Tech hacks to make traveling less of a headache right now

Anyone who went on a trip last year probably has a horror story. There are many canceled flights. Customer service wait times with airlines can be hours. In some places, the costs of car rentals and plane tickets have become astronomical.

Many of the economic problems created by the coronavirus pandemic — including high gas prices and burnout-induced layoffs — have hit the travel industry particularly hard as people resume trips and leave home for vacations.

So, almost three years after Covid-19, travelers still need a changed approach to planning their vacations. That’s where these tech hacks come in. When the virus was more deadly, travel planning mostly involved doing online research to see where we were willing and what was needed. Using technology now can help make travel less chaotic and more comfortable, and help prevent customer service issues.

The most important tech travel tip right now is to avoid apps and websites that book through third parties, even though they can save you money. This is because if something goes wrong with your flight or hotel room, the middleman is another party that can add even more hours.

“If you book through a travel agency, you’re asking for trouble,” said Brian Kelly, founder of The Points Guy blog. “go straight. The more people you put in the way, the more difficult things get.”

Here are some of the most useful tech tools that travel experts and I are using during this “new normal” phase of the pandemic to make our excursions more enjoyable, including apps to monitor flight changes and find the best seats.

In an era of hyperinflation where everyone is trying to save money, it’s still possible to get a good deal on a plane ticket without booking through a third-party agency. The key is to use services that track ticket costs for each airline and set alerts for price drops.

Mr. Kelly’s tool of choice for evaluating cheap airfare is Google Flights. With this web-based tool, she plugs in travel dates and destinations and then toggles the option to track prices and receive email updates as soon as airfares drop. Then he buys the tickets directly through the airline.

The next step is to maximize comfort by getting the best cheap seats on the plane. For that, there’s SeatGuru, a web tool that lets travelers plug in their flight number to view a detailed plane seat chart. It highlights information about seats, including those with extra legroom, and limited or overhead seat storage, which is more detailed than the basic diagram airlines show.

After booking, the last step is to monitor the flight status – a crucial step as cancellations and delays have become quite common. Web tools such as FlightAware and Flightradar24 provide up-to-date information on the exact location of the aircraft and show the airline’s records of on-time arrivals and delays.

Bonus tip: Lounges can be very crowded these days, so when Mr. Kelly arrives at the airport, he uses the LoungeBuddy app to find ones he can easily get into.

In the early stages of the pandemic, travelers had to consult travel and tourism websites to learn about coronavirus restrictions and their destination requirements. Now there is a shortcut.

Henry Harteveldt, founder of Atmosphere Research Group, a travel analysis firm in San Francisco, uses JoinSherpa.com, a web-based tool that maps travel requests for departures and returns. If you’re flying to Chile from San Francisco, for example, the site loads a list of all the health documents and quarantine requirements to enter the country, as well as the documents needed to return to the US.

Juggling travel documents and itineraries can still be problematic as we have to carry more information than before. I use several tools to organize my itinerary and health documents.

My favorite for organizing itineraries is TripIt. It can scan your inbox for itineraries, hotel reservations, and rental car reservations, and then compile that information into one itinerary presented as accurate timelines.

Here’s how TripIt fits into my planning. I have a separate email account just for travel itineraries. After booking a flight, car rental or hotel, I send confirmation emails to that email account. TripIt then automatically scans the inbox and updates my timeline.

For health records, I always have two digital forms of my vaccine records in case of confusion. The first is a digital QR code provided by the California Department of Public Health that I store in my phone’s wallet app. The other is a photo of the physical vaccine card that I keep inside the Notes app so I can find it later.

Shortages of airport staff and increasing demand for air travel have led to an increase in incidents of lost luggage. This makes wireless trackers like Tile and Apple’s AirTag especially useful. These are miniature beacons that can be inserted into luggage, and if a bag or suitcase is lost, the Tile or Find My app on a smartphone can be opened to display the approximate location of the tracker on a map.

Even if your luggage isn’t lost, a tracker can give you peace of mind. Mr Kelly said that when he traveled to Europe recently, his AirTag told him exactly where his bag was when he arrived in Paris.

To manage your hotel reservations, just make sure to download the hotel’s app if it has one. This is especially important now, as many of the big brands allow you to check in via app, and the sooner you do, the sooner your room will be ready.

Do not skip this step. If you forget to check in because of a flight delay and show up several hours late, the hotel may give you your reservation, Mr. Kelly said.

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