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12 min read

Travel Smarter: 18 Apps to Book Cheap Flights, Pack in a Hurry and Manage Upcoming Trips

By Andrew Kunesh · November 18, 2014
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Traveling is too often a stressful event.

It begins when you book the ticket—are you getting the best fare? What's the best day of the week for fares, anyways? According to the latest study: Sunday, 57 days in advance.

Then there you are, the night before, standing in your closet and staring at your clothes—what are you going to pack? It depends on the weather, of course.

Now you're checking in online. Wait a minute. They're asking for your "confirmation number". Where is that listed?

Finally, you're at the airport, paying for your "extra" bag—your only bag—standing in the security line, sprinting to your gate, and arriving just in time to hear your flight has been delayed.

All these mishaps in the same trip would be unlucky. But on their own, they're commonplace. Fortunately, apps that address these travel pains are now plentiful, too.

Finding a Helpful Travel App

With so many of these apps available, we've curated a list of the best and grouped them into four categories.

When selecting apps, we chose ones that:

  • Are easy to use

  • Save you money

  • Have a unique feature that sets it apart

With each app listing below, you'll find a screenshot, short description, and price. Most of the apps are free to use, and some offer paid premium features.

The Best Apps for Booking Travel

No trip can begin without first booking your flight and accommodations, and with so many sites available today to do both, it can be a time-consuming process. If you select the right tool for your trip's purpose, however, you can book travel like a pro.

Frequent flier? Then skip ahead to learn about a search engine just for you.

Kayak for Ease of Use


You've likely heard of Kayak, but in case you haven't, this flight, hotel and rental car site shows you the lowest prices pulled from similar sites, including Orbitz and Travelocity, and the brands' themselves. On top of this, Kayak has an in-house travel agency that runs its own deals and promotions. This not only saves you time, but ensures you'll find the best deal for your next bit of traveling.

The service is also extremely simple to use; just select what you need—hotel stay, flight or rental car—and input your travel dates. When the results appear, all available options can be modified from the sidebar, and there are no hidden options, making searching on Kayak a no-frills task.

Price: Free

Note: You won't find tickets for Southwest flights on Kayak or any other fare search site for that matter. Those can only be purchased on southwest.com.

Hipmunk for Avoiding Long Layovers


A similar site to help you find the lowest fare for flights, hotels and rental cars is Hipmunk. But on top of serving up the best prices, it offers one perk that you can't find anywhere else: sorting flights by "agony" factor. This means search results appear not only in order of cheapest to most expensive, but in order of least number of stops and shortest duration—the lower the numbers, the lower the agony score and higher the ranking.

If you're willing to spend another $30 or $40 to skip the six-hour layover in Atlanta, then this agony factor will be a savior to your travel plans. And when you arrive, you can be sure the hotel you've selected is top for its price point, too. Like Hipmunk does with flight agony, it ranks hotels by "ecstasy", a combination of price, amenities, and reviews.

Price: Free

Priceline's Name Your Own Price for a Roll of the Digital Dice


"I'll pay up to $70 for a four-star hotel in Austin, Texas."

What if booking a night's stay was that easy? Well, that's really all you need to do with Priceline's Name Your Own Price option, available for flights, hotel rooms and rental cars. The catch: you don't get to say exactly which hotel, airline, or rental car company you're going to use. All you can specify are the details, including the departure and destination airports, city and star ratings of hotels, and size of rental car.

The site won't always take your bid or let you keep guessing for the lowest price, but it will coach you through the process, providing you suggested prices for what you're looking to book. If you're really cautious about what you'll end up getting, Priceline offers insurance that allows you to back out of the reservation.

Price: Free

ITA Matrix for the Travel Geek in You

ITA Matrix

ITA Matrix is for travelers who love tweaking with fares, getting extended layovers, and booking multi-city fares. The site is an airfare search engine that searches directly with all major airlines, and lets travel geeks modify every aspect of their search: from booking currency to adding routing codes.

Because of the nature of ITA Matrix, you'll need a bit of knowledge on how booking airfare works. But with a little research and creative tweaking of the sales currency and sales city options, you can use ITA Matrix to get around the world on the cheap.

After finding a rate on the service, you'll be shown a fare breakdown and given a set of booking codes. Using these codes, you can call the airline and book the flight, or get in touch with a travel agent and have them book for you.

Price: Free

Tip: Check out Map Happy's tutorial: "How to Book Google ITA Matrix Flights Using Hipmunk".

SkyScanner for When You're Flexible


If you don't have the time to master ITA Matrix but are aiming to score a cheap ticket and can afford to be flexible with your travel dates, then check out SkyScanner. This travel booking site will show you a month or year overview of airfares for a flight between two cities. When booking, instead of entering in specific dates, select "Whole month" or "Whole year" under the "Flexible?" option (pictured).

SkyScanner has a pristine mobile app, too, that makes booking travel on-the-go a breeze. The app has a globe view with prices from your departure location hovering over the map—a great way to get inspiration for your next vacation.

The service can also be used to book rental cars and hotel rooms, making it, like the others, a one-stop shop for booking travel.

Price: Free

Airfarewatchdog for Fare Tracking


Wrapping up our quest for the lowest airfare, we turn to the sixth site that will assist in that undertaking: Airfarewatchdog. After entering either only your departure city or both your departure and destination cities, you'll be prompted to sign-up for email alerts to learn when the cheapest prices roll around for your intended travel.

The site provides more offerings, too, including search results for not only the current lowest price for your destination city but a comparison against other destinations you might consider. Though that's not too helpful for the business traveler, this could be great for individuals looking to just get away for the weekend. If that's you, be sure to also sign-up for Airfarewatchdog's regular alerts for cheap flights from your destination city.

To get the most out of this money saving site, which recently began listing hotel prices, too, start by reading the "User's Guide".

Tip: With Airfarewatchdog you get a service devoted to low airfare alerts, but no matter what booking site you're using, be sure to look for email alert options. This could end up saving you stress, time and money.

Price: Free

SeatGuru for Finding the Best Seats


When on long-haul international flights, having a comfortable seat can make all the difference. And while many seats may look identical on the airline's seat map, some can have annoying limitations. Unfortunately, for us travelers, airlines don't make this clear when picking seats online or at the airport, leaving some stuck with shoddy spots.

Enter SeatGuru.

Using SeatGuru, you can look up your flight by its flight number and view a detailed seat map of the assigned plane. Hover over seats you're considering booking to view information about them, such as whether or not the seat lacks floor storage or can't recline.

Additionally, flyers can submit reviews on seats they've sat in, alerting other travelers of the location's upsides and downsides. These reviews correspond to color-coded seats on the seat-map, giving you a quick look at which seats to book and which to avoid.

Price: Free

HotelTonight for Last-Minute Hotel Reservations


HotelTonight is an easy way to book hotels in a hurry either for the day of or up to seven days in advance. Simply download the mobile app, set the city where you need accommodations, and you'll be greeted with a list of unsold rooms (pictured). After you've decided on a place, book it through the app using your credit card.

Because HotelTonight gives you a list of unsold hotel rooms that might otherwise become a sunk cost for companies, you can score some pretty great deals. For example, when checking the app the night of Nov. 12, the Godfrey Hotel in Chicago had a room available for $109. The same room normally runs $249 per night.

Price: Free

Airbnb for Unique Experiences


If you're hunting for the place with the lowest price or craving a more local experience, then start searching for pads on Airbnb. It's likely you've already heard of this site—or its competitor HomeAway—but maybe you weren't aware that the service allows you to not only rent out private and shared rooms but full apartments, condos and houses, as well. This makes it a great option for business travelers, too, when the prices at the chain and boutique hotels are beyond your budget.

Unlike a hotel, however, it's up to the host of the property to accept or decline your reservation so don't wait to use this site until the day you need a place to stay. Instead, set up a profile a month or two before your travels, which will give you time to verify your account and ask your friends for recommendations. These activities will increase your chance of successfully booking your top choice for accommodations.

Price: Free

Tip: For the more adventurous folks who are sticking by a low travel budget, check out Couchsurfing, a worldwide community of travels who put up fellow members for no cost.

The Best Apps for Using Award Miles

Now that you've accrued all of these miles and points from flying around the globe, it's time to put them to good use. In order to do this however, you must keep good track of your airline and credit card miles and their expiration dates. And if keeping a spreadsheet isn't your style, you'll want to take advantage of a few apps that help you better use and track your awards.

ExpertFlyer for Redeeming Awards


Getting stuck in the middle seat is never fun. ExpertFlyer aims to end this misfortunate for frequent travelers by tracking open seats, minimum connection times, and award availability. After setting an alert, you'll be emailed the second an award redemption becomes available on your desired flight, giving you the first shot at free flights and better seats.

ExpertFlyer is especially useful if you've achieved a higher award status. You can have the service send email alerts when seat upgrades become available, as well, making sure that you're always riding first class.

Price: Free to track seats, $4.99/month for limited access, $9.99/month for unlimited alerts

AwardWallet for an Overview of All Awards


AwardWallet has long been the gold-standard of credit card and airline awards tracking, and with good reason. Just link your bank accounts and airline profiles to AwardWallet and your expiration dates, point balances, and account numbers will be available at a glance. This makes sure that you never let valuable points expire, and gives you an easy way to watch your award miles add up.

The service keeps privacy in mind and let's you choose whether you'd like your account passwords stored locally on your computer or remotely on its servers. You can mix and match which passwords are stored—for example, you can have your airline passwords stored on the cloud and your bank passwords stored locally.

AwardWallet is also a great tool for business owners who manage employees that travel. Using AwardWallet Business, you can track corporate awards accounts and employee travel, saving you money and time.

Price: Free for personal accounts, $100/year for business accounts

UsingMiles for Getting the Most Out of Awards


UsingMiles is a relatively new player in the award travel tracking field. The app tracks all of your travel awards accounts and notifies you if they're expiring. Additionally, UsingMiles can keep track of everyday award programs like those offered by Panera Bread and Best Buy.

You can employ UsingMiles to book travel, too, and when searching for itineraries, the service keeps your frequent flier points in mind. So if a booking will help you refresh the expiration date on a hotel awards account or get bumped into a new airline status, UsingMiles will let you know and recommend that you book that itinerary over the cheapest option.

Finally, if you're a UsingMiles Premier member, you can use the service to aid you in booking award tickets and hotel rooms. UsingMiles will show you the points needed to book travel and identify which seats or hotel rooms are available to purchase with miles.

Price: Free to manage your awards, $29.99 premium account to get helpful alerts and more

The Best Apps for Packing Gear

If not managed well, last-minute packing can make for a stressful day of laundry, store runs and overflowing luggage. If you use a packing app to create and keep track of what's needed for the trip, the whole process can be a breeze.

PackPoint for Pre-Filled Lists


If you want to put together a packing lists with little effort, the PackPoint mobile app was made for you. Input your travel dates, location, and expected activities, and PackPoint returns a recommended packing list. The app takes weather into consideration when creating your list, so be rest assured that you won't show up with a winter jacket on an 80-degree day in Denver.

PackPoint's design makes it especially easy to use. All of the app's functionality is available front-and-center, giving you an experience that's sure to help replace stress with reassurance you've packed everything needed.

Price: Free

Packing Pro for Frequent Travelers

Packing Pro

Packing Pro is the must-have mobile app for the business traveler who travels multiple times per month. Using the app, you can make travel lists for up to nine different trips. These trips can be made by hand or with the app's list assistant. This assistant takes your destination weather and number of travel days into account, giving you a personalized list of items to bring.

Price: $2.99

Evernote for Accessing Packing Lists Anywhere


If you're the kind of person that likes to make custom packing lists, Evernote is just what you need. Create a new list in Evernote, fill it in with your travel essentials, and it will be synced to the cloud and available on all of your devices. Evernote even has a guide that shows how to make sleek packing lists using checkboxes.

Price: Free, $5/month premium plan for advanced features

The Best Apps for Managing Trips

Now that you're booked and packed, you're ready to head out the door. Well, not quite. Using a travel manager to keep track of your flights can be a major help if your flight is delayed or canceled. These apps will constantly track your flight status for you, alerting you of any delays to help you save time and money.

Kayak's My Trips for Quick Flight Details


Not only is Kayak a great tool for booking trips, it offers a simple tool called "My Trips" to manage upcoming travel, too. If you booked the flight on their site, it'll automatically be added, but you can add tickets purchased elsewhere, too, by simply forwarding the confirmation email to trips@kayak.com or entering manually.

You're then able to access your upcoming flight details by either visiting Kayak.com or downloading the Kayak mobile app. Either way, both offer the convenient ability to share a publicly accessible link of your itinerary, which is helpful for sharing trip details with family and friends.

Price: Free

TripIt for Powerful Trip Tracking


TripIt is an all-in-one app for all managing travel. Not only can the service be used to track flights, it can be used to find alternate routes for rebooking, better seats, and give potential fare refund notifications. This makes the service perfect for business travelers who are traveling constantly and need to make it from A to B without disruption.

The app has helpful sharing options, too. You can have TripIt automatically let selected contacts know of flight delays and other mishaps that may occur on your journeys. For business trips, add your boss so she or he will know if you'll be late to a meeting; for personal trips, add your ride to the airport, so he or she doesn't show up early.

You can also add rental car and hotel information to TripIt. This combined with airfare information will give you a full look at your trips on TripIt's website and mobile app, so you can travel stress-free.

Price: Free, $4/month for additional features like real-time flight alerts

TripCase for Mobile Flight Management


Like TripIt, TripCase can keep track of your flights and let you know of any delays or cancelations. However, TripCase really shines if you book through one of their partners like American Express. This is because after booking, your hotels and flights will sync automatically to TripCase, requiring no intervention on your end. (If that's not the case, simply forward a confirmation email to trips@tripcase.com and it'll be entered into the app.)

Aside from just tracking flight delays, you can use TripCase to view the weather at your destination, see airplane seat maps, and plan driving directions. TripCase also integrates with Uber, so you can get jump start on requesting a ride to or from the airport.

Price: Free

Tip: If you own a smart watch, TripCase will become your new best friend when traveling. Download the TripCase app for your Google Watch, Samsung Gear S, or Pebble, and you can have flight updates sent right to your wrist.

Expensify for Logging Business Expenses


If your travel is for business, the end of the trip arrives with a deluge of follow ups—send and reply to emails, submit meeting briefs, and, of course, fill out expense reports. Though this last app can't help you with the former two tasks, it can make the latter duty a breeze.

Expensify links to your credit card and, when using its mobile app, can automatically create expense reports from your credit card statement. Just select the transaction that you need reimbursed, snap a picture of the receipt, and you're set.

Additionally, if you make an online purchase, you can use the Expensify Chrome Extension to generate receipts for your purchases. This is especially useful when booking hotel rooms and flights online that don't email you an itemized receipt.

Price: $5 per month per user for a small team, $9 per user per month for corporate accounts.

Where to Next?


This roundup presents the best apps to help you book travel, use rewards, pack gear, and manage trips. It doesn't visit all the tools that could be helpful on your next trip, however, whether that's an app for finding a quick ride, identifying a great local dining spot, or locating little known points of interests.

What travel app would you add to the list?

Zapier marketer Danny Schreiber contributed to this post.

Credits: Traveler photo courtesy Nick Harris. ExpertFlyer screenshot courtesy ExpertFlyer. PackPoint graphic courtesy Packpoint. Packing Pro screenshots courtesy Packing Pro. Airplane photo courtesy Andrei Dimofte.

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