If you are wanting to plan a holiday off the beaten track or outside of the reaches of the high street travel agent, it can be a daunting task the first time you go it alone. There are thousands, if not millions of hotel, flight and holiday websites out there and choosing the right one for you can be a minefield so I have put together my top websites for planning holidays.
I always plan my holidays from scratch myself. Start to finish we can make our holiday 110% suited to us. I am not disputing that package holidays aren’t great… they are, but they don’t cover all the areas or things we like to see and do.
Not only a holiday booking website but also a source of inspiration for those early planning stages. Bargain prices, reliable service and the added bonus of being able to earn Quidco cash back AND Nectar points (See my handy hints below). The great thing about Expedia is you can book everything in once place, from flights to hotels to hire cars. Not only is it a site I would always trust, when you book flights + hotel together you are covered by the ATOL guarantee which along with your travel insurance, forms a great peace of mind.
If I am visiting a city for the first time and I am unsure where is the best location to be based, I generally search for the most expensive 4+5* hotels in the city via the map feature, find out where they are and then work around that area within my budget – you never get a 5* hotel in a rough area, do you
My favourite website for flights. You can check the whole month instead of specific dates which is very handy if you are not constrained to going on set dates. You can make some huge savings just by going a few days earlier or later than planned.
Skyscanner shows all the major airlines across routes and you can see the various suggested routings for your trip. With selectable options such as direct only and a price limiter, you can customise your searches.
Not only is this the holy grail of hotel review sites, the country specific forums are an absolute god send. If you are visiting a country or city for the first time and really want some authentic experiences off the beaten tourist path, jump on the forums and find out what the local experts recommend. From the best bars to small museums to that restaurant you just need to visit, a Tripadvisor forum has it all. There are many help posts in the forums which are very useful for the first time visit to a place you are unfamiliar with, including how to get to your hotel from the airport or train station.
Once you have found your shortlist of hotels via Expedia, you can hop on over here to check out reviews and guest photos. It helps to be in the know. If it is a beach resort and you want to be close to the main resort, a review will help you narrow down which block to request on booking, or you want a great view from your city centre high rise, a review or forum request can help you big time.
Google Custom Maps
We all know how to view Google maps right? Did you also know you can make your own custom map? By creating a customised map, you can plan road trips with points of interest or walking distances between shops and museums in a city. This is perfect for pulling together a daily schedule or finding way points along the journey.
I also use it for planning my work load visiting clients as I can work out which is the most logical route to visit everyone!
This is Mr Tramp’s favourite tool as you can build your layers to cover different days and modes of transport / routes.
British Airways + Avios
I am loyal BA flyer, where possible I use them for the vast majority of my flights. From doing this I have a loyalty card with a stock pile of miles on there which are great for upgrades or even free flights via the Avios air miles system.
Not only do I build miles from flying but I can convert my Tesco Clubcard points in to BA miles and also use their online shopping portal to also boost my air miles ready for redemption time.
As I do not live in the radius of an airport with good international flights, I find the BA feeder service from Newcastle to Heathrow to be very handy as I can literally go anywhere in the world from my doorstep.
My husband will confirm this but I have an unhealthy obsession with this website. From checking out great tips for boosting air miles or bargain secret flight sales, Flyer Talk always plays a big part in my holiday planning as it often serves as inspiration.
Divided in to many different subsections you can join in forums for your favourite hotel chain, frequent flyer club, offer savvy travel tips or just drool over all the beautiful trip reports from far flung places.
I have learned many handy hints, tips and tricks from using Flyer Talk that have served me in good stead not only for flying but for travelling and working away from home.
Probably a self-explanatory website but when it comes to booking flights, Seat Guru is very useful. If you can’t decide whether to take those last middle 2 seats on a 12hr flight at a bargain price or pay extra to upgrade to economy premium, Seat Guru will help you out. With facts, figures and layouts of all major carriers and their equipment, it is always good to be prepared. Some planes offer in-seat charging points which are handy for gadget loving travellers on long haul flights.
It’s even good to work out how quickly you can deplane, where the exits are, proximity to the toilets and even if you will get the drinks trolley first or not!
Much like Expedia, you can use the Marriott website to stalk some top notch hotels and base yourself near them. 9 times out of 10 I find the Marriott room rate to be pretty competitive and I find myself staying there. I know I am guaranteed a specific standard regardless of the city or country I am in and I know the staff speak English or can get me to an English speaker should the extreme circumstance ever arrive.
From working away, I built up my Marriott Points to Gold and I get added benefits from their Marriot reward scheme as well as some great email offers such as free night offers or executive lounge access.
Aspire Airport Lounge
When checking for flights, I never discount bargain flights with long layovers or multiple connections if it saves me money. But you may wonder what you are meant to do with a 4hr layover in Philadelphia for example? If I am travelling in Economy and I am with an airline for which I do not have lounge access I recommend you check out an airport lounge. Usually around £20pp you can stock up on food, soft drinks, alcohol and most importantly a comfy chair and some peace and quiet away from the hubbub of the departures lounge. Some are fitted with shows which is ALWAYS good. Sometimes just a round of drinks and sandwiches can come to more than £20! It’s just a nice way to get your holiday started and they often come with bonus deals on parking charges or cashback via Quidco.
Handy Tips for booking
* Join loyalty schemes. Hotels, Airlines, Hire car, if you use it, join it. You can turn your Tesco shop in to hotel points or air miles if you fancy ‘free’ trips. Thanks to my Club Card + my BA Executive Club, I managed to get a free 4* trip to Rome for Mr Tramps 30th.
* If you book online, check for cash back opportunities via Quidco etc or look for an online code
* Ensure any website you book on is covered in the relevant way, for insurances or ABTA / A TOL protection
* When researching flight times, hotels, point memberships etc, don’t forget to use my handy Planning Prep post HERE
Hope this has whet your whistle a little bit and made you feel a bit more confident at branching out without a travel agent.