Archive | Planning Tool RSS feed for this section

TripAdvisor’s 2011 Travelers’ Choice Awards

4 May

I am a huge fan of TripAdvisor and other forums like it. It think it provides a great opportunity for travelers and vacation planners to connect and get real-time advice. In fact, I never plan a trip without checking in with the folks on the local forums at lease 5-10 times!

Yesterday, TripAdvisor announced its 2011 Travelers’ Choice Destinations winners, which honors travelers’ favorite places to visit around the world. If you’re looking to take a trip this summer, check out the list to get some inspiration!

The winning destinations include 337 vacation hot spots from around the world, including lists in the United States, Europe, the Caribbean & Mexico, Central & South America, Asia, India, South Pacific, Canada, Africa, United Kingdom, France, Italy, Germany and Spain. The list is pulled together by millions of real, unbiased opinions from TripAdvisor users.

Some highlights from the list include:

2011 Travelers’ Choice World Destinations:
1. Cape Town, South Africa
2. Sydney, Australia
3. Machu Picchu, Peru

2011 Travelers’ Choice U.S. Destinations:

1. New York City, New York

2. Honolulu, Hawaii

3. San Francisco, California

Check out the full list of winners here and be sure to let me know if this list was helpful in choosing your next vacation destination.

Happy Planning!

Helpful Tip: Airlines that allow you to hold fares for little to no cost until you’re ready to book!

14 Apr

View of American Airlines' booking page which allows you to hold fares

Last winter when I was looking to book my annual winter getaway, I discovered an awesome little tool on American Airlines’ website that allows you to hold a fare, for no cost, for up to 24 hours! This little trick allowed me to price out my trip and research other destinations without the pressure of having to make a decision out of fear of losing the lowest possible price. I figured this was something other airlines offered as well but didn’t know too much until I came across a recent article from


Turns out, lots of airlines allow you to take advantage of the best possible fare, without thinking twice. So helpful for those who aren’t always able to act on impulse!!


Ever see an amazing fare on and be itching to book it, but you have to call your husband/wife/brother/posse to coordinate plans? Or just want to shop around for a bit to make sure it’s a good deal? Sure you have. And while you waited, that $312 round-trip tax-included fare to Berlin suddenly jumped back up to $1000. Well next time, book it and decide later. Many airlines allow you to hold a fare and get a full refund within 24 hours of booking if you change your mind or make a mistake in the booking process. Many, but not all. JetBlue? No. Airtran? Only if you make a change or cancel within four hours, and you’ll get a voucher, not a refund. So book with confidence on the airlines that allow a full 24 hour grace period.

Just booked a non-refundable fare and immediately realize you selected the wrong dates or the wrong city? Or simply decide that you don’t want to attend Aunt Freda’s annual bingo marathon after all? Depending on the airline or online travel agency you bought from, you might be able to cancel and get a full refund if you do so within a certain time. But it might take some work and some airfare vendors are more frustrating to deal with than others.

In general, if the airline you are booked with has a no-penalty cancellation policy you must cancel within 24 hours of purchase, or else regular change fees will apply. Many major U.S.-based carriers offer a 24-hour grace period and let you get a refund for no fee. The only exceptions are American Airlines and Air Tran. Continental and Delta make it super easy to cancel fee-free with just a few mouse clicks. If your ticket is not on either of those airlines you will have to be patient and spend some time on the phone.

While American does not have a 24-hour cancellation grace period, it does offer a “Hold” feature for many fares allowing you to hold the reservation for 24 hours while you make your decision. That’s even better as you don’t have to fork over your credit card and can secure the same fare for a short period (unless it’s a sale or advance purchase fare with other expiration guidelines). Continental has also recently launched a similar service called FareLock, where you can lock in your fare for 3 days for as little as $5 or 7 days for $9. This goes above and beyond their 24-hour cancellation policy, which remains in place for free.

If you’ve bought from an online travel site such as Expedia or Priceline, you’ll have to be even more patient. Recently, we received an email from a reader about her experience trying to cancel a ticket booked on Priceline, and in short she wasn’t able to reach a representative in time and was stuck with a ticket she no longer needed. Under Priceline’s rules, if you phone them by 11:30 p.m. ET on the day that you book, you can get a full refund. But as our reader discovered, it’s easier said than done. If you can’t get through by phone, send them an email (which records the time it was sent) or better yet you might have luck calling the airline directly to see if they can do anything. However, this policy doesn’t apply to “name your own” price (bidding for travel) fares.

Orbitz offers a 24-hour courtesy cancellation on certain reservations, which can be processed online. Exclusions are package deals, paper tickets, and “certain airlines”. Typically, a courtesy cancel button will appear at the end of the booking process if the reservation qualifies.


Read the full article here:


Happy Planning!

Vacation Planning Tips for the Unprofessional Traveler

7 Apr

One of the main reasons why I created this blog was to share my unprofessional travel planning tips and itineraries with other travelers, like myself, who unfortunately don’t get to travel for a living.

The folks over at CheapOAir (an awesome site for getting cheap airfare; check it out if you’ve never used it!) caught wind of what I was doing with this site and asked me to pull together some of my vacation planning tips for their readers.

Check out some of those tips below and be sure to check out the full post on CheapOAir’s blog . I hope these tips help you just as much as they help me whenever I plan my vacations.


Vacation Planning Trips for the Unprofessional Traveler

Planning a trip can be extremely hard, time-consuming and overwhelming, especially if you aren’t a huge travel enthusiast or fortunate enough to travel for a living.

To make the process a little easier, here are some planning tips you should always utilize when researching a vacation.

Vatican City in Rome, Italy in June- we found a deal on Alitalia for direct r/t air for less than 500! Unheard of during this time of year! With this deal, we were even able to fly into Rome and out of Florence.

Photo Note: all photos are from vacations I was able to take thanks to following these tips!

1. What’s dictating my itinerary? This should always be the first thing you should ask yourself when starting the planning process. It could be budget, time of year, activities, culture, or anything, really.

Note: The easiest topics to deal with are budget and time of year. For instance, with weather: say, you can only travel in June and warm, dry weather is a huge priority for you. Well, if so, you can easily cross of places in South America or parts of SE Asia, as the weather is colder or rainy during this time of year.

2. Create a wish list. After realizing what is dictating your vacation, take a look at a map and make a “wish list” of 6-10 locations you’d love to visit at some point in your life.

Note: Can’t decide on a short list of destinations to go to? Allow companies like Travelzoo and Sherman’s Travel inspire you. Each Wednesday, these two companies release a list of the top 20 and 25 vacation deals. Catch: you have to be ready to pounce right away as deals sell out quickly. You also have to luck out in finding a deal that coincides with your travel days (or be flexible). Wanderfly is also a great inspiration tool.

Cinque Terre, Italy

3. Research.

Things to look out for as you research each area:

  • Weather: what is the climate like during the time of year you are able to travel? If it’s rainy and you’re looking for beach time, you can likely cross off a couple of destinations and save them for another time of the year.
  • Airfare: Your plane tickets will almost always account for majority of your budget, especially if you’re traveling abroad. Utilize the amazing search engines and fare trackers out there to find the best fares available so airfare doesn’t put you totally out of your budget.

Some tools:

  • Bing Travel: Bing uses price predictor technology that will tell you whether a fare is a deal or not. Based on fare history, your search results will tell you whether you should buy now or wait for a better price. You can also set a fare alert to email you the latest fares so you don’t have to check back each day.
  • has a great fare calendar that tells you the cheapest days to fly to the destination of your choice. This will save you the headache of guessing which days will garner the best fares.
  • HipMunk: This somewhat new search engine generates search results in a refreshing way: through a colorful bar chart. It also filters search results by degree of “agony,” and allows you to search multiple dates and airports in separate tabs, saving you a trip to the previous stage to start all over again.
  • This website, of course, also does a great job of highlighting cheap airfares.
  • Newsletters: subscribe to newsletters to receive alerts about low fares from your hometown airport.

Some great ones include:
–   Airfare Watchdog
–   FareCompare
–   Ortbitz

** Tip: this research will come in handy for almost every vacation in the future so keep your findings in a safe place!


Read the rest of my tips at

Happy Planning!

New Planning Tool: The Bidding Traveler

4 Apr

Happy Monday! Recently, I was discussing Priceline’s “Name Your Own Price” service with a co-worker. We were interested in testing it out but wasn’t too sure what the success ratio was, especially with flights. I assume, in order to get a good price on a flight, you have to be open to taking red eyes, flying into a smaller airport, etc. All things that are totally doable if you have flexible travel plans (which most of us do not). One thing that did make us hesitant, when trying to decide whether or not to try, was how you could only bid once every 24 hours, making the booking, err guessing, process quite time consuming.


This morning, however, I came across an interesting read on about a new website called which takes the pain out of the “Name Your Own Price” process by automating the whole thing. Essentially, it continuously places a bid for you until you are able to get the lowest available price, without having to wait 24 hours between each bid.


Below is an overview about how it works, thanks to USA Today. Read the full article here.


Overview: Provides free strategies and an automated tool, AutoBid, for streamlining hotel bidding through Priceline’s Name Your Own Price hotel service.

Pros: Makes bidding for hotels on Priceline more intelligent, faster, easier. Facilitates submission of your low bid and automatically increases the bid incrementally until a bid is accepted or your highest bid is rejected. Enters “free rebids,” enabling you to enter the highest number of bids within Priceline’s 24-hour rules. (If a $125 four-star bid downtown was rejected, AutoBid can immediately facilitate a $130 bid for a downtown hotel when you add uptown, too, because no four-star hotels are offered uptown.) Very transparent, showing total price for lowest and highest bids; displays recently accepted bids made by others with the hotel name.

Cons: Displays of recently accepted bids sometimes irrelevant since they may be more than four months old. Some zones don’t show any recently accepted bids. No FAQs. Live Help is often offline, although site provides quick answers via e-mail to inquiries. AutoBid available only for Internet Explorer.

Takeaway: Awesome service, although no guarantee your hotel bid will be accepted. New beta version rolling out this week with side by side displays of hotels’ star ratings, retail rates and average winning bids.



Happy planning!


%d bloggers like this: