates for miles in most programs.

  • E-bates and other cashback sites let you earn a kickback on your travel bookings. The MilesLink newsletter this past week linked to my post on getting cashback for your travel purchases. It even makes me happy to do bookings for others, since I stick a bit of cash in my pocket at no cost to them…

  • Evreward. You can earn miles or cash back for nearly any online purchase you’re going to make anyway, you just have to start at the appropriate shopping portal to do so. There are tons of them out there, and Evreward does the comparison of offers for you. Just type in the name of the merchant and it’ll show you the different options you have, and often display available coupon codes as well.

  • Biddingfortravel.com for Priceline intelligence and Betterbidding.com for Hotwire intelligence. I care too much about my elite benefits.. suites and free internet and club lounge access.. not to mention my points and the need to requalify for status. So I don’t use Priceline or Hotwire nearly as much as I used to. But there are certainly cheap hotel nights out there for the taking, and these sites provide the intelligence to decode what hotel the opaque sites are offering to you. With Hotwire, BetterBidding offers hotel lists to decipher quality levels and amenities and identify the hotel. They offer Priceline tips as well. Biddingfortravel is the granddaddy of Priceline sites, not as comprehensive as it once was, but still very useful in figuring out what hotels Priceline may offer at a given quality level in a specific zone, and members post their winning and losing bids to help you ascertain how much to bid.

  • Seatguru and SeatExpert. SeatGuru is the best known site for showing each airline’s seat maps with commentary on which seats are the most desireable (e.g. extra legroom) and which ones to avoid (narrower due to curvature of the aircraft, too close to the lavatory and likely to smell). But I’ve actually become more partial to SeatExpert, which performs a similar service but seems less prone to errors in my experience. SeatGuru has often been wrong (such as about seat power) or hasn’t had the aircraft I’ve wanted (a week or so back I was looking for United’s new configuration Boeing 777). Both sites are worth consulting for sure.

  • ITA Software. For most people, just using Kayak to search for airfare makes sense. But there’s really no more powerful tool to pull up itineraries than ITA Software. They’re a company that develops search tools, you can’t book through them, but their tools are available online for anyone to use. And If you develop a working knowledge of their routing language you can have them search multiple airports at the same time, limit your search to specific carriers and specific number of connections, and even search for all flight combinations that include a specific flight. And they also have a low fare calendar search that’s pretty useful as well.

  • Expertflyer and the KVS Tool. These are the two most powerful tools for any frequent flyer, but except for stripped-down functionality with KVS neither one is free. Expertflyer basically lets you access a computer reservation ssytem and search for fare availability, it will even let you search for award availability with a handful of carriers. And most usefully, it will keep checking for when availability opens up on a specific airline in specific fare class (including award space on those carriers it supports) and will email you when the availability opens. That’s great when you have an award where you’re looking to improve just a single segment. It’s not as comprehensive as the KVS Tool, my program of choice, but KVS lacks the auto-search/e-mail feature. On the other hand, while it accesses publicly available date, it provides an incredibly convenient way to search availability from a variety of different sources (availability can be different in Worldspan versus Apollo versus Sabre and different sources are more reliable for different carriers). It lets you search awards comprehensively for Star Alliance, almost comprehensively for oneworld, and for a few Skyteam carriers. And it even accesses Visa rules, Minimum Connection Times, and flight status. Well worth the fee to an expert very frequent flyer, but this is not a tool for novices.

    Okay, that’s really only nine. That’s because I’m relying on you for number 10. Please hit the comments with what sites you find most useful..?

  • About Gary Leff

    Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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    1. http://www.flightstats.com – for realtime flight status. Whether it is you waiting for a flight/connection or you are dropping/picking up someone, this site in invaluable. The best part is the text feature when a flight’s status changes. It is indispensable when it comes to multi-airline itineraries.

    2. My two favorites are Yapta, which will alert you when the price of a specific ticket goes down, and TripIt, which keeps all your travel reservations in one place.

    3. 1. Great Circle Mapper for comparing multiple routings and maximizing miles earned.
      http://gc.kls2.com (classic version)
      http://www.gcmap.com (new version)

      2. FlightAware for looking up historical actual departure/arrival times for particular flights (not to mention cool maps of flights in progress).
      http://www.flightaware.com

      3. Specific to CO, but http://pda.continental.com/info is awesome and I wish every other airline had it. Real-time upgrade and standby lists and seat maps, plus the “where is the aircraft coming from” feature is very helpful.

    4. You can also try AAfter Search cash back website for exciting travel deals. Visit the site and search by traveling related keywords.

    5. The KVS tool is just a web browser of public and free websites. I don’t see the need to pay $75/year for a web browser, I haven’t paid for a web browser since Netscape in 1994. Here is the list of websites where the information comes from:

      Visa information: http://www.staralliance.com/en/services/visa-and-health/
      Star Alliance award search: ANA.co.jp
      Oneworld award search: Qantas.com.au
      Skyteam search: Delta.com

      All free.

      I use ExpertFlyer because they have AA upgrade information. AA.com doesn’t even have that. I also don’t want to download a Windows program, EF is a website application.

    6. @Chuck, I can run multiple copies of KVS at the same time to do multiple award searches, try that with the ANA website. It stores my reservations and gives me 1-click access. It’s hugely more efficient for searching fares and timetables than goign to website after website. Yes, publicly available sites, that also include minimum connection times and maximum permitted mileage by route. Well worth paying for IMHO.

    7. TripIt is amazing for collating all the bits of my trip and pulling it together in a cohesive whole. It helps me check that I have made all the bookings required and that I haven’t overlapped anything. I can take the summary as well as leave one with anyone who needs to be able to reach me.

    8. Add another “Two Thumbs UP” for TripIt! Not only do they keep my itineraries together (and synced to my phone – very handy when on the go), the Pro version allows me to track mileage and hotel points across every different program I’ve joined. It’s $50 a year, but well worth it to me this year with all the various trips I’ve been on.

    9. FWIW, I just compared biddingfortravel to betterbidding for Las Vegas Hotels. There were 10 posts in the last 30 days on biddingfortravel. On betterbidding there were 42 posts, with about 35 containing data points for LAS. BB also has a calendar showing wins on each date, etc. Bft seems a little light on data, unless I’m missing something.

    10. @Gary, Chuck has a point, shouldn’t KVS explain that he’s charging for just a web browser with $0 data cost (unlike EF) instead of burying it in the TOS fine print? I’m sure many of KVS’s customers know it’s just screen scraping, but I’m also sure many don’t. Seems bordering on fraudulent or at least misleading, touting something as “exclusive” when it’s widely available, and data he doesn’t even have the right to “sell” to being with. It was a different story when KVS was free.

    11. What is the website where you can plug in a city and it tells you the cheapest fares from that city?

    12. @mark, I believe that’s smartertravel.com, which used to be smarterliving.com. It has last minute airfare for the upcoming weekend (and beyond) for any given city. Kayak.com also has an Explore feature, which used to be called Buzz, which tells you where you can fly for how much.

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