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How Online Travel Planning Is Getting Easier


While the web has made it easier to plan a visit yourself — and see how much you’re saving — it also demands you slog through a whole bunch of pages of destination research, hotel and residential rental options, and myriad flight-routing alternatives, becoming an amateur travel agent along the way in which.

But this summer, just a few travel platforms have instituted or announced fixes designed to make travel planning easier, by refining searches, creating more informative maps and streamlining loyalty programs.

Now, if you wish to discover a vacation home on an island, a hotel quarter-hour’ walk out of your nephew’s bar mitzvah locale or an electrical automotive, Airbnb, Google and Skyscanner, respectively, make that easier.

Analysts say those and other platforms aren’t done yet. “Travel information, pricing and booking continues to be so fragmented and disjointed that I fully expect we’ll proceed to see more brands developing and upgrading a lot of these features in the longer term,” said Madeline List, a senior research analyst at Phocuswright, a travel market research firm.

Finding the best vacation rental can feel like attempting to find a needle in a haystack in terms of sifting through search results. Among the many measures Airbnb has adopted this summer to make renting easier: the creation of 56 categories of homes that aim to make it easier to find rentals identified as, say, tiny homes, castles, “ski-in/out,” near national parks, homes with “amazing pools,” and even an “OMG!” category for architecturally unusual options.

Moreover, the brand new “split stay” feature goals to assist renters who need to divide their time away between two locations. The tool suggests nearby rentals available for a part of the trip, making it easy to pair two rentals over longer stays and streamlining the booking process for each.

“Persons are far more location-agnostic than they were prior to the pandemic,” said Jamie Lane, the vice chairman of research at Airdna, a market research firm specializing in short-term rentals, noting the expansion of prolonged trips linked to working remotely. “Airbnb is making it easier to piece together a longer-term trip by helping you discover listings that meet your criteria and are open over the length of that trip.”

One other recent addition, a free policy referred to as AirCover, mechanically included with every rental, protects consumers by guaranteeing the same stay or a refund if a bunch cancels inside 30 days of your trip.

“I see it as wanting to compete higher with hotels,” Mr. Lane said. “Guests can feel comfortable knowing they’ll get what they booked or get a refund.”

Expedia Group wants your loyalty. Named for its flagship online travel agency, Expedia, the gathering of travel firms includes the net agencies Travelocity and Orbitz, the holiday rental platform Vrbo, the hotel discount booking site Hotwire.com, the rental automotive site CarRentals.com and more. In early 2023, it plans to unite them under One Key, a loyalty program spanning its 12 brands, meaning points earned booking a flight on Expedia might be applied to the price of a future rental on Vrbo.

“It’s so hard for people to maintain track of programs and rewards,” said Jon Gieselman, the president of Expedia Brands, the patron division of the group, who added that the concept of an integrated loyalty program occurred to him when he opened his own travel wallet filled with dozens of membership program and bank cards.

“It struck me that our superpower opportunity was to create connections between all of our brands within the minds of consumers and at the identical time make it easy to make sense of disparate programs,” he added.

A couple of of the brands, including Expedia, Orbitz and Hotels.com, have already got loyalty programs — with a collective enrollment of 154 million members — and the corporate has not yet disclosed conversion formulas or One Key’s rates for earning and using points.

While most loyalty programs encourage members to stick with one brand, One Key will allow users to use points across categories in a scheme Mr. Gieselman called the “unloyalty program,” making it distinct from competitors.

“Expedia’s expanded loyalty offering can draw more people to the brand umbrella with flexible options to earn and burn points on whichever Expedia brand offers probably the most fitting options for a given trip,” said Ms. List of Phocuswright, adding that the loyalty program eases “friction” between Expedia brands that usually overlap.

Latest features on Google Travel, announced in May, map things like road trips and restaurant-dense neighborhoods, providing a visible sense of geography in areas visitors may not know before they book.

When trying to find hotels on the platform, a Google map already showed hotels with associated prices. Latest icons that represent transportation, dining, attractions and shopping — what Google calls “interest layers” — allow users to, for instance, overlay a public transportation map to see where transit lines are relative to hotels. Engaging 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 underside of the map, users can slide the bar beside a walking figure to see the radius the typical person can walk from a given location in as much as half-hour (there’s also an choice to map the driving radius). The feature may be useful in identifying hotels near a marriage or meeting venue, the corporate suggested.

“There was at all times the choice to figure this out in Google maps using addresses, but this takes plenty of the guesswork out,” said Craig Ewer, a spokesman for Google.

Its recent Explore tool identifies destinations inside just a few hours’ drive. Clicking on a road-trip destination brings up attractions, hotels and directions there.

“We saw during Covid an increased preference for road trips and trips that didn’t involve the airport,” Mr. Ewer said. “With the Explore tool, we tried to usher in inspiration.”

For bargain-seekers, Google Flights now means that you can track prices between a pair of cities — departure and destination — and click on on “any dates” to have the platform monitor fares for the bottom prices over the subsequent six months.

Using tracking, like most other Google functionalities, requires you to register or create a free account with Google. For travel purchases, corresponding to flights and hotels, the platform links users to those businesses or online travel agencies.

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

The travel search engine Skyscanner has added a recent filter in rental cars for electric vehicles. After inputting dates and placement, users can check the electrical box — alongside other search filters like unlimited mileage or 4-wheel drive — to see all available E.V.s.

The initiative sprang from the same green filter Skyscanner launched in flight searches just a few years ago, showing selections with fewer carbon emissions than average for every search.

The automotive rental filter helps travelers “understand the environmental impact of travel and the way to reduce that,” said Martin Nolan, the sustainable travel expert at Skyscanner.

The web travel agency Booking.com goals to make it easier for L.G.B.T.Q. travelers to search out welcoming accommodations. It has introduced a partner training program for hotels on its platform on the challenges L.G.B.T.Q. travelers face.

Since last August, the free program, referred to as Proud Hospitality, has certified greater than 10,000 properties in 95 countries and territories. Certification features a digital Travel Proud badge on its listing.

“As a worldwide travel leader, we’ve a responsibility to take motion and help pave the way in which for a more inclusive industry, with the last word goal of creating it easier for everybody to experience the world as themselves,” said Arjan Dijk, the chief marketing officer and a senior vice chairman at Booking.com, in a written statement.

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

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