GroovyTek | Personal Technology Training

Technology Travel Tips: Where To?

Sunday, June 23, 2019
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To get started, we need to decide on where to go!

Before the digital age was upon us with the internet and more, we would look to different resources to give us ideas for where to visit and why. We would talk to friends and co-workers about their experiences. Friends and family would often host slide show parties when they returned from vacations; they shared pictures on their film carousel, and narrated the relevant stories and experiences behind the images. There would be certain friends whose taste in travel we would trust and emulate. We would decide which vacations were on our bucket list and work from that list.

Or, if we didn’t have any strong desire to follow our adventurous friends’ and family’s itineraries, there was always the DIY (“Do It Yourself”) route. You would go to the bookstore or the library and perhaps review travel magazines, AAA guide books, Fodor’s and Frommer’s books, or stories from The New York Times travel section for new destinations to consider exploring.

When the research was done, it would be time to connect the dots. You would spend days on the phone connecting all the pieces of the travel pie directly (airlines, hotels, rental cars, and tour groups). 

For most people however, at some point there would be the visit to the travel agency. While looking at the glamorous posters adorning the walls of the agency and reviewing the various catalogues, books, and pictures of the various travel packages and destinations, a thought might cross your mind: “Are they really listening to what I would like to see in a vacation, or are they directing me to a destination that gives them a nice little commission on my vacation package?”

Now, it is clear that things have changed with the advent of the internet—the information superhighway. The power of knowledge and access lies at the end of your fingertips and the keyboard.

It is simple and easy to conduct pre-planning research on destinations. Want to know the best month to visit Panama? Easy enough to search, ”When is the best month to visit Panama?” Want to know the average temperature and chance of rain for southern Spain the week of January 14th? Again, the answer lies just a Google search away.

There are some great tools and apps centered on community-based feedback and reviews about lodging, dining, activities, and events for virtually any potential destination. Being able to study the feedback on destinations and events by people who have been there ahead of you can certainly help you with the decision-making process.

There are also newer versions of the Fodor’s and Frommer’s recommendation services. They rate all elements of a travel experience, share the pros and cons, as well as offer specific recommendations. These services are basically the new version of a travel agent fused with a concierge.

Trip Advisor

TripAdvisor is far more than a simple travel information site. It is a travel-related online empire. They bill themselves as the world’s largest travel site. While the site has the power to access inventory for flights, hotels, and more, the true differentiators for this service are the reviews and the influence of its community for advice to other travelers.

The real currency of TripAdvisor is opinions. TripAdvisor empowers the crowd and claims over 630 million reviews. It is a great example of using peer feedback and the creation of a communitybased mindset. In fact, TripAdvisor claims to have a community of 455 million different users each month. 

Other members of the TripAdvisor portfolio include: SeatGuru, GateGuru, TheFork, Cruise Critic, Booking Buddy, Jetsetter, FlipKey and many more.

What You Need to Know
  • Has the ability to search inventory for flights, hotels and rental properties.
  • Provides a travel forum complete with message boards based on destinations and more.
  • Reviews are from fellow travelers.

PROS

  • Travelers can receive significant savings by bundling various components of a trip.
  • Travelers can search not only by destination, but also by theme, such as romantic destinations or best places to hear bluegrass music.
  • The scale is simple – since there are so many reviews it tends to level out the outlier.
  • Hotels and others have the ability to reply to negative reviews.

CONS

  • Some of the reviews are poorly written and confusing.
  • Due to openness of the forum, there is potential for insiders to “plant” reviews or for incentives to be offered in exchange for positive reviews.
  • Reviews can be too broad to be helpful with specific information.
Oyster.com

Oyster.com acts like a concierge for hotels as well as a bit of a police force for more of the crowd-sourced reviews available online.  They position themselves as the advocate for travelers by providing reviews on properties as well as providing information on which locations are trending, what to look out for when using travel booking sites and more.

Here is the claim from the top of their website:

“Oyster is the only hotel site that sends special investigators to visit, photograph, review and rate each hotel. We inspect in-person - just like your mother-in-law.”

  • They have visited over 42,000 hotels.
  • Oyster.com was purchased by TripAdvisor but operates independently.
  • Oyster warns travelers to be wary of misleading photos of properties.
  • Oyster breaks down properties by “best of” various categories by location.
Getting There By Air:

Now that you know where you would like to visit, it’s time to take a look at the best ways to secure your airline reservations. Of course there are personal preferences and individual motivations for using certain airlines. Some folks want to have an assigned seat instead of Southwest’s more flexible seating options; some folks want to maximize their loyalty miles with a specific airline; some airlines offer free snacks; other airlines force you to pay an additional fee for everything from a reclining seat to a cup of 7UP!

The good news is there are many options available to us as travelers to be able to search all of our flight options on a single website. These are called “aggregate sites”—basically, they are able to pull from all of the reservation systems of the various airlines and provide a clean listing of all the flight options based on different parameters such as departure time, flight duration, number of stops, flight and route ratings, and of course, price!  

There are even sites that will rate your actual seat’s comfort—wow! One of the most popular airline ticket sites to visit when looking for flight options is Expedia. While Expedia does have other features and options, its ability to search flight information is quite powerful and relatively easy to navigate.

Expedia

Expedia is said to draw its name from two concepts: exploring and speed. Expedia serves these concepts by providing travelers access to fares and inventory via its technology.

The technology that blends all of Expedia’s brands together is based on access to inventory for fares, rooms, and more. To get technical, they focus on travel fare aggregators (meaning they are able to pull and sort inventory from many sources quickly and cleanly).

Expedia also owns and operates travel-based inventory sites such as hotwire.com (car rentals and more), hotels.com (as the name sounds), and they even own homeaway.com (which is the parent company of VRBO.)

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

  • Primarily an aggregator, meaning the main value is in the amount of rate and inventory information they are able to access.
  • Focus on airfare, hotels, cruises, and events.
  • Was originally started by Microsoft. 

PROS

  • The process of using the site is fairly simple, plus you only have to enter one form of payment regardless of the different items purchased.
  • Due to their scale, they are able to negotiate solid pricing with partners such as hotels for special deals and bundles. 
  • Always a good stop for research, even if you don’t book directly through their site.

CONS

  • Potential lack of accountability with hotels if booked through third party. Harder to get answers if you have complaints.
  • Items can be non-refundable so there could be a lack of flexibility.

Read the fine print.

Bundling Pros and Cons

With many of these travel booking-related sites, you are provided with the option to bundle various elements together to save even more money. While bundling these elements together can be quite beneficial and make things simpler to book and manage, there are a few things to consider:

  • Using the same airline helps you earn frequent flier miles. And similarly, you earn points or free nights when you consistently stay at the same hotel chain. If this is important to you, be sure to read the fine print. Some bundled deals might not allow you to earn frequent flier or hotel points.
  • Some bundles make you select from a smaller set of choices. For example, only two departure times, when that same airline is flying to the destination six times that day.
  • If you have a few extra minutes, try pricing out the same options separately, to confirm you’re really receiving a good deal.
Lodging: Where to Stay and Why

As with airline flights, the barriers to knowledge and access have been removed with the evolution of the internet, impacting the world of lodging in many ways. Now, not only is it easy for us to be able to access inventory, last-minute specials, and more by examining dedicated lodging sites such as hotels.com, we are also able to take advantage of internetonly pricing incentives and specials direct from the hotels themselves, or hotels’ parent company websites.

However, perhaps the biggest shift in the realm of lodging for travel could be the rise of peer-to-peer booking sites. Now, through sites such as VRBO and Airbnb, property owners and property renters are able to connect with each other directly. This has opened up new experiences for people looking for new lodging options, and has opened up new opportunities for property owners across the world as well.

Services such as VRBO and Airbnb make it possible to rent not just a room but an entire home. A whole home rental is a nice option for several reasons. You might feel more comfortable relaxing in a 1000+ square-foot home, as opposed to hanging out in a hotel room that typically averages 325 square feet.

And, renting a home is great when you’re with a larger group. You can be together and enjoy each other’s company in a large living room or outdoor area. Whereas, at a hotel you’re sharing any public spaces like the pool or breakfast area with strangers.

Speaking of breakfast, it might be nice to save money by making your own food, rather than needing to eat out or endure another free hotel breakfast of make-your-own waffles, scrambled egg pellets, and watery orange juice. But that also means you’re cleaning up after yourself, and there’s no front desk to call for help. The advantages and disadvantages all depend on your needs.

VRBO

VRBO stands for Vacation Rental By Owner.

VRBO is a high-profile of services disrupting the traditional lodging industry by connecting property owners directly with folks looking for a place to stay.

VRBO claims to have more than 2 million properties to choose from in 190 different countries.

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

  • Almost all VRBO listings are full house rental as opposed to Airbnb, which also provides shared space rentals (a room of a house for example)
  • VRBO hosts are pre-paid so if you want a refund, you are dealing with a host who has already been paid, whereas Airbnb hosts are paid after check-in.
  • You will be responsible for making your own bed, washing your own towels, and cleaning the kitchen during your stay.
  • Each property has “house rules” to follow, so be sure to review those first before you make your reservation. 

PROS

  • No hidden costs (like resort fees or bottled water fees).
  • The average square footage of a rental is significantly higher than a hotel room.
  • Access to a full kitchen, washer, and dryer.
  • Many pet-friendly options.

CONS

  • You must communicate directly with the owner to coordinate check-in, not as simple as just showing up to a hotel.
  • Unless prearranged, you are responsible for cleaning and cooking.

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