If I had a $110 for every time someone has asked me how my husband and I are able to travel to the amazing destinations that we have been so lucky enough to have visited together in the past few years, I’d be able to fly business class….
The truth is: travel is a true passion and hobby. We both independently spend probably 3-5 hours of a regular week online (often on our phones) checking out fares, trading travel thoughts or reading up on potential destinations. It takes a little bit of luck – and a lot of scouring – to find the most amazing destinations for our budget.
Here are some of our favorite sites for travel inspiration and fares:
1. The Old Standard – Kayak.com
You would basically have to be my Grandma to have not heard of Kayak before. It’s so standard to today’s travel basics that I am almost embarrassed to mention it. But, being standard doesn’t have to mean that you are outdated. Kayak has reliability and multi-functionality that truly makes it one of the premiere travel sites on the web. Among my favorite features are: the matrix view of airfares available for flexible dates, transparency about where they are getting their fare numbers (we generally only ever rely on fares that list the actual airline as the source) and their price forecast features.
Kayak also has a nice recommendation feature that indicates if you would buy now or wait for a lower fare, though I find that it often doesn’t have enough data for some of the specific flights that I am looking at, which negates much of the usability of this feature. Kayak’s filter options to refine searches are also quite key to its functionality. The site allows you to filter take-off windows, landing windows and travel duration. Anyone that has had to manage difficult schedules, such as needing to take off after work, but before an infant’s bedtime, can certainly appreciate these filter option.
Kayak’s Explore feature is also a favorite functionality, though one that I can generally only take advantage of in the summer, when schedules can be a bit more flexible. Through the Explore feature, you can pull up a world map that gives you an idea of fares to certain places during upcoming months or seasons. The feature has recently improved in its functionality as the search map also includes upcoming high target travel times, such as Columbus Day Weekend, Thanksgiving Week/Weekend and Christmas Week. My favorite part of this feature is that you can get a better idea of how far your money can get you as you scan across a map of the world. The idea of flying to China starts to seem more and more feasible if you simultaneously see that they are only a mere $100 more than flights to somewhere like Jamaica.
2. The Set it and Forget it – Adioso.com
Adioso has fast become one of my favorite places to get travel inspiration. It has great search features that include your standard city, state, and country searches, with some really great additional search options such as “somewhere warm” and “international”. These are especially key search options when looking for creative and inexpensive places to spend specific sets of days, such as school vacation weeks, when prices tend to skyrocket.
You can also set up alerts for specific dates or date ranges within your preferred search parameters that will be triggered should flight prices fall under a set amount. For instance, if you are looking to go from Boston to Somewhere Warm, February 17-24 (February school vacation week), for under $400 per person, you can happily find some of these rare deals delivered right to your inbox via a set alert.
Another favorite feature of Adioso is that only three options are shown when you choose a destination/fare: Cheapest Trip, Best Trip and Fastest Trip. I find this to be a great way to get a picture of the flights available without having to wade through pages and pages of flight options.
One caveat regarding flight searches: Adioso searches and alerts do not currently have any option to exclude locations: if you live on the East Coast and are looking for European flights under $600 per person, be prepared to get a lot of email reminders about cheap flights to Iceland; similarly, Canada will be included in any search that is termed as International.
3. The Bait and Switch Inspiration Generator – Skyscanner.com
My friends often wonder where I get inspiration for my travel destinations. Some of it happens because we have a reason to be somewhere and decide to make a trip of it. But other travel ideas come from finding new and interesting routes – and a lot of those new and interesting routes are found on Skyscanner.
Skyscanner may not have as many targeted broad search terms as Adioso does, but it does have an “Everywhere” search option. From this, the world is literally at your fingertips. You can get an idea of cost of travel and an idea of possible travel routes from your city to pretty much any destination you could think of (and many that you wouldn’t typically think of). You can also filter your searches on Skyscanner to non-stop only, which is especially helpful when searching for ideas for a weekend getaway – especially considering that the price that is shown as the lowest price available is usually for something that has several stops and 20+ hours total travel time each way. If I were retired, the $800 flight to Porto by way of overnights in Brussels and Frankfurt might be a great option, but when dealing with the tight scheduling balance of work and parenthood, these deals aren’t often an option.
Skyscanner’s “bait and switch” quality really comes into play because the low price initially shown following the search is rarely actually available. Similarly, the sources that the site quotes for many of the great deals are generally third party sites like JustFly, Tripsta or Vayama. The real positive, though, is that Skyscanner will tell you the airlines for each leg, which I generally use to try some searches directly on the airline sites, to see if I can get any reasonable flights from the source. It isn’t always fruitful, but Skyscanner helps me build my travel bucket list, and gives me food for thought on interesting layover options for future planning.