Travel websites come and go — hundreds of new ones emerge each year — but 10 remain unchallenged, in my view, for their ability to save you large sums of money on nearly any vacation trip:
1. Momondo.com for the lowest airfares: Created by Danish techies and headquartered in Copen-hagen, of all places, it has an uncanny ability to find better rates for your next flight, even for purely local trips within North America. That's because, it's claimed, its program surveys all sources of airfares — some 800 of them, even those that pay no commission to Momondo for getting them a customer. Next time you book a flight to anywhere, give these enterprising Danes a look.
2. Breezenet.com for discount car rentals: A remarkable source of car rentals costing substantially less than normal levels. By surveying the daily offerings of some 14 large companies and countless mom-and-pop firms, it nearly always finds a reduced rate from a rental company hungry for business on a particular day.
3. Hotelscombined.com for reduced hotel rates: Here's a site that scans dozens of other hotel websites around the world and then produces the best rates for particular dates. If there's a sale going on, or a hotel slashing rates temporarily, Hotelscombined.com will find the bargain, saving you a great deal of money. GetaRoom.com is among its competitors, but it finds hotels in only a handful of heavily visited cities.
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4. Homeexchange.com for swapping apartments and homes: It apparently has become the most widely used service for vacation exchanges, as a result of its prominent mention in a recent Hollywood film. Its tens of thousands of home or apartment listings enable you to quickly and effectively find a person eager to exchange his or her home or apartment for yours during the time of your respective vacations, enabling both of you to enjoy free lodgings.
5. Homeaway.com for renting vacation homes and apartments: After acquiring several smaller home-rental companies, Homeaway has become the largest source of such rentals, and appears to operate efficiently and reliably. Numerous travelers currently are substituting homes or apartments for hotel rooms, spending less and enjoying more spacious accommodations than a hotel would provide. (Rentalo.com, specializing in apartments, is among its competitors.)
6. Cruisesonly.com (whose main competitors are VacationsToGo.com and OnlineVacationCenter.com) will snare discount rates for most sailings of most major cruise ships. Nearly every cruise line discounts the rates appearing in its catalogues and brochures, and the smart cruise passenger always seeks out these reductions in price.
7. Xe.com for currency-exchange rates: This strange, two-letter website supplies you with up-to-the-minute exchange rates for all the world's currencies, enabling you to know the dollar equivalent of foreign prices. (Smart travelers obtain their foreign currencies from the ATM machines in all foreign cities of any size; they do much better at ATM machines than from exchange kiosks and counters.)
8. Hostelz.com for low-cost hostels throughout the world. For the most cost-conscious of all travelers (seeking to pay no more than $25 a night), Hostelz provides you with photographs and texts describing many thousands of hostels offering low-cost beds to people of all ages, sometimes in hotels that were recently converted into hostels by ambitious entrepreneurs.
9. Couchsurfing.org for young people seeking free hospitality and Servas.org for older ones. Both organizations maintain massive lists of generous people around the world who are willing to put up guests in their homes free of charge for short stays (usually two or three nights). Servas has been in existence since 1948 and has a mainly mature membership; the more-recently founded Couchsurfing caters to a more youthful set.
10. Airbnb.com for those occasions when all hotels in a particular city are sold out because of large conventions or trade shows. For numerous cities in the U.S. and Canada, Airbnb.com lists and rents moderately priced rooms in private homes for special use at the time of political conventions or like events.
Runners-up to the Top 10: Though they don't deserve the supreme accolade, a number of other websites are helpful in a broad number of instances:
Privatemotorhomerental .com for renting an RV directly from its owner, at a considerable savings.
Biketoursdirect.com for its listings of inexpensive group bicycle tours departing from throughout North America and abroad on numerous dates
Womenwelcomewomen.org.uk for providing hospitality to female travelers, ranging from a spare cot or room to simply meeting them for a drink.
Viamigo.com or Rentalocalfriend.com for acquiring a local guide in various out-of-town or foreign cities.
Theatermania.com, Stubhub.com or Ticketsnow.com for obtaining discount theater tickets in numerous cities.
Shoretrips.com for inexpensive port visits on cruises, in small-van groups.