Whether you’re in the planning stages or smack dab in the middle of your latest trip, the right mobile app can be your best friend. But not all apps are created equally. Speed, accuracy and usability all play a huge part in an app being highly prized or rarely used. Here are a few of the apps that we use often whether we’re in the planning stages of a trip or on the ground far way from home. Editor’s Note: The reviews and experiences below are of the iOs versions of the apps, however they typically work very similarly– if not identically– to the Android versions.
Airfare Comparison: Kayak
Kayak has been around for years and has been our primary flight search and fare watch tool for a while. We use it mainly to search flights on multiple airlines and track fares, but there are hotel and auto options available (which we rarely use– if ever). Search for a flight and you’ll quickly get a list of available flights with options to easily set a flight alert or share with a friend. The results list also includes Cheaper Dates and Our Advice options that bring up less expensive travel dates / suggestions in a couple of different formats. These are helpful if you’re not locked into a particular arrival or departure date. The Explore tab is a fun tool to find cheap flights to destinations from your home airport that may have been off your radar. You can easily filter the results from your location by theme (beaches, family, etc.), distance (flight duration or number of stops), dates or budget.
Pro Tip: Although we’ll search for flights on Kayak, we rarely book using the app– choosing instead to contact the airlines directly. We’ve found that booking with the airline rather than through Kayak (or any third party) saves headaches when itineraries change or other travel mishaps occur.
There is also a Trips option that is a helpful way to see all of your travel plans in one place when you’re juggling trains, planes, automobiles and lodging no matter how you’ve booked them. It’s even avail offline so you don’t have to worry that lack of a cellular signal will leave you in the lurch. You can use it to plan, share and collaborate and share your trips with others. To activate the feature you can connect your inbox to kayak or– for the slightly paranoid– you can forward your booking emails to [email protected] and the reservations will be automatically added to your Trips tab. Overall, it’s a well thought out and useful flight search tool that makes it easy to find multiple flight options. Bonus: The Skyscanner App has very similar features and functionality.
Get Kayak for iOs here
Get Kayak for Android here
Find Last-minute Hotels: HotelTonight
HotelTonight has been a life saver on more than one occasion. It offered Malinda and me last minute options when our connecting flight from Chicago to Italy was canceled after we’d landed in Chicago even though the airline told us that all hotels but the proverbial Dew Drop Inn were booked. There’s also been more than one occasion that the hotel we’d booked didn’t live up to expectations and HotelTonight helped us find another property that same night without breaking the bank. There are accurate photos of the rooms for every property and the reviews tend to be on point. The app provides options in your general vicinity as soon as you open it and categorizes the options by Basic, Solid, Hip and Luxe.
Pro Tip: If possible, wait until after 12pm on the day of your stay to get the best hotel rates for the night. Hotel rates tend to drop as the afternoon wears on since most hoteliers realize that a reduced rate for a room is better than zero.
Although HotelTonight was originally launched to help find immediate one or two night accommodations– you can now book weeks in advance. However, we only use it for last minute bookings. It’s reliable enough that we’ve taken plenty of short trips without booking a hotel prior– confident that we’d find a great deal on a great property once we’d landed. I’ve often been told that the HotelTonight rate was better than any the hotel could offer directly. Use it enough and you’ll accumulate travel perks that you can use in the form of dollars deducted from your stay. We’ve rarely been disappointed with the options available.
Get HotelTonight for iOs here
Get HotelTonight for Android here
Inexpensive Car Rental: Hotwire
Ride share services not withstanding, sometimes you need a vehicle at your disposal. Known for its inexpensive hotel bookings, we’ve found Hotwire particularly useful as a car rental utility. In fact, we don’t use it to book hotels; which are rated using a 1 to 5 star rating system and may or may not be identified by name. With vehicles, the car rental agency seems more likely to be identified and as long as you specify the type and/ or class of car you want, there are generally no surprises (The same can’t be said for hotels and rooms).
Pro Tip: Book at least a week out. Hotwire isn’t the answer for finding inexpensive last minute car rental deals.
The Hotwire app interface is straightforward. Select the Cars icon, input your location, pickup and return dates/ times and hit search. There is a toggle you can select if you plan to pick up and drop off at different locations. The search results identify car type, price per day and total price including taxes. Pick a ride and you’re good to go. You can filter the results by car types and rental agency or sort by recommended, price or car size. There is also a Price Alert option to be emailed when rates change. If it hadn’t been identified already, your car rental agency will be shown once you reserve the vehicle. It’s simple, effective and reliable.
Get Hotwire for iOS here
Get Hotwire for Android here