You can get great deals on flights on Orbitz, book hotels on the cheap at Travelocity or Hotels.com, and find deep car-rental discounts on Expedia, but what about all the other intricacies of travel? What about making sure your time on holiday is really special, well-planned, and that you’re getting the most for your money? Booking a hotel room for less is nice, but it’s even better when it comes with an automatic upgrade and a host of insightful tips on what to do and eat nearby.
There are a number of sites that have popped up in recent years that offer much more in the way of booking travel than just “one-seat-left-at-this-price!”-style deals. Sites like Indagare, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, and Jetsetter show in-the-know travelers the newest and best hotels and destination guides, alongside genuinely helpful tips and information on things like tipping practices, dialing codes, and important airport information. Beyond that, they give your trip instant style with expert restaurant reviews, insider tips on what to order where, suggestions for local gourmet activities, and they’re a prime source for tough-to-get reservations. Here are seven resources that take vacations to the next level.
Quintessentially is the grandfather of private travel membership sites, having launched in 2000 with a then-unprecedented level of service, advice, and help with various reservations. Beyond their main travel site, which provides unique travel packages and 24-hour help while you’re on the road, they also have Quintessentially Wine and an Insider section for recommendations. The main benefit to travelers, of course, is the perks (like lower rates and impromptu upgrades) gleaned from relationships that Quintessentially has around the world.
Tip: Make no mistake. With an annual “dedicated membership” fee of $5,500, Quintessentially is for luxury travelers only, so don’t expect Orbitz-style deals as much as high-end perks and discounted rates. But they are experts, and even just a quick peek at their Insider guide will return results like a story about historic castles to stay in, news about some of the world’s coolest new eateries, and tips on where to get fun and seasonal treats.
One of the ways that Indagare inspires wanderlust in all of us is with their truly in-depth guides that read almost more like conversations with a friend than stock, guidebook musings. Their most basic membership ($275/year) includes booking services, custom itineraries, bimonthly travel guides, and access to an enormous wealth of suggestions, tips, and stories. Once you start drilling down into a destination guide, you’ll see that their recommendations are broken up into very practical categories. Their “Where to Eat” section, for example, lets you browse through categories like Big Night Out, Local Cuisine, Hot Spots, Neighborhood Places, and Quick Break. They also have rich editorial that focuses on what local flavors to try where. (Photo courtesy of Flickr/Mulling it Over)
Tip: The site lets you scroll through a handful of pages before prompting you to log in or join, so take a look at their guide to a city you’re familiar with. You’ll find listings you love right next to great-sounding finds you didn’t know existed. They know where the coolest yoga classes are in LA, they've found the best rooftops in New York for summertime cocktails, and they recommend fantastic weekend activities complete with delicious snacks.