While the Internet has made it easy to plan a trip yourself — and see how much you save — it also requires you to go through hundreds of pages of destinations research, hotel and home rental options, and countless tour routing alternatives, to become an amateur travel agent along the way.
But this summer, some travel platforms have rolled out or announced fixes designed to make travel planning easier, by improving searches, creating more useful maps and simplifying loyalty programs.
Now, if you want to find an island vacation home, a hotel within a 15-minute walk of your nephew’s bar mitzvah location, or an electric car, Airbnb, Google, and Skyscanner, respectively, make that easier.
Analysts say these and other platforms are far from over. said Madeleine List, senior research analyst at Phocuswright, a tourism market research firm.
Refine your rental searches
Finding the right rental location can feel like you’re looking for a needle in a haystack when it comes to sifting through your search results. Among the measures Airbnb adopted this summer to make rent easier: creating 56 categories of homes that are meant to help you find specific rentals such as, for example, tiny homes, castles, “indoor/outdoor skate”, near national parks, and townhouses. With “amazing pools” and even “OMG!” Architecturally unusual class of options.
Additionally, the new “Split Accommodation” feature is intended to assist tenants who wish to split their time between two locations. The tool suggests available nearby rentals for part of the trip, making it easy to pair two rentals at longer intervals and simplifying the booking process for both.
“People are becoming more location-neutral than they were before the pandemic,” said Jamie Lin, vice president of research at Airdna, a market research firm that specializes in short-term rentals, noting the growth of long-haul flights associated with remote work. “Airbnb makes it easy to put a long-haul journey together by helping you find listings that meet your criteria and are open for the duration of that journey.”
Another new addition, a free policy known as AirCover, that’s automatically included in every rental, protects consumers by guaranteeing a similar stay or a refund if the host cancels within 30 days of your flight.
“My view is that he wants to compete better with hotels,” said Mr. Lin. “Guests can rest easy knowing that they will get what they booked or get a refund.”
New Expedia “Disloyalty” Program
You want Expedia Group your loyalty. Named after the leading online travel agency, Expedia, the group of travel companies includes online travel 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 unite them under One Key, a loyalty program that includes its 12 brands, meaning that points earned on booking a flight on Expedia can be applied to the cost of a future rental on Vrbo.
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“It’s very hard for people to keep track of programs and rewards,” said John Geiselman, president of Expedia Brands, the group’s consumer division, adding that the idea of an integrated loyalty program came to him when his own program opened a travel portfolio filled with dozens of membership and credit card programs.
“It struck me that our greatest strength opportunity was to create connections between all our brands in the minds of customers while at the same time making the disparate programs easy to understand,” he added.
A handful of brands, including Expedia, Orbitz and Hotels.com, already have loyalty programs – with a mass enrollment of 154 million members – and the company has yet to reveal conversion formulas or One Key rates for earning and using points.
While most loyalty programs encourage members to stay with one brand, One Key will allow users to apply points across categories in a scheme that Mr. Gieselman has dubbed the “loyalty program,” setting it apart from competitors.
“Expedia’s expanded loyalty offering can attract more people to the brand umbrella with flexible options to earn and burn points on whichever Expedia brand offers the most convenient options for a particular flight,” said Ms List of Phocuswright, adding that the loyalty program facilitates “friction.” Between Expedia’s brands that often overlap.
New features on Google Travel, announced in May, map things like road trips and dense neighborhoods to restaurants, providing a visual sense of geography in areas visitors might not know before booking.
When searching for hotels on the platform, Google Map actually shows hotels with associated prices. New icons representing transportation, dining, attractions, and shopping – what Google calls “layers of interest” – allow users, for example, to overlay a public transit map to see where public transit lines are relative to hotels. Shopping or dining icons shade the map in neighborhoods with many stores or restaurants. Clicking the attractions icon adds things like museums to the hotel map.
At the bottom of the map, users can move the bar next to a walking figure to see the radius an average person can walk from a specific location within 30 minutes (there is also an option to set the driving radius). The company suggested that the feature could be useful in identifying hotels near a wedding or meeting venue.
“There has always been the option to find this out in Google Maps using addresses, but that takes a lot of guesswork,” said Craig Ewer, a Google spokesperson.
Its new Explore tool locates destinations within a few hours’ drive. Clicking on a road trip destination brings up attractions, hotels, and directions there.
“During Covid we have seen an increased preference for road trips and trips that do not include the airport,” said Mr Ewer. “With the Explore tool, we tried to bring inspiration.”
For bargain hunters, Google Flights now lets you track prices between two cities — the departure and the destination — and click “Any Dates” to have the platform monitor prices at the lowest prices for the next six months.
Using tracking, like most other Google functions, 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 those companies or online travel agencies.
Electric options and all-inclusive stays
Two other platforms help consumers improve their searches by providing more targeted results.
Travel search engine Skyscanner has added a new filter in car rentals for electric vehicles. After entering dates and location, users can check the electric box – along with other search filters such as unlimited mileage or 4WD – to see all available electric vehicles.
The initiative grew out of a similar green filter that Skyscanner launched in its flight searches a few years ago, showing options with lower-than-average carbon emissions per search.
Martin Nolan, sustainable travel expert at Skyscanner, said the rental car filter helps travelers “understand the environmental impact of travel and how to reduce it”.
The online travel agency Booking.com aims to make it easy for LGBT travelers to find welcoming accommodations. She has offered a partner training program for hotels on her platform on the challenges faced by LGBT travelers.
Since last August, the free program, known as Proud Hospitality, has approved more than 10,000 drugs in 95 countries and territories. The certification includes the Travel Proud digital badge in its listing.
Arjan Dick, Chief Marketing Officer and Senior Vice President at Booking.com, said in a written statement.
Elaine Glosak writes the “Frogal Traveler” column. Follow her on Instagram Tweet embed.