Travel Research: cheaper flights, places to stay, and car rentals

When we go on family vacations, I often end up finding myself being our family’s “travel agent”, so here’s a handy list of what I consult when doing travel research or trying to get the best travel deal for my future reference, and for yours, if you end up being your family’s travel guy/guide:

In general

These are two places I check first for flights and accommodations:

  • Google Flights – use them to get a sense of what the prices are, and where you might be able to find the lowest price if you’re more flexible with dates

    Google Flights Flexible Date Chart to find the best price
    To find the price graph or chart, you need to click on the calendar icon in either date field.
  • AirBnb

If you’re flexible on time and destination, you can find some pretty great flight deals on RedFlagDeals or YYZ Deals / YVR Deals (or other Canadian destinations via the parent company, YDeals)

For ideas of what to do or eat, I like to sign out books from the library or borrow e-books from the library and jot down common suggestions or interesting ideas and go from there.

Within Canada

Flights

  • Pick smaller airports if they’re similar in distance to your destination and price (e.g. Abbotsford over Vancouver, Kitchener-Waterloo vs. Toronto) as you’ll likely find cheaper parking, shorter check-in and security lines, and friendlier people
  • Cheaper seats tend to occur between Tuesday and Thursday
  • Check for the prices of flights operated by smaller brands like NewLeaf or Porter, and even the sub-brands of major carriers like Air Canada Rouge or Air Canada Jazz. There are charters too like Air Transat or Sunwing, but I generally avoid them due to size and luggage restrictions.

Car Rentals

  • Costco Travel Canada, for Costco members; free second driver if spouse is also a Costco member
  • Priceline – I haven’t used them, but my parents have been able to rent a car near the Toronto airport for $10 a day by bidding on a car rental once upon a time.

Accommodations

  • I find there are less listings in Canada on Airbnb.com (likely because it started in SF, CA, so you might find more choices out West vs East), but one good alternative are bed & breakfasts on bbcanada.com
  • If you’re travelling to a university town, you can always check their conference center or student residences if it’s during a quiet time of the year (e.g. summer) for private suites, student apartments, etc.

Canada to/from US

Flights

  • Fly from a US city instead of Canada, if it’s within driving distance; one night’s sleep and fly package at a hotel (where parking is included when you’re away) is cheaper than cost of difference in flight
  • Compared to Canada, there seems to be more competition and options in the US: while there are major US-international airlines (United, American Airlines, Delta), we actually prefer the service and price of domestic-only carriers like JetBlue or Southwest; we have not flown ultra-budget airline, Spirit yet, but seat-sale prices are good, even with the price of one checked baggage ($21 per person).
  • Honorable/historic mention: Hipmunk.com, once a SF startup, which provides a more comprehensive view of travel duration, prices on discount sites like Expedia, Travelocity, etc., but to be honest, I don’t consult it as much anymore now that Google Flight is an option.

Accommodations

  • Airbnb (referral link – $40CAD for first booking)
  • Priceline – many people have booked via priceline, but if you’re travelling with more than 2, please note that the fine print says that the price is for two, so I’m not sure how it works if you plan to travel with more (do you pay the difference? I haven’t ever tried)
  • VRBO and HomeAway – so I’m still not clear about the difference between these two sites as they belong to the same company, and they seem to operate similarly to AirBnB but it seems less organized. My sister has booked with them before, for our places in Hawaii.

Car rental

Note that certain states cover a second driver for free, and some car rental companies will have free second drivers if they’re your spouse or if you are a member, for example.

  • Costco Travel may have different prices on the US site vs. the Canadian site – and you need to have separate logins as well; free second driver if spouse is also a Costco member
  • Autoslash: we came across this site from Parents magazine – if you can’t find a good deal on their site, if you book via another site (like Costco) and send them the confirmation number, it will look for cheaper options until your trip starts. If you end up booking through them, they will automatically cancel and book the same reservation for you if the price drops before your rental starts! I couldn’t figure out their revenue model so it seemed too good to be true at first, but it worked out great. We found out the hard way that some companies don’t include fees in the car rental quotes, but this site breaks everything down for you so it’s WYSIWYG (or pay in this case). You don’t actually pay until you get to the car rental counter! If you are looking for a specific service, eg. a shuttle to/from the cruise port, you might need to enter a specific location code, which can be found in the car rental fine print when you search for an itinerary OR you can email them to ask which location offers it (they do seem to know!)

So, that’s what we have used in the past – if you have any links to add to the list / share, please leave a comment!

1 Comment

  1. Chris L

    January 18, 2017 at 8:26 PM

    Nicely written! Skyscanner and Flight network are also good for comparing flights.

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