Why Use an Online Travel Site?
The top performers in our review are Orbitz, the Gold Award winner; CheapTickets, the Silver Award winner; and Priceline, the Bronze Award winner. Here’s more on choosing a site to meet your needs, along with detail on how we arrived at our ranking of the top 10 travel sites.
Travel can offer adventure, relaxation or access to vital business contacts, and even a perfect combination of all three, at times. The best online travel sites ensure you get as much as possible for each dollar in your travel budget. They also help you make the most of every minute of your time when you are in the market for a great vacation package. These sites make it easy to quickly organize every facet of your trip –flights, lodging and any short trips in between. The best of them allow you to package different aspects of your trip for ease and savings.
Establishing a relationship with the right site can lead to many rewarding travel experiences over many years. Booking with the wrong site can lead to various frustrations related to limited selection, overly strict or impossible-to-find cancellation policies, hidden fees, high prices and low quality customer service.
As we began our online travel sites review, we wondered if there would be a best travel site for flights and a different one for car rentals and other aspects of a vacation. Happily we found quite a few travel sites that do a good job at multiple types of bookings, under various circumstances. This ability to multitask is one thing that sets travel sites apart from hotel booking sites, which are excellent for finding lodging. Zeroing in on the perfect hotel room, in the perfect area, for the perfect price is valuable, but some trips require planning help for all aspects of your journey. That's when an online travel site is best. It can become a virtual travel agent that works with impressive speed to find deals – and even steals – for travel and lodging. For more information, check out our articles about online travel sites.
How to Choose an Online Travel Site
A good travel site is competitive for pricing on flights, hotels, car rentals, cruises and more. It is an all-around competitor that can ensure your journey is memorable in the best sense. We prefer companies that let you pair any two or three aspects of your journey easily, with specific searches for flight and hotel or flight and car rental, and other combinations to suit your needs.
It is possible to invest in vacation clubs, travel insurance and different travel credit card rewards programs separately, of course, but we like travel booking sites that have their own straightforward rewards programs and insurance offerings.
You can always access these sites on your phone's internet service but an app is nice, and some apps are particularly useful because they make booking easier than it is on a mobile website. They have user-friendly designs that make it easy to book a trip with just a few taps of your thumbs.
Online Travel Sites: How We Tested, What We Found
We wanted to get a good idea of what it is like to use each site so we established a battery of tests to see how they compare, for pricing, for convenience and for a number of other factors. We entered a set of common flights – a mixture of domestic and foreign – with the same departure and return times on each travel site. We repeated the test flights multiple times on multiple days and on different computers to see which travel service would give us the best prices. We did the same for hotels, inputting a series of travel scenarios on each site to fairly compare pricing.
We also evaluated and scored the travel sites on how easy they are to use, in general, and also on a handful of specific factors. For instance, we considered how easy it was to find their cancellation policies and how user-friendly and fair the policies are. We compared their rewards programs for ease of use as well. We like the services that make it easy to discern what travel rewards you will be getting and when you can use them.
The travel sites we reviewed are all very similar, so we value the sites that stand out in small but important ways, including excellent customer service and high quality phone apps.
Online Travel Sites: Our Verdict and Recommendations
In the end, the testing did not reveal dramatically different pricing, especially when averaged out over many test scenarios, but there was sufficient data to conclude which sites generally offered the best value and to assign each site a grade for its performance on pricing. Taking those scores into account as well as scores based ease of use, customer support, phone app quality and other factors, we found Orbitz, CheapTickets and Priceline to be the best resources for booking travel online.
Orbitz is upfront about absolutely everything – a rarity in an industry known for obscuring important details. The website makes information about cancellation fees, travel rewards and everything else transparent. You know what you are getting with Orbitz, and we found good prices on flights and hotels in a very user-friendly website and app.
CheapTickets offers solid value for flights and hotels, and it provides all of the information we were looking for in a logical interface. This travel site has a tab dedicated to events ticketing, including concerts and plays, which is a nice combination. You can visit a city and include a play or concert in your travel plans, often at a discount.
Priceline returns some solid deals for both air travel and hotels. Also, it has a fantastic app that makes booking on your phone a cinch. This travel service also has responsive customer service that includes live chat, which is helpful for quick questions.
All of the sites in our online travel sites review can help you book flights or hotels, or both, but the best of them find you the lowest prices and make it very easy to find what you need for epic adventures anywhere in the world.