OK, here's a fun game. How many travel web sites can you name in 30 seconds? I'm talking about the web sites where you go and book a trip by doing stuff like buying your plane/train tickets, setting up a car rental, and making hotel reservations.
You should really try to answer that before you read on, by the way. I'm about to rattle off a bunch of web sites, and I don't want anyone cheating.
The fact is you should have no problem listing many web sites in 30 seconds, just because there are so many travel web sites to choose from. Just by doing a Google search for the word, "Travel," yields 5 billion results, albeit not all of them are necessarily from travel web sites. The first few pages of results, however, is littered with links to more than a dozen different sites, where people can do travel-planning.
The web sites that come up include: AAA.com, Expedia.com, Priceline.com, Orbitz.com, Travelocity.com, Hotwire.com, TripAdvisor.com, TravelZoo.com, LastMinuteTravel.com, LonelyPlanet.com, Kayak.com, OneTravel.com, CheapoAir.com, and CheapTickets.com.
The one web site that did not come up in the first few pages, but still should be remembered, is www.hotels.com/ (where, despite the name, you can also book a flight as part of a travel package).
So, with so many web sites to choose from, how do you pick a site to rely on? Well, you have to surf each site, and find one that suits your needs. To do that, you need to decide what is most important to you when planning a trip. Do you want a web site that brings up the lowest prices, or do you want a site that offers the best recommendations? Do you prefer William Shatner, or a Garden Gnome? Are loyalty perks important to you, or are you only trying to get through this weekend's trip?
It takes a lot of checking. Hours, if not days, of checking to be exact. Priceline has its "Pricebreaker Deals," such as one-way AirTran tickets for $49, or 41 percent off a stay at a 3.5-star hotel in Orlando. Go to Travelocity.com's web site, and you have to really search for the features, but you can find sections for "Gay Travel," and "Green Travel."
TravelZoo.com, meanwhile, can offer you deals on entertainment for wherever you end up going. Other web sites, such as Kayak.com, CheapoAir.com, and CheapTickets.com, tout themselves as the places to go for cheap travel. As it's name suggests, LastMinuteTravel.com, is set up as place for people who have waited until the last minute to schedule their trip.
Because not every site may meet all of your needs, you may end up being loyal to more than one. Let me explain it this way. Although I am loyal to Delta Air Lines right now, because I'm trying to stack up frequent flyer miles, I am not loyal to any particular travel web site when it comes to purchasing airplane tickets. If I wanted to use someone else, besides Delta, I would check out the prices on multiple web sites.
I am, however, very loyal to Hotels.com, when it comes to finding a hotel room. Why? Well, they have a great rewards program, where you can get one free night in a hotel for every 10 days you stay in a hotel that you booked through the web site. Of course, that cost of the hotel room you stay free in must be equal to, or less than the average price you paid for the 10 other nights you spent in a hotel room.
The bottom line here is that you need to check out each web site, see what they offer before you settle on a place to do your travel-planning.
Curt Yeomans covers education for the Clayton News Daily. He can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.