The Best Online Travel Booking Sites

There are so many online platforms out there that aim to simplify the way we make travel bookings. Flight tickets, train tickets, rental cars, bus tickets, accommodation, taxi rides, activities such as ski passes and event tickets are among the many things one can buy on the web.

Now let’s not go crazy. One of the reasons why travelling is so amazing is that it provides opportunities for human connexion and interaction. A nice little chat with a salesclerk at the train station is sometimes what leads to a personal recommendation, an unplanned detour, an enriching experience. That’s why I believe that some parts of traveling require planning and pre-booking and some don’t. But that’s just how I see things.

During our 6-month stay in Europe, I had to book quite a few flights and accommodations as well as the odd train and bus tickets. But I left it at that. Any other travel experience was purchased face-to-face or through an interpersonal commercial transaction.

At first, I did a wide-range research on many different booking platforms before making a reservation, just to ensure I was getting the absolute best deal out there…and then I quickly narrowed things down to only using my 2-3 preferred online travel booking sites for their convenience, ease of use and large inventory.

The website Reviews.com offers objective reviews and rating on a range of products and services including children car seats to kitchen faucets and insurance products. It provides an interesting review of various travel booking sites here.

Today I thought I would share with you my own thoughts on travel and hotel booking sites.

My Top Travel Booking Sites:

  1. Booking.com

Just like Reviews.com, I also rate the Booking.com platform 5 stars. However, I must admit I have never used it to book airfares. I use it for accommodation ALL THE TIME. Over the last 8 months, my family and I have stayed at an accommodation property booked on Booking.com 50 nights!!

With a large inventory of accommodation options including B&B’s, hotels, vacation rentals (official or not), hostels and campgrounds. Like most platforms, this one allows you to browse at accommodation in your own currency, which is a nice feature when traveling abroad.

What I like:

  • the large inventory of accommodation options
  • the transparency in the rates and many rate options – for the same room, you sometimes get the option to pay a few dollars more for free cancelation up until the day of your booking or can add a breakfast. You know exactly what is included in the rate.
  • the ability to get Genius 10% discount on certain properties after a few nights booked through the site
  • the ability to compare the best deals between traditional hotels and vacation rentals
  • comprehensive information on the properties
  • a book now – pay at the property option or book now – pay now
  • a friendly interface mobile app where all your past and future trips are kept and your travel preferences saved
  • this platform usually boasts the best deals out there in my experience
  • useful reviews from fellow travelers

 

What I don’t like:

  • the location map on the mobile app (I add to switch over to a different map app more than once to accurately find a property)
  • Booking.com is now offering very generic travel articles Don’t bother, stick to what you do best – booking accommodation properties. Leave the content part to bloggers and magazines.

 

To book a stay on Booking.com and get a $25 credit (I will also get a 25$ credit -it’s win-win!) please use this link.

To list your property: a cabin in the woods, a ski condo, an in-law suite, a house in the city or a shack in your backyard and start earning money that you can use to travel more use this link.

 

2. TripAdvisor

My second best online booking tool is Tripadvisor. Of course, I use it mostly to find out more about the destinations I travel to and what should not be missed. I seldom pick a restaurant before giving this tool a quick glance; we don’t eat out very often and therefore I do not want to be disappointed.

Tripadvisor is also a great comparison tool AND a vacation rental booking tool. I used it quite a few times to book vacation homes and quite liked the ease of use.

What I like:

  • tons of travellers reviews (which makes it the most reliable travel planning tool in my opinion)
  • for vacation rental booking, the interface quickly puts you in touch with the owners  to fine-tune the details
  • similarly to Airbnb, the platform is used by many small property owners who offer  a more personalized approach to vacation rental
  • reliable & secure online payment platform that also collects damage deposit
  •  for hotels reservations, the platform links directly to Booking.com
  • the ability to book activity packages
  • comprehensive information on the properties
  • the reviews you write after your stays contribute toward your traveller’s badges and contributor levels within TripAdvisor

 

What I don’t like: 

  • not all vacation rentals have a “book now” functionality and sometimes there is quite a bit of back-and-forth communication required with the property owners
  • the vacation rental inventory can be quite limited in certain locations
  • hotel rooms and vacation rentals live in two different sections of the website which makes it harder to compare

 

While it used to be a review only/user-generated content site, Tripadvisor is becoming more and more of an Online Travel Agency (OTA) and now even small properties and destinations have to pay a fee to enhance their listings and get more exposure. I find it a bit unfortunate because I no longer get a sense that the “best of the best” according to customers only is what makes the ranking, but oh well…we live in a capitalist world 😦

Make a hotel or a vacation rental booking on TripAdvisor here.

 

3. Expedia

Expedia is one of the largest OTA’s out there and provides a platform to book flights, flights and hotels combinations, car rentals, all-inclusive vacation packages, cruises, activities and now also vacation rentals.

I use it mainly to compare flights and find the best deals but once I have found the best fare, I use the airline’s websites to make my reservation.

It is too unpleasant to have flights with different airlines on one trip, and when one is delayed or canceled, having no recourse to find alternatives or get a refund. All flight segments with one airline or airline groups, although sometimes slightly more expensive, gives the best chance of 1) checking luggage in for free 2) being taken care of when things go wonky.

 

What I like:

  • great price comparison tool for flights and hotels
  • I have found the absolute best deals on airfare on Expedia in the past
  • 10% discount on select properties for members with Expedia Rewards
  • flight+hotel deals are quite interesting
  • customer service is just a phone call away

 

What I don’t like:

  • no alternatives when booking flight segments on different airlines and experiencing delays or cancellations
  • baggage fees are more likely than when booking with the airline direct
  • vacation rental inventory is very limited – Expedia is more common amongst larger property management company and not so much by small property owners
  • customer reviews are not as robust as on other platforms

 

During our 6-month stay in Europe, the other online travel booking platforms I used are AirBnB, eDreams, autoEurope, Aeroplan and Anoma which were all fine and probably helped save a few Euros, but overall I kept coming back to my  “Top 3” listed above.

 

Some of you might wonder why Airbnb isn’t on my list of favourites. Well, first of all, each time I compared with other platforms I found the prices were not competitive and also I thought sometimes the information was not clear. Twice I made reservations and there was no mention of whether the cleaning fees where included. Upon checking with the owners, it appeared that cleaning was the renter’s responsibility which really isn’t great. I also found that the Airbnb formula wasn’t ideal for late night arrivals or when the check-in time is unknown, something that happened frequently during our trip. In those particular cases, we were happy to book a property with 24-hour front desk.

 

I suppose that what influences my opinion of the booking platforms is obviously the overall experience at the accommodation property or air travel or rental car pick-up. When booking a vacation rental, the experience at the end of the day can really be hit and miss no matter what website you use for booking. The friendliness of the property owner, the comfort of the bed and the cleanliness of the bathroom are all human factors.

Photos can be distorted, photos can lie! …but overall, as a traveller, I like to know that I can trust ratings and reviews from fellow travellers, make informed decisions (sometimes we are just looking for a cheap 1-star hotel!) and adjust my own expectations accordingly.

What is your experience with online travel booking sites? Which ones do you use and why do you like them?

 

 

 

 

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Digital Detox “À La Française”

“No, I am not addicted to my smartphone”. … I told myself not too long ago, when I did the last update to my iPhone, IOS 120000 and found out about this new app that can tell when you’re driving and automatically stops the sending and receiving functions. I thought this app was useless. To me anyway, as I don’t feel the urge to check or answer my phone when I am driving.

Addiction is a broad spectrum, I guess.

It’s easy to say “ I am not dependent”, when your vice  (or in this case de-vice) is always within arms reach.

My first week in France has brought a bit of a shock in that regard. In a country where an unlimited data cell phone plan costs less per month than a dozen of fresh croissants, who would have thought that I would feel disconnected to the  world and wifi deprived?!

The problem seems to reside in the solution. With everybody and their dog relying on a country-wide cell phone coverage and data plans as cheap as chips, who needs an internet café anymore? Who even needs a good ol’ home internet even?

Upon our arrival, determined to stay connected with friends and family and stay on top of administrative duties associated with putting our Canadian life on hold for six months, I walk straight in a cell service provider store to redeem my ticket to connectivity. “We don’t sell cell phone plans without fixed term here”, I was told. “You need to buy it online”, added the salesman. “Plus, it’s much cheaper to buy your SIM card online and unlocked cell phones too”, he added.

Makes sense. Alright. Now, how do I get an internet connexion to buy my cell phone data plan?

You get the conundrum, right!?

So, here am I, five days later, waiting for that SIM card to arrive in the mail.

Uhhhhhhhhh. Isn’t there a sense of déjà-vu?! Waiting for the mail, the SNAIL mail!! Le courier, that takes days to arrive, especially in this country where strikes and stats holidays are more frequent than months over 30 days. To add to my restlessness, I am awake most hours of the night as I handle jet-lag terribly, AND I CAN’T EVEN BROWSE MY INSTAGRAM FEED to brace myself!!!!

The interesting aspect of my despair, however, has been to have plenty of time on my side to observe my eighty-year-old parents in law and see how they handle life without broadband, smartphone, Apple TV, Netflix, social media. and a large data plan. And you know what? They live just fine! Here is a sneak peek:

To find out what is happening in the world and the local weather forecast, they read the daily newspaper generously delivered by their neighbour everyday. Crazy, eh?!

They receive all their bills in the mail and pay them by mailing a cheque in an envelope in return.

To hire an electrician to do some work in their home, they browse the phone book and call 3 or 4 of them and invite them over so they can write a quote.

My in-laws write a to-do list on a piece of paper and write down appointments on a large paper calendar. Unbelievable!

To find out the bus and the train schedule, they walk to next block to inquire at the station. Magic!

My mother in law doesn’t look up Ricardo’s website when she is looking for inspiration to cook a good meal. She just walks into her butcher shop, sees what’s there and ask the butcher! How about the most tender pork loin today? Or perhaps a prime rib? Avec une sauce à la crème fraiche et aux champignons… Yummmm.

To connect with friends and relatives, they give them a phone call with their very simple pocket telephone, visit them for coffee, or bump into them at the market three mornings a week.

To find out where this or that store or service is located in their city, they pull an old paper map with a street chart, and maybe they even ask a stranger for directions…Tad-aaaa!

Every week they walk over to their bank and withdraw the amount of cash they need at the till until they run out and go back again. They don’t worry about paying their credit card bill on time as they don’t have such a thing!

To purchase the stuff they need, they just walk into a store and buy it, cash! Surprising isn’t it!

This is how we all used to function, not all that long ago. An efficient, simple way of life.  Moreover, without the use of technology, human connections are key. It’s refreshing and reassuring to know that, without technology, we still can.

As I am sitting in my in-laws living room typing up this blog post (that I don’t know when I am going to be able to post, by the way), I am dying to check with emails and get my updates on Facebook messenger. I keep checking on all the wifi networks discovered by my laptop in the building or nearby. Fourteen of them show a full signal. Twelve of them are mobile devices. Can’t wait for that darn SIM card to arrive.

But meanwhile, I am going to make a point to live and function without wifi and create more touch-points with humans, and who knows, perhaps even outsmart my smartphone!