Finally, online trip planning is getting (a little) easier

While the internet has made it easier to plan a trip yourself – and see how much you save – it also forces you to wade through hundreds of destination search pages, hotel and home rental options, and a myriad flight route alternatives, becoming an amateur travel agent along the way.

But this summer, a few travel platforms rolled out or announced fixes to make travel planning easier, refining searches, creating more informative maps and streamlining loyalty programs.

Now, if you want to find a vacation home on an island, a hotel within a 15-minute walk of your nephew’s local bar mitzvah, or an electric car, Airbnb, Google, and Skyscanner, respectively, make it easy for you.

Analysts say these and other platforms aren’t done yet. “Travel information, pricing and reservations are still so fragmented and disjointed that I expect we’ll continue to see more brands develop and upgrade these types of features in the future,” Madeline said. List, senior research analyst at Phocuswright, a travel market research company.

Finding the right vacation rental can feel like looking for a needle in a haystack when it comes to sifting through search results. Among the measures that Airbnb has adopted this summer to facilitate the rental: the creation of 56 categories of accommodation which aim to help you find rentals identified as, for example, mini-houses, castles, “ski-in ski-out ”, close to national parks, residences with “incredible swimming pools” and even an “OMG!” category for unusual architectural options.

Additionally, the new “split stay” feature aims to help renters who want to split their time between two locations. The tool suggests nearby rentals available for part of the trip, making it easy to pair two rentals on longer stays and simplify the booking process for both.

“People are much more location independent than they were before the pandemic,” said Jamie Lane, vice president of research at Airdna, a market research firm specializing in short-term rentals. term, noting the growth in extended travel related to remote work. . “Airbnb makes it easy to build a longer-term trip by helping you find listings that meet your criteria and are open for the duration of that trip.”

Also new, a free policy known as AirCover, automatically included with every rental, protects consumers by guaranteeing a similar stay or a refund if a host cancels within 30 days of your trip.

“I see it as wanting to compete better with hotels,” Mr. Lane said. “Guests can feel comfortable knowing they will get what they booked or get their money back.”

Expedia Group wants your loyalty. Named after its flagship online travel agency, Expedia, the travel agency collection includes online agencies Travelocity and Orbitz, vacation rental platform Vrbo, discount hotel booking site Hotwire. com, car rental site CarRentals.com and more. In early 2023, it plans to bring them together under One Key, a loyalty program spanning its 12 brands, meaning points earned by booking a flight on Expedia could be applied to the cost of a future rental on Vrbo.

“It’s so hard for people to keep track of programs and rewards,” said Jon Gieselman, president of Expedia Brands, the group’s consumer division, who added that the idea of ​​an integrated loyalty program made him came when he opened his own travel wallet filled with dozens of membership programs and credit cards.

“It struck me that our superpower opportunity was to create connections between all of our brands in the minds of customers and at the same time make it easier to understand disparate agendas,” he added.

A few of the brands, including Expedia, Orbitz and Hotels.com, already have loyalty programs – with a collective enrollment of 154 million members – and the company has yet to disclose conversion formulas or One’s pricing. Key to earn and use points.

While most loyalty programs encourage members to stick with one brand, One Key will allow users to apply points across categories in a program Mr. Gieselman called the “non-loyalty program,” what sets it apart from competitors.

“Expedia’s expanded loyalty offering can attract more people to the umbrella brand with flexible options for earning and burning points on which Expedia brand offers the most appropriate options for a given trip,” Ms List said. of Phocuswright, adding that the loyalty program facilitates “friction” between Expedia’s often overlapping brands.

New Google Travel features, announced in May, map things like driving directions and restaurant-rich neighborhoods, providing a visual sense of geography in areas visitors might not know about before booking.

When searching for hotels on the platform, a Google map already showed the hotels with the associated prices. New icons representing transport, restaurants, attractions and shops – what Google calls “layers of interest” – allow users, for example, to overlay a map of public transport to see where the lines are. public transport compared to hotels. Attractive shopping or dining icons shade the map in neighborhoods with many stores or restaurants. Clicking on the attractions icon adds things like museums to the hotel map.

At the bottom of the map, users can drag the bar next to a walking figure to see the radius an average person can walk from a given location in up to 30 minutes (there is also an option to map driving radius). The feature could be useful for identifying hotels near a wedding or meeting venue, the company suggested.

“There was always the ability to figure this out in Google Maps using addresses, but that takes a lot of the guesswork out of it,” Google spokesman Craig Ewer said.

Its new Explore tool identifies destinations a few hours away. Clicking on a road trip destination brings up attractions, hotels, and routes.

“We saw during Covid an increased preference for road trips and trips that didn’t involve the airport,” Mr Ewer said. “With the Explore tool, we tried to provide inspiration.”

For bargain-hunters, Google Flights now lets you track prices between a pair of cities – departure and destination – and click “all dates” to have the platform watch fares for the lowest prices over the next six months.

Using tracking, like most other Google features, requires you to sign in or create a free account with Google. For travel purchases, such as flights and hotels, the platform connects users to these companies or online travel agencies.

Two other platforms help consumers refine their searches by providing more targeted results.

The Skyscanner travel search engine has added a new filter in electric vehicle rental cars. After entering the dates and location, users can check the electric box – along with other search filters like unlimited mileage or 4×4 – to see all available electric vehicles.

The initiative grew out of a similar green filter launched by Skyscanner in flight searches a few years ago, showing choices with less carbon emissions than average for each search.

The car rental filter helps travelers “understand the environmental impact of travel and how to reduce it,” said Martin Nolan, the sustainable travel expert at Skyscanner.

Online travel agency Booking.com aims to make it easier for LGBTQ travelers to find welcoming accommodations. It has set up a partner training program for hotels on its platform on the challenges faced by LGBTQ travelers.

Since last August, the free program, known as Proud Hospitality, has certified more than 10,000 properties in 95 countries and territories. The certification includes a digital Travel Proud badge on its list.

“As a global travel leader, we have a responsibility to take action and help pave the way for a more inclusive industry, with the ultimate goal of enabling everyone to experience the world as themselves,” said Arjan Dijk, Marketing Director. officer and senior vice president of Booking.com, in a written statement.

Elaine Glusac writes the Frugal Traveler column. Follow her on Instagram @eglusac.


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