12 essential sites for the savvy traveller

Beyond providing information on destinations and a convenient way to book, some travel websites are offering more innovative ways to help you plan the best trip or score the best deal. The sites offer all sorts of useful information such as free email alerts on changing fares, advice on which day to purchase your ticket and how to make the best seat selection.

While some of these websites are geared for U.S.-based travellers, Canadians will no doubt find them useful as well.

The site offers a comprehensive tool for flight comparisons. Airfares are constantly moving targets and the website provides regular updates and free email airfare alerts. Canadians can now book flights too, and monitor fares to and from Canadian airports.

The website also provides information on fare trends, as well as advice for discounted first class airfare and cheap domestic and international airline tickets.

After surfing various travel sites, you’ve finally found the best airfare. But should you book it now — or wait a few days and hope for an even better deal?

Farecast.com is designed to help answer such a dilemma. Touted as something of a crystal ball for travellers, Farecast.com uses historical data and price trends to forecast if your fare will rise or fall in coming days or weeks. (Note: Forecasts are available only on flights to and from designated U.S. airports.)

Here’s how it works: After you enter your itinerary, the website tells you its prediction and whether to buy now or wait until later. It also displays a 90-day fare history for a trip and reveals how confident it is in its prediction. On its website, the company claims that 74.5 per cent of its predictions are accurate.

If you decide to purchase tickets, you can then book directly with the airline.

Farecast was recognized as one of TIME Magazine’s “50 Coolest Websites” and one of the “Best Trip Planning Tools” by Business Week readers.

If you’re looking for a source for airplane seating, in-flight amenities and other airline information, you’ve found the place.

Providing information on over 40 airlines (including Air Canada and WestJet), you can refer to an airline’s seat map before selecting a seat or use it as a guide to help you select your airline. Based on various features such as leg-room, degree of recline and location, seats are rated as “good,” “be aware” or “poor seat.”

You can also find out what amenities are offered such as audio, video, AC power, internet connections and food service.

Prefer to travel by train? “The Man in Seat Sixty-One” (also known as former rail and transport employee Mark Smith) has put his expertise to work in showing travellers how to get around just about every country by train. The site covers such topics as train routes and schedules, how to buy tickets (complete with a booking engine) and general information about rail companies. The information is augmented with traveller reports, maps and pictures of the trains, and you can even find information for other modes of travel like ferries and buses as well.

Forget complicated meteorological data. This site puts all of the statistics into context to show you when to expect the best weather. The visual Climate Guides show you key information like average monthly temperatures, when you’re likely to see the most rain, how many hours of daylight you’ll see and what months are ideal for swimming. You can even search for destinations and best times to go based on unusual criteria — like what temperature range you’re aiming for and how humid or sunny it will be.

If you haven’t already seen this popular traveller review website, it’s a good place to look to find out what people are saying about hotels, attractions and other activities at your destination. The site lets users rate items based on certain criteria (like “cleanliness” for hotels), write their own comments and post photos. You’ll get to hear a variety of opinions from travellers around the world and see their recommendations (and what to avoid!). A word of caution: most of the content is written by people who aren’t experts so take the advice with a grain of salt.

It’s the build-your-own-itinerary planner for the DIY traveller. You simply email your travel confirmations — from hotels, airlines, online travel websites, trains, car rentals, events and activities and even travel agencies — to a designated address and TripIt automatically creates an online itinerary for you. Alternatively, you can use the TripClipper toolbar to automatically add information from the websites you’re using.

Once you’ve got the information compiled, you can share it with others through email, and access the content from your internet-enabled cell phone or PDA. You can even add “connections” so others can access your details online.

The name says it all — and the travel press has turned the spotlight on this site as the place to look for unique accommodations. If you’re looking to get away from big hotel chains — and don’t mind a little currency conversion — it’s a one-stop source for boutique hotels, guest houses and villas around the world. Each accommodation features a professionally written review that includes pros and cons as well as Insider Tips and room rates. Many places offer perks for booking through the website too.

If you’re still dreaming of a Europe trip, check out their list of Recession Chic accommodations in traditionally pricey countries.

What’s on When
Whether your looking for theatre, sports, culture or some unusual festivals, WoW has a little of everything to suit all tastes. It’s not just a calendar or list — you can watch videos from many of the events themselves, like La Tomatina (Spain’s “tomato fight” ) or the Dragon Boat Festival in Hong Kong. For a more detailed look, there are guides to over 500 destinations.

For more information on what’s going on in the world, another good source to try is the World Events Guide.

Devoted to finding just the right hotel, this site makes for interesting browsing. It provides TV views of hotels in major cities throughout North America, Europe, Asia and the Pacific. The professionally-filmed videos give you a sneak peak at variety of accommodations ranging from budget to five-star. Additional features to help you make a decision include a built-in map function that shows you where the hotels are and prices for the best rate. Even if you’re not planning a trip any time soon, it’s a good place to dream!

IATA Travel Centre
Entry requirements, customs, currency, health regulations, departure taxes, airport information… Keeping up with the latest details can be tricky. The International Air Transport Association set up this online tool to help travellers access the information they need. Simply fill in the details of your trip and citizenship information and the tool will tell you if you’ve got what you need. Next, it will link you to important information about your destination, like customs rules and currency regulations. (You can skip ahead to this info by using the “Country Information” link). Much of this information is free, but you’ll have to subscribe to their VIP service to access certain services like personalized alerts and the ability to create a personal profile.

(For more details on entry requirements, see Do you have what it takes to get in?

Don’t Forget Your Toothbrush
We all know getting ready for a big trip isn’t relaxing or easy. This oddly-named website lets you generate checklists of what to pack and things to do before you leave — like making sure you have your travel documents in order. After creating an account, you use a menu to add what items you’d like to add to your list, then you can print it off and keep it handy to check off one-by-one. As an added bonus, you can set up automatic email reminders of things you have to do at certain times, like two weeks or two days before you leave.

What must-have travel websites do you use? Tell us in the comments.