Below are links to many of the websites I use when researching travel or planning a budget trip. This is a work in progress so I will add more websites as I discover them and feel free to let me know about any others you think are helpful trip planning resources.
My primary website is Google Flights. I like the flexible date and destination search features. It takes some time to get familiar with all of it. It’s also nice that you can click through to book your chosen flights.
Another good website is matrix.itasoftware.com but again, you need to play around with it for a while. I like to use it when I want to compare fares from Halifax to a few specific destinations. You can also limit the results to include a certain connecting airport. This site is useful for only research purposes as you cannot book flights through it.
My default is to book airfare directly with the airline absent some good incentive for doing otherwise. If something goes wrong, I’d prefer to deal with the airline instead of a third party.
If I’m looking for a budget destination or a time period when rates are low in a certain place, I like to quickly get a sense of rates across a wide array of lodging choices. I’ve recently started using Google Hotel Search but I’m still getting the hang of it.
Other websites I may check are Trivago, TripAdvisor or Kayak. They show rates at several different bookings sites. Play around with the search filters to see which website you prefer. I like to limit the search to accommodation with a threshold guest rating, a distance restriction and/or a price level.
If I want to find sweet spots in the calendar when rates tend to drop in a city, I do a few searches on the Hilton and Marriott websites. They are the only hotel chains I’m aware of that have a flexible date search feature.
When it comes to booking hotels I go to the actual booking websites to get the full details on rates available. Usually I book direct, but if it’s not a direct booking there will be a specific reason such as a promotion, discount code etc.
TripAdvisor is a major website for guest reviews and photos but be sure to read them carefully. I give more credence to reviews when the reviewer has a long history of providing detailed assessments of their accommodation. The one-and-done folks are a bit suspect.
If you google the hotel, you will usually see a link on the right to reviews gathered from various sites. It includes those from guests who booked directly with the chain or through a booking website that ensures its reviews are only from those who actually completed a stay.
You might also find video reviews of hotels on YouTube.
Loyalty Programs & Promotions
I think it’s a good idea to sign up for any loyalty programs you may use when travelling. The big exception to this is when there is a new member bonus such as the ongoing Marriott free night promotion. Hilton has had new member promos as well but I don’t believe they are offered on a consistent basis. Choice Privileges mentions a referral program on its website but I’ve twice tried to use it to refer others and it failed in both instances.
Some of the more common travel loyalty programs in Canada are:
Consider using a separate email address designated specifically for loyalty programs and deal websites so your inbox won’t be inundated with discount notices of which many will be insignificant.
When you are alerted to a promotion it’s a good idea to register for it in case you end up staying at that hotel chain during the promo period.
Air Miles & PC Optimum
Many travel deals you’ll find are a product of your own searching or from emails received from travel providers or loyalty programs. You can also take advantage of the deal information found by others. Aside from blogs, check out the travel category on the Redflagdeals forum. Also watch for deals on websites like Travelzoo and sign up at Expedia (both US and Canadian versions) for occasional promo codes.
There is a whole world of bargains out there but it can take some digging to find them. One clear example is the Days Out Guide 2 for 1 deals you can use in London if you buy a paper travel card from a National Rail ticket office instead of using an Oyster card for transit. It also works when you have train tickets booked into and out of the city.
You have to look around to find the best deals. Even the IHG PointBreaks list is not something IHG broadcasts to members. There is no email about it. It’s something you need to learn about on your own.
Although I’ve bid on a couple, I haven’t ever succeeded in winning one of these. It’s possible to get a deal if you’re flexible with your destination. The websites I’m aware of are Luxury Travel Diary and BiddingForGood.
One of the keys to accumulating points and miles is through the responsible use of a travel rewards credit card. There are quite a few to choose from so it’s important to carefully consider which ones match your travel goals best.
Throughout the year there will be credit card promotions when the sign-up bonus will be higher than usual or the first year fee will be waived. In addition to your daily use card you may decide to do a test run of a couple of these cards to capitalize on the welcome offer and then cancel before the next year’s annual fee is due. Some people do this repeatedly in a very systematic manner. This is termed credit card “churning” and those who engage in it spend considerable effort managing their many credit cards.
I enjoy the hunt for deals so credit card points are just one tool in the toolbox to make trips happen on a budget.
The credit card forums on Redflagdeals is one spot to read about current sign-up offers.
Travel forums can be a good source of information. Chances are, if you have a question about a place, someone else has also asked that question.
The TripAdvisor forums often have useful links on the upper right side of the page. They typically contain the most sought after info like public transit options to/from the airport. A few other forums are the ones on the Fodors, Lonely Planet and Rick Steves websites. Just remember if you do a search to pay attention to the date the question was answered.
Not a forum, but check out the Wikitravel page for your destination for helpful info as well.
The trip reports of other travellers are an excellent resource for trip planning. I especially appreciate the honest people who point our their errors or what they would have done differently. The Fodors, Rick Steves and Flyertalk forums mentioned above allow you to either search for trip reports or have a separate section for trip reports.
There are a gazillion travel YouTubers out there. To me, these are more on the side of travel entertainment than travel information (infotainment?). Anyway, you may have to watch a few channels before you find one you like. One example is Samuel and Audrey – Travel and Food Videos. They are two Canadians who discuss their food and accommodation costs and give you a good sense of a place. Be aware that some YouTubers are not as upfront about the sponsored elements of their trip as perhaps they should, at least in my opinion.
The best website I know of for information on rail travel is The Man in Seat 61. The fellow is also willing to answer questions by email. If you are new to travelling in Europe by train definitely check out this page. Some travellers naturally assume that tickets should be purchased from Rail Europe and that a pass represents optimal value. Depending on your travel plans, a rail pass might not be the best option and likely not the cheapest.
I’ve never been on a cruise. Maybe someday. But sometimes I peruse the fares for various cruises on the Vacations To Go 90 Day Ticker. It’s also interesting to use the search filter to see if it would be theoretically possible to board an eastbound transatlantic cruise in Halifax and then return via a westbound one. Maybe an option for someone who does not wish to fly?
Disney & Universal
A good source of information for all things Disney or Universal are the Disboards forums. There is a subforum specifically for Canadians. Another helpful website is Mousesavers. You’ll also find websites that provide crowd calendars to give you some idea of how packed the parks will be when you intend to visit. Touring Plans is one that offers a paid subscription to access the best information. I have no experience with it but many years ago I did find their “Unofficial Guides” quite helpful with planning.
Something that has proven useful is the Annual Pass holder booking link for the Universal Orlando hotels. The modest charge to upgrade your ticket to a seasonal pass can be more than offset by the discount you’ll get on a stay at deluxe hotel that includes unlimited express passes for guests.
The website I check occasionally to see the deals is the Last Minute Rentals subforum of the Timeshare Users Group website. There is also a Marketplace section with more availability. I like that you can see if the person posting the last minute opportunity is a long time active member of the forum.
If you plan on renting a timeshare be advised that it’s perhaps best to avoid attendance at a sales presentation unless the incentive is truly worthwhile and you’re firm in your commitment not to purchase without at least examining the resale market first. If somehow you do end up purchasing, familiarize yourself with the applicable rescission period.
If you are looking to book a stay at a Disney Vacation Club resort by renting points, a popular site to use is David’s Vacation Rentals which is a Canadian website.
I’ve never taken one of these vacations but I know they are a popular style of trip and perhaps best booked though a travel agent? Anyway, Tripcentral is a site I’ve come across that allows you to search across several destinations and time periods in a grid format.
My favourite survey site is e-Rewards but you can only sign up through an email invitation link. Be sure to check your emails from all the loyalty programs you belong to in case you get an invitation. I recently got an email from Travelzoo with a sign-up link. Another company known to send out invitations is Le Club Accorhotels (includes Fairmont). It varies from person to person what rewards you’ll be able to access on the e-Rewards website. I usually redeem mine for IHG or Hilton points. I have family members who redeem for Alaska miles.
If you’re an Air Miles collector you can sign up to earn miles through Rewarding Your Opinions. I would perhaps wait till the next big promo like Shop The Block so your sign-up bonus will count toward a bigger goal.
I’m not a winner so I don’t bother with contests. However, there is a whole world out there of people who dedicate time to entering contests and compile them for others. Here’s a repository of contests on Redflagdeals. You’ll have to sift through them to find the travel-related ones.