A simple click will do the trick

<em>Illustration: Rocco Fazzari</em>
Illustration: Rocco Fazzari 

There are so many websites for travel information and bookings, it can be hard to know where to start. Here are some of the sites to use in 2013.

Flights

Skyscanner has become my go-to site when it comes to flight searches, both domestic and international.

If I want to get a general idea of what sort of fares are in the market, I sometimes go to Best Flights for a browse, but I nearly always return to Skyscanner to look for actual flights.

The Skyscanner iPad application is particularly good, with a list of destinations and starting prices down one side and an easy-to-use search engine on the other.

It also remembers details such as travel dates and the number of adults and children, so you don't have to keep re-entering them, as you do on many sites.

For those not familiar with Skyscanner and other "metasearch" sites, they scan a range of travel websites to compare prices and come up with the best deals.

You can narrow your search by airline, number of stops, flight duration or other criteria, and it saves hours of trawling the internet to check individual websites.

When you are ready to book, the metasearch site sends you to the relevant website to complete the transaction (although this can result in booking through more than one site, as happens in the case of multiple-airline combinations).

Another good site for flight searches is TripAdvisor, which allows you to factor in fees and extras such as baggage costs.

One company that has so far failed to take off in this arena is Google, which launched Google Flight Search in the US more than a year ago and has done little since. With the company's might behind it - and given that a reported $700 million was spent on software to make it happen - it ought to have become a dominant global force in travel, but it hasn't overwhelmed anyone yet.

 

Hotels

The Aussie-grown Wotif.com continues to dominate the rankings for hotel booking sites in Australia but I hardly ever use it as I find the layout cumbersome and frustrating.

I prefer Hotels.com, which has a cleaner layout and easy-to-adjust criteria, such as the star ratings, price or specific location.

It incorporates user ratings into listings, doesn't charge cancellation fees and is quick and simple to use, with the booking confirmation coming by both email and text message, so you have the booking reference and call-centre number handy on your phone.

Hotels.com also has one of the only travel loyalty programs I can be bothered to use: Welcome Rewards.

You receive a free night for every 10 nights you book, with the value worked out as the average of the 10 rooms you paid for, so there is no complicated fine print.

If you're worried about missing out on a better deal elsewhere on the internet, try Hotels Combined, which is a metasearch site that brings deals together on one page.

Sites to watch in the hotel space include Agoda.com and Booking.com, which are fast gaining ground on industry stalwarts such as Wotif.

The sites both say they can offer heavily discounted rates on more than 200,000 hotels around the world because of their global buying power.

 

Car rental

For car rental, my preferred option is VroomVroomVroom. The catchy name has possibly helped with brand recall, but the site consistently offers excellent deals and easy booking.

VroomVroomVroom works with a range of car-rental providers to find the best deal, and it guarantees the best price.

This means I don't waste my time trying to find something cheaper elsewhere. The site also gets my vote for charging no booking fees and not having any hidden costs, which can be a scourge in the car-hire industry.

If you're picking up at an airport or dropping off at a different location, it is calculated at the time of search, so you know the total amount you will have to pay.

And, again, they send all the details to your phone, so you don't have to worry about carrying paperwork.

 

Trip planning

If you looked into my internet history, you would find Google Maps appears again and again ... and again.

For basic trip planning, I can think of no better tool, especially for working out travel distances and times. The satellite images give you a great idea of what a place looks like, or how far a resort is from the beach, and the maps are increasingly being overlaid with information about accommodation and attractions.

For a destination overview or key things to see, Lonely Planet is still the best in my view, with so much investment in independent content.

TripAdvisor is hard to beat for determining quality, with the sheer volume of traveller reviews outweighing any fake content that might be posted.

I also spend a lot of time on official tourist board sites, which might lack independence but are usually a good source of detailed information and operator listings.

 

Attractions and activities

If I want to find or book tours, attractions or activities, I go to Viator.com.

The site has endless listings and it guarantees to offer the lowest price, so if you turn up and find a cheaper deal, they'll refund the difference.

You can search for tours and attractions by the top sellers, by those that have been given the highest rating by other travellers, or by those that fit your budget.

You can also look at photos posted by other travellers to get a feel for the experience.

 

On the ball online

Australia and New Zealand represent one of the most mature markets in the world when it comes to booking travel online, according to research company PhoCusWright.

More than one-third of our travel is now booked online, putting us in line with Canada, Europe and the US — and ahead of our neighbours in Asia.

PhoCusWright says flight purchases are by far the largest segment of the Australia-New Zealand market, making up two-thirds of online travel bookings.

Flight bookings are also expected to be the biggest area of growth this year as low-cost airlines expand their networks and push online sales.

jane@janeefraser.com.au

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