Need a vacay, like, right now? ShopSmart, the shopping magazine from the publisher of Consumer Reports, suggests these sites that make last-minute travel cheap and easy to book. Each one of them meets ShopSmart’s requirements for contact info disclosure and customer service.
In addition, check out the last-minute travel sections of the Big Three sites (Expedia, Orbitz and Travelocity). ShopSmart also recommends looking at opaque travel sites such as Priceline and Hotwire, which don’t reveal which hotel you’ve booked until after you pay for it but offer heavily discounted rates. And try GetARoom.com (800-468-3578) for super-low unpublished room deals.
Best for living like a local. Users can rent private rooms in people’s homes or entire homes. With more than half a million listings (including 600 castles) in 34,000 cities, it can save you from a bland hotel — and save you money. ShopSmart found an entire three-bedroom house in the Riverdale section of New York City, just minutes north of Manhattan, for $150 per night; on average, a night in a hotel in NYC will set you back $281. Safety tip: Opt for hosts with a Verified ID badge; they provide proof of identity, which gives you an extra layer of security.
Best for finding a hotel room. Get the best of both worlds: Search every hotel in a city and book your favorite (you don’t pay until you show up). The Best Price Guarantee means if you see a cheaper price, the site will match it. But discounts such as AAA’s aren’t covered, so if you use those, it’s worth it to book directly with a hotel.
Best for nice surprises. Feeling adventurous? With GetGoing’s Pick Two, Get One program, you enter your preferred travel dates and the experience you want (say, a beach vacation or an outdoor adventure), and the website finds flights to different cities at up to 40 percent off. Review your choices, then narrow your destinations to two — and here’s the kicker: The site makes the final decision for you. After you enter your credit-card info, you find out where you’re going on vacation.
Best for group travel. Need an impromptu girls getaway? These tools take the pain out of coordinating a group trip. You can all vote on a location, book flights and accommodations, agree on your itinerary and even split shared costs (and settle debts, too). Join the rewards program to earn points for everything you do — not just for booking but also for logging in and tweeting about your experience. Those points are redeemable for cash, gift cards, merchandise and more.
FREE TRAVEL APPS
Travel apps are another way of finding great last-minute vacation deals. Consider these four that ShopSmart loves:
Hotel Tonight. Book unsold same-day hotel rooms at cut-rate prices. The rates are guaranteed to be the lowest available. Works on Android, Apple.
Loungebuddy. Long layover or delayed flight? Discover the best airport lounges and how you can get into them. Hint: Some of them are free! Works on Apple.
Superfly Hotels. Tracks air, car rental and hotel rewards; suggests and even books rooms, then gives you up to 10 percent cash back. Works on Apple.
Uber. Skip car reservations and the taxi line at the airport. Use this app to get a quick pickup — and to pay. Works on Android, Apple.
2014 Consumers Union Inc.