I love to travel. I love to take weekend trips, weeklong vacations, getaways with my husband or girlfriends, family trips. Driving, flying, cruising--I love it. I love to experience a new place, a new type of cuisine, a new climate, and a new culture. I enjoy planning a vacation almost as much as I enjoy the trip once I'm there. I read guidebooks and travel writing on the area in the months before we go. But some of the best resources are online--not to mention the free-est. As soon as we are even considering a trip somewhere, I start a favorites folder with the name of that destination and as I come across websites for hotels, restaurant guides, or attractions, I just save them into that folder.
I recently started a Destination travel series here at the blog, with my first travel guide being to Portland, Oregon. I decided I would go into a bit more detail here about some of my resources for information and good deals.
The best thing about tripadvisor is the user reviews. Search for any hotel in any city (filling in the city name and the hotel name in the search box), and then select the link for the TripAdvisor Traveler reviews. Many reviews will come up--reviews from travelers who have stayed in that very hotel. Oftentimes by reading through the reviews, you also will be given recommendations for eateries or activities in the area. I read the reviews to find a hotel, but also after I've booked a hotel, for this very reason. You can also find out if there are certain (newly renovated) floors to ask for. Tips: Look at the date of the review. If the reviewer sites ugly, dated bathrooms, but the review was 18 months ago, and the hotel site says that all rooms have been renovated, you are probably okay. Don't despair if you find a negative review. I think that some people are naturally critical. Look at the bulk of the reviews and take your cue from there.
If you are looking to find a hotel, instead of just finding more information on a hotel that you are considering, type the name of the city into the search box. I typed in "Portland, Oregon," and then selected Hotels in Portland from the list it pulled up, and then I got this page, which gives me the top hotels, as ranked by the reviewers. You can click on read all reviews in each hotel listing and decide for yourself what the best fit for you is.
There are many other features at this site, but I primarily use the extensive hotel reviews.
I have used Priceline on a number of occasions for hotel reservations. The general procedures are listed here (check them out if you have never looked into it). If you know exactly the hotel that you would like, and no other will do, do not use the "name your own price" feature. Once you submit a bid for the hotel, if it is accepted, it is charged to your card, and there are no refunds, so be sure that you are 100% certain on the dates and that the trip will take place. Tip: Travel insurance is available for $5 (when you make the bid). I always thought it was worth it, because it bought me a bit of security if I was sick, or my children, for whom I am the caretaker. However, recently I actually considered filing a claim, and it was a rigorous procedure requiring a doctor's note. I might still buy it in the future, or I might just take the risk.
The upside is that you can get a hotel room for literally half (or less) of what you would pay by booking directly, and at a substantial savings over even other discounters. Most cities have many regions, and you only bid within the zone, and within the star level. So, if you want to be sure that you will get a four star (Hilton, Marriott type hotel), near the airport, or downtown, or in a certain suburb, that is all you bid on, and that is all you will get. I have never been disappointed. I have always been thrilled to have saved from $50 to $100 or more night, and I enjoy trying out hotels I might not otherwise have tried.
Many success tips for bidding are found at this terrific forum: betterbidding.com. At this site, you can choose your state and city, and see a list of hotels that the users have reported on. This gives you an idea of the hotels that you might win a bid on an any particular area. They also publish recent wins, so you have an idea of the price level you might get. Best of all, they give out a general bidding strategy enabling you to get the most possible bids in. Spend some time here and your questions will be answered much better than I can. The users there are nice and friendly, so feel free to post a question of your own.
They do have a "more ways to save" section now, where you book a hotel by the price listed. It's a good option to consider. My favorite site for booking discount hotels (and they are refundable) is Quikbook. I have saved over $50 a night through this site in cities like New Orleans and New York City.
Another site of which I have recently become aware is travelzoo. They have last minute deals, which can really amount to a steal.
For a family or multi-family vacation at the beach or the ski slopes, or other traditional vacation spots, try renting a home or a condo. We've had great results, getting more space and a cheaper price, especially if you are splitting with another family. You also have the added convenience of a kitchen, TVs and DVD players, and often times even a gaming system. I've used vrbo.com and cyberrentals.com.
Fodor's and Frommer's also have great online sites, and Family Fun magazine has a great travel section as well.
Do you have any other great online resources or bargain travel secrets?
This first appeared as a Works for Me Wednesday tip. Want to see more tips and tricks? Click over to Rocks in My Dryer.