Continuous innovation has fueled the rapid growth of online travel information and commerce. Even now—after the market has achieved a measure of maturity—would-be Internet millionaires keep searching for The Next Big Thing. Peer-to-peer interactions? Searches tailored to individual interests? Search engines with value-added information? All of the above, and even more, are at play. Here are 10 new websites that stand out for their originality and that ordinary travelers might actually want to use.
TheSuitest: Finally, Accurate Hotel Price Searches
TheSuitest is the first and—as far as we know—only hotel search engine that allows users to compare hotel rates side by side on an all-up basis, including mandatory fees and taxes. Many hotels routinely carve out a portion of their true prices (think additional "resort fees") and provide online travel agencies (OTAs) with the falsely lowered rates. TheSuitest gives you the option of filtering price displays by posting all-up prices that include whichever combination of taxes and surcharges, resort fees, Wi-Fi charges, and parking fees you select. It includes several other useful filters, as well.
TheSuitest is currently in beta stage, with limited listings focused on suites and upscale properties. But it finds some good deals in that market, and, more importantly, it shows that an OTA is perfectly capable of displaying and comparing honest hotel prices. Bravo, TheSuitest. Way to go!
Roomer: Refunding the Nonrefundable
If you get a sweet-but-nonrefundable deal on a hotel room through Priceline but suddenly have to cancel your trip, you lose your entire payment, right? Not necessarily: You can post the unusable-for-you reservation on Roomer, where some other traveler might buy it (with Roomer making sure the hotel accepts the transfer). Obviously, you have to sell at a discounted price, which you set, and Roomer doesn't guarantee that somebody will buy your listing. But a chance for even a partial recovery is better than losing the whole prepayment. Roomer says it arranges for hotels to accept a name change on a prepaid room and that many hotels are happy to agree. Presumably, a few aren't, in which case, Roomer won't sell the room.
Yes, you can also protect a nonrefundable room by buying travel insurance. But typical insurance refunds your prepayment for only limited "covered reasons." Roomer doesn't care at all why you cancel.
GetGoing: 'Opaque' Destinations, Anyone?
When you buy an air ticket through an "opaque" agency such as Priceline or Hotwire, you don't know the name of the airline until after you make a nonrefundable payment—but you at least know where you're going. With GetGoing's "Pick Two, Get One" option, users don't even know where they'll end up. The gimmick is that you enter your originating airport (from a list of about 60 major airports), your travel dates, and your choice among seven world regions you want to visit, and then the website returns air trips and prices to a handful of cities within the region you've selected. You then pick any two of those destinations and buy your ticket, and GetGoing notifies you of which one is actually available.
The idea is certainly original. The basis, says GetGoing, is that airlines are willing to give price breaks to travelers willing to be flexible. GetGoing claims that Pick Two, Get One can save you as much as 40 percent on your trip, but my quick test showed much smaller claimed reductions from published fares. In fact, on trips costing up to $1,600, most reductions posted were less than $40 per trip and only a few were as high as $100.
Would you take pot luck on a destination in order to get a small cut in your airfare? Take a look at GetGoing if you're intrigued.
Tingo: Get Money Back When Your Hotel's Price Drops
It's hard not to feel cheated when you make a hotel reservation at what looks like a decent rate, only to find that the hotel has subsequently cut its prices. If you want to make sure that you always get the lowest rate, you can book through our sister site Tingo. Tingo guarantees that you get the best rate when you initially book and prepay, and if the hotel subsequently drops its rate, Tingo refunds the difference to your credit card. The upshot: You can book in advance without worrying about overpaying.
The money-back arrangement only applies to rooms in the Tingo price-drop system. But the combination of the ability to lock in a reservation early and the protection against a subsequent price drop can be very comforting—and can eliminate an annoying risk.
Vayable: Let Local Insiders Guide You
Vayable matches visitors with local "insiders" who can provide targeted one-on-one guidance about their home cities and their special interests. Destination insiders list special local knowledge and skills, design specific tours, and set prices for services. As a visitor, you search for tours and guides that particularly pique your interests. For example, tours listed for Portland, Oregon, range from "Food Carts" to "Keep Portland Weird."
Easynest: Double Up, Pay Half
For years, cruise agencies, package-tour operators, and third-party match sites have arranged shares for single travelers so they can avoid the single-supplement gouge and enjoy industry standard "per person, double occupancy" prices. "Why not do that for hotels, too?" asked the founders of Easynest. Whether you prefer to be a guest or a host, you enroll on Facebook and create a profile.
As a host, enter your hotel and trip details, review responses from potential guests, and accept any one you like. As a guest, locate accommodations you like, contact the host, agree on a price, and pay when you arrive.
The financial advantage is obvious: Most hotels these days charge the same for double and single occupancy, so sharing cuts costs by 50 percent for both host and guest. The downside is that you get a roommate. You decide.
FlatClub: Couch Surfing with Connections
FlatClub melds the successful Airbnb principle with social networking. Rather than renting a room or house/apartment/cottage to complete strangers, you rent to other members of "clubs" you've joined based on mutual interests and trust. According to FlatClub, the site hosts more than 400 clubs, or "private, trusted communities linked to leading universities and companies." FlatClub claims that members who go through a verification process enjoy "special" prices and "exclusive" accommodations offers.
As with Airbnb, the FlatClub concept spans the range of privately owned accommodations, from basic couch surfing and single rooms with shared bathrooms to conventional vacation rentals of entire houses and apartments. The difference here is the club element, which FlatClub claims provides an extra measure of security and confidence.
FlightCar: Drive Another Traveler's Car
Often, when you go on a trip, you stash your car in an airport parking lot, and when you return, you pay $10 to $20 a day to ransom the vehicle. At the same time, someone is probably visiting your home city and paying $40 to $50 a day to rent a car. But it doesn't have to be this way: FlightCar members skip the parking fees by letting visitors drive their cars, and, as renters, they pay less than standard rental-company rates.
To park, first register your car (with details) on FlightCar. At the airport, you park for free, whether or not your car is rented. And if it is, FlightCar pays you $10 to $20 a day.
Renters select the specific cars they want from a list of available vehicles, pay less than commercial rates, and avoid some extra fees as well.
Tripshare: Invite Travel Kibitzers
Looking for more suggestions about where to travel and what to do when you get there? Using Tripshare, draft an itinerary, maybe with a few options, then share it with others and receive feedback. You can do this before making final arrangements, and then tweak your itinerary in light of the responses to your first ideas.
Routehappy: Fly Happy
Along with fares and schedules, Routehappy displays a "happiness" score for each flight, derived from "a myriad of Happiness Factors that matter to flyers, including 25 seat types, 20 entertainment options, 55 seat configurations, Wi-Fi, and more." It seems to work reasonably well: On a test search for a flight from New York to San Francisco, the site gave the highest ratings, 8.8 and 8.7, respectively to Virgin America and JetBlue (I would have reversed those) and the lowest ratings, 7.2 and 3.9, respectively to United for a nonstop and Spirit for a connecting marathon. It allows searches for coach, premium economy, business, and first class. Routehappy doesn't get you any unique deals, but it can at least steer you to an airline and flight you might prefer.
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This article was originally published by SmarterTravel under the title 10 Innovative Websites That Will Change the Way You Travel.
Follow Ed Perkins on Google+ or email him at email@example.com.
(Lead Photo: Thinkstock/iStock)