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3 Online Travel Sites You Shouldn’t Miss

With so many travel booking websites out there, it’s sometimes hard to know which one to use. While many of us are familiar with larger, established sites like Expedia, Travelocity, and Kayak, there are a number of up and coming travel sites you may not be as familiar with.

Updated (9/15/2011):
One of the newest flight search engines to hit the radar is Google Flights. Launched in September, 2011, it hasn’t reached our favorites list yet, but it does look quite promising...

Google Flights is powered by technology Google acquired earlier in the year when it finalized the purchase of Cambridge, Mass. based ITA Software. While not substantially different from other sites that let you search for flights, it is one of the fastest we’ve used. The site uses location information from your computer to anticipate your departure airport and it pre-fills this info into the flight search form. (The site correctly guessed our airport when using a desktop computer near Washington, D.C., but oddly thought we’d be departing from New York when using an Android smartphone with GPS enabled at the same desk.) Start the search by entering a destination city (or choosing one from the list of popular destinations) and a list of flights is immediately displayed based on a 5-day trip beginning about 2 weeks from today. A clever calendar view displays a bar graph of prices by date and a scatter graph lets you move sliders to find the best balance of price and flying time. Clever, albeit a bit complicated.

Once you’ve found the flight you want, the site takes you to the website of your chosen airline and pre-fills the info about your selected flight to help speed your purchasethough this feature didn’t work for some airlines. As with most Google products, expect a series of rapid improvements and enhancements in the near future as the product matures.

And now, for our current favorite travel booking websites:

HipMunk

This “hip” site has a clean, intuitive design which makes it a breeze to search for a flight or hotel. A simple form on the homepage lets you enter your desired flight or hotel information, while the HipMunk mascot, a travel-ready chipmunk, smiles at you. Results are displayed chronologically in a novel Gantt-chart format that makes it easy to zero in on the departure and arrival times. (You can also sort by price, stops, departure time, arrival time, or duration.) Our favorite sorting criteria, which is also the default, is the “Agony” option—which combines price, duration and number of stops into a single criteria.

A tab at the bottom right, which also appears on the home page, offers the option of live help. The hotel search on HipMunk gives you the option to select a hotel based on what you want near you—whether that be shopping, food or nightlife. The results are displayed on a map with each hotel represented by a dot, so you can easily see which hotels are nearest your chosen activity.

Momondo

 

Momondo is another easy new way to start your travel plans. Taking a slightly different approach, Momondo searches 800+ travel sites to help you find and compare flights, hotels, and car rentals. Choose your best option and get linked to the airline or travel agency that offers that deal.  Enter your preferred dates right on the homepage, and a list of flight options shows up very quickly.

You can narrow your results by the number of stops, preferred airlines, layover cities or price. The beauty of Momondo is how deep it goes pulling the best deals for you—ones you may have spent hours looking for and still not found. Its search engine moves fast, and moves through it all, to find you your best travel options.

Matrix

Matrix is a refreshing take on the travel booking site. Its Spartan design may be a turn-off for some but we like that the site is uncluttered and free of advertisements. (Matrix is the software that powers many of the larger travel sites including CheapTickets and Orbitz.) In lieu of fancy design, the folks at Matrix have clearly spent their time refining the ways to shop for your travel plans. Complete your initial search, which requires a bit more information than HipMunk and Momondo, such as the option to choose which cabin you prefer, and your search results appear.

The results promise the best deals, but the real fun begins once you choose an option that may work. Click on your chosen option, and it takes you to another page where you can view events and tours that are happening during your trip.

The Bottom Line

Despite different features these sites offer, many of us still use travel sites primarily to search for the lowest price. To see how these sites stacked up against each other and the competition, we priced three sample trips: Raleigh-Durham to Las Vegas, Denver to Orlando, and Phoenix to Chicago.

For all three trips, the prices were the same across all the sites—including Expedia and Travelocity. We also like that the airfare on these three sites included all the fees and tariffs in the total so you see the price you’ll actually pay.

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