Finally, online travel planning is getting (a little) easier

While the Internet has made it easier to plan a trip yourself and see how much you’re saving, it also requires you to navigate through hundreds of destination search pages, hotel and home rental options, and a myriad of route alternatives. of flights, becoming an amateur travel agent along the way.

But this summer, some travel platforms instituted or announced fixes designed to make trip planning easier by refining searches, creating more informative maps and simplifying loyalty programs.

Now, whether you want to find a vacation home on an island, a hotel within a 15-minute walk of your nephew’s local bar mitzvah, or an electric car, Airbnb, Google, and Skyscanner, respectively, make it easy.

Analysts say those and other platforms are not ready yet. “Travel information, pricing and bookings are still so fragmented and disjointed that I expect we’ll continue to see more brands developing and updating these kinds of features in the future,” said Madeline List, senior research analyst at Phocuswright, a travel agency. trips. market research company

Finding the right vacation rental can be like looking for a needle in a haystack when it comes to sifting through search results. Among the steps Airbnb has taken this summer to make renting easier: the creation of 56 home categories that aim to help you find rentals identified as, for example, tiny houses, castles, “ski-in/out”, near national parks, houses with “amazing pools” and even an “OMG!” category for architecturally unusual options.

Additionally, the new “split stay” feature is intended to help renters who want to split their time between two locations. The tool suggests nearby available rentals for part of the trip, making it easy to pair two rentals for longer stays and speeding up the booking process for both.

“People are much more independent of location than they were before the pandemic,” said Jamie Lane, vice president of research at Airdna, a market research firm that specializes in short-term rentals, noting the growth in long-term travel. linked to remote work. . “Airbnb is making it easier to put together a long-term trip by helping you find listings that meet your criteria and are open for the duration of that trip.”

Another new addition, a free policy known as AirCover, automatically included with every rental, protects consumers by guaranteeing a similar stay or a refund if a host cancels within 30 days of their trip.

“I see it as wanting to compete better with hotels,” Lane said. “Guests can feel comfortable knowing they will get what they booked or receive a refund.”

Expedia Group wants your loyalty. Named for its flagship online travel agency, Expedia, the collection of travel companies includes online agencies Travelocity and Orbitz, vacation rental platform Vrbo, discount hotel booking site Hotwire.com, car rental CarRentals.com and more. In early 2023, it plans to unite them under One Key, a loyalty program that spans its 12 brands, meaning points earned from booking a flight on Expedia could be applied toward the cost of a future rental on Vrbo.

“It’s very hard for people to keep track of programs and rewards,” said Jon Gieselman, president of Expedia Brands, the group’s consumer division, adding that he came up with the idea of ​​an integrated loyalty program when it opened. your own travel wallet filled with dozens of membership programs and credit cards.

“It struck me that our big opportunity was to create connections between all of our brands in the minds of customers while making disparate programs make sense at the same time,” he added.

Some of the brands, including Expedia, Orbitz, and Hotels.com, already have loyalty programs, with a collective enrollment of 154 million members, and the company has yet to reveal conversion formulas or One Key fees to earn and use points.

While most loyalty programs encourage members to stick with one brand, One Key will allow users to apply points across categories in a scheme Mr. Gieselman called a “disloyalty program,” which sets it apart. of the competition.

“Expedia’s expanded loyalty offering can bring more people into the brand umbrella with flexible options to earn and burn points on any Expedia brand that offers the most suitable options for a given trip,” said Phocuswright’s Ms. List. , adding that the loyalty program facilitates “friction” between Expedia’s often overlapping brands.

New Google Travel features, announced in May, map things like road trips and restaurant-filled neighborhoods, providing a visual sense of geography in areas visitors may not know about before booking.

When searching for hotels on the platform, a Google map already showed hotels with associated prices. New icons representing transportation, restaurants, attractions, and shopping — what Google calls “layers of interest” — let users, for example, overlay a public transportation map to see where transit lines are on the map. relationship with hotels. Attractive shopping or dining icons shade the map in neighborhoods with many shops or restaurants. Clicking on the attractions icon adds things like museums to the hotel map.

At the bottom of the map, users can slide the bar next to a walking figure to see the radius the average person can walk from a given location in up to 30 minutes (there’s also an option to map driving radius). The feature could be useful for identifying hotels near a wedding or meeting venue, the company suggested.

“There was always the option to work this out on Google maps using directions, but this takes a lot of the guesswork out,” said Craig Ewer, a Google spokesman.

Its new Explore tool identifies destinations within a few hours of travel. Clicking on a road trip destination brings up attractions, hotels, and directions to get there.

“We saw during Covid a greater preference for road trips and trips that didn’t involve the airport,” Ewer said. “With the Explore tool, we try to bring inspiration.”

For bargain seekers, Google Flights now lets you track prices between a city pair (departure and destination) and click “any date” to have the platform monitor fares at the lowest prices for the next six months.

Use of tracking, like most other Google features, requires you to sign in or create a free account with Google. For travel purchases, such as flights and hotels, the platform links users with those businesses or online travel agencies.

Two more platforms are helping consumers refine their searches by providing more specific results.

The Skyscanner travel search engine has added a new filter on rental cars for electric vehicles. After entering dates and location, users can check the electric box, along with other search filters like unlimited mileage or 4-wheel drive, to see all available electric vehicles.

The initiative grew out of a similar green filter that Skyscanner launched in flight searches a few years ago, showing lower-than-average carbon-emitting options for each search.

The car rental filter helps travelers “understand the environmental impact of travel and how to reduce it,” said Martin Nolan, Skyscanner’s sustainable travel expert.

Online travel agency Booking.com aims to make it easier for LGBTQ travelers to find welcoming accommodations. It has introduced a partner training program for hotels on its platform on the challenges faced by LGBTQ travelers.

Since last August, the free program, known as Proud Hospitality, has certified more than 10,000 properties in 95 countries and territories. Certification includes a digital Travel Proud badge on your listing.

“As a world leader in travel, we have a responsibility to take action and help pave the way for a more inclusive industry, with the ultimate goal of making it easier for everyone to experience the world as themselves,” said Arjan Dijk, Chief Marketing Officer. Officer and Senior Vice President of Booking.com, in a written statement.

Elaine Glusac writes the Frugal Traveler column. Follow her on Instagram @eglusac.

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