I travel for work. I also travel for pleasure. You could say I travel a lot – not as much as some but definitely a lot. For example, I’ve spent at least one day in another state almost every week so far in 2008. Although getting there is never really fun, it can be made slightly better by mixing in some of the latest and greatest social services from our fabulous Internet. Read on and see why I love Kayak, TripIt, and FlyerTalk.
Get your reservations through Kayak
Kayak is a travel site, allowing you to search for flights, hotels, and cars. Ho-hum, right? But Kayak is a meta-site – rather than a virtual travel agent, it’s a comparator of flights, availability, and fares with high usability.
Want a three-way trip to DC and Raleigh, with no more than one connection, using only Star Alliance carriers, leaving after 6 PM, with no connections through Denver? How about finding a less-expensive hotel in Dallas in the Hilton or Starwood chains near 75 or downtown? These (totally real-life) scenarios are easy with Kayak. I should know – I booked both last month!
Kayak is the quintessential AJAX/Web 2.0 take on the mundane travel site, with fabulous animation, interactivity, and even some social features. It aggregates prices from most online sources (except Southwest), features reviews (both local and gleaned from the web), and makes its money when you click through to purchase at (m?)any of the sites shown. Check out the little-noticed map view of hotels, charts of pricing over time, and (with an account) flexible travel.
Manage tour itinerary with TripIt
Once you’ve got your tickets, your next task will be to organize your full itinerary and enter it into your calendar, which is where TripIt comes in. This nifty, new, and (so far) un-monetized service parses the confirmation emails you forward to it and makes a unified, readable, and iCalendar-exportable itinerary for you.
Since most travel receipts curiously don’t include an Outlook-compatible download, adding trip details to my calendar has long been a hassle. Although TripIt’s use of iCalendar is commendable, it’s not a complete fix, however. Although Outlook 2007 will natively show iCalendar feeds, it (and iTunes) will not sync them to my iPhone.
But all is not lost! One nice (and little-noticed) feature of TripIt is the fact that you can interact with your itinerary via email. Wondering when today’s flight is? Email [email protected] with “get flight today” in the body and you’ve got your answer immediately without having to wait for EDGE or log in to a web site. In fact, I rarely go to the tripit.com site anymore – nearly all of my interaction with the service is through email.
One thing I might go to the site for is to see who else is traveling to the same places as me. Like so many sites, TripIt has a social network component, allowing others to see where you’re going, a-la the less-usable but more popular Dopplr. Speaking of Dopplr, one fun thing you can now do is populate it with data exported from TripIt – which gives you the best of both worlds!
Share the love on FlyerTalk
FlyerTalk is old school in many ways. It’s basically a discussion forum for business travelers, with no fancy social networking software or transparent slide-over animated AJAX web thingamabobs. But it’s absolutely indispensable if you want to make the most of your frequent flier miles and hotel points. And it wouldn’t hurt if you’re a little on the fanatical side when it comes to air travel jargon and the like!
With your FlyerTalk account, you can participate in scintillating discussions on the latest Hilton or Starwood promotions, learn about secret codes that get you a discount (or not!) at National Car, figure out which resort to stay at, and learn what goes on behind the scenes in these industries. The truly odd can learn about the time someone carried on the kitchen sink, the depths of dislike for US Airways, and what the colored lights by the exit mean.
Unlike so many supposed social networks, FlyerTalk is a community. I’ve met many FlyerTalkers online and some in person, and everyone is thoroughly dedicated to making the most of our time spent away from home. It would be worth it even without Coupon Connection – but of course rule 1 is, nobody talks about Coupon Connection!
Disclaimer: I am not affiliated with any of the sites mentioned here and receive no compensation from them. I am just very pleased with the (free) service I get from them and want to share the love with my friends.