Once upon a time, small business owners had to either call their airlines and hotels of choice individually or pay a travel agent to handle all their business trips. Those were the days of yore, though; the web has made it possible to take care of all your bookings in just a few clicks and minutes. You can focus your time and resources on planning for your meetings and conferences instead.
These five websites will cover the basic arrangements you need for any business or conference trip, and every one of them will do most of what they offer without any up-front fee or membership cost. Where they do cost money (TripIt’s Pro service, for example), they are arguably worth the bucks.
Kayak is the best place to start. It’s a travel search engine, of sorts; it accesses deals from Priceline, Hotwire, Travelocity, Expedia, and AA.com for flights, hotels, car rentals, vacation packages, and cruises.
You won’t have to spend any money to use Kayak, because it’s ad-supported. Also note that it doesn’t offer the deals itself; it only links you to deals provided by other companies and services. It just exists to help you find the best deal without the hassle of going to a lot of different websites.
The only downside is that Kayak lacks some of the special features that other sites offer to distinguish themselves from one another. Kayak is good for a broad search, but use a booking site like Expedia or Travelocity to better narrow down on search results when your needs are very specific.
Expedia and Travelocity are two of the better known budget travel sites used for booking flights, hotels, car rentals, and cruises. The deals they offer can also be found through the more comprehensive Kayak, but they offer some customized features that Kayak doesn’t. For example, you can browse for hotels near your airport more easily with Travelocity’s map feature, as well as narrow down by neighborhood and other factors.
Once your flight arrangements have been made, turn to TripIt to make sure you have all your information in order. The service creates an itinerary from the confirmation e-mails sent to you from multiple other services, including flight planning sites like Expedia, event sites like Ticketmaster and Fandango, and others.
That would be useful enough if you just printed it out, but TripIt goes another step and sends your itinerary to your mobile device. You can receive updates via SMS text messaging, or use the iPhone or Android applications for more features. It will even notify you of flight delays and the like.
Some of the more advanced features, including the option to track frequent flyer miles and hotel points, are only available to TripIt Pro users; they pay $99 per year for the full suite.
Once you’ve arrived at your destination, Yelp will become your main workhorse in any strange city. It’s a database of almost every restaurant, venue, bar or store in every major city in the United States.
Type in the address or name of your current location alongside what you’re looking for (for example, “sushi restaurants for a lunch meeting near the convention center”) and you’ll see all the nearby options. You can check distance, user rating, and other information, including whether or not the business accepts credit cards or offers vegan-friendly meals.
It’s even more convenient if you have the Yelp mobile apps for BlackBerry, iPhone, Android and Palm Pre smartphones; you can use the phones’ GPS functionalities to pinpoint your location and find nearby options.Image courtesy of iStockphoto, shirhan