Travel Planning - Flights & Hotels

Friday 20 September 2013

Last week, I talked about our long range travel planning but today we get to delve into my favourite part of the planning process - booking flights and hotels!

Booking flights and hotels are usually done concurrently and it's often a mess of dozens of open tabs in my Safari browser and notes scrawled across my notepad.  We're always trying to make the most of our time and of our money and because we're semi-flexible with our travel dates, we can rearrange for the best possible outcome.

1. Flights

Unless there's a hotel we're extremely keen on staying in, the flights are booked first.  (If we're planning a long stay in one location (Mauritius, Santorini) we might choose a hotel first and then work with the dates it's available.)  Generally, we want the shortest amount of travel time for the least amount of money.  Our time is valuable, so we don't mind spending an extra $100 to avoid an 8 hour layover but we're not willing to pay thousands of dollars over the low cost option to make it work.

Our travel dates are always flexible.  Joe really only works around one other colleague so even if we schedule to take Thursday & Friday off, if the flights work out better Saturday through Tuesday, we'll shift as we need to.  This can save a lot of money and result in better flight connections.

My search always starts with a multi-booking site like Expedia, Kayak or Skyscanner.  They are great tools to quickly get a look at the general flight costs.  Usually, the cheapest option is a bit of a milk run but it doesn't take long to scroll through.  This is also where I shift between all of the possible date combinations.  I'll start to see which days are best to fly on in terms of cost and connections.

Once I've zeroed in on the dates, I'll cross reference the best flights I've found through various platforms.  I'll go directly the airline as well to see if it's better to book through them.  For the last few flights we've scheduled, Expedia came through as the cheapest.  In fact, we saved a couple hundred dollars booking our flights to Istanbul through them versus the exact same itinerary through the Turkish Airlines site.  Do note, budget airlines like Easyjet, RyanAir & Norwegian do not partner with multi-booking sites so you must check with them directly.  In Stavanger, the only budget airline available is Norwegian so I always do a quick check before finally booking.

We tend to fly with Star Alliance.  Canada's most comprehensive international airline, Air Canada, is a member so it often works out that we take them home.  In Stavanger, Lufthansa & Scandinavian Airlines have a large presence and they often tend to be our best options when traveling.  We are also a part of their loyalty program and both of us have near or over 100 000 miles each to use towards free flights. If you're a frequent traveler, sign up and start accumulating now!

2. Hotels

I'm a little bit nuts about hotels.  Some people are willing to cut corners to save a little money on accommodation - I am not one of those people.  I like nice hotels.  Ideally, we like to find smaller, boutique style hotels known for great service and a good location.  The best location for us is just outside the main tourist area.  Something that's close enough to walk to the sites but far enough away that we can escape the crowds when we need to.  I tend to think you get more for your money as well.

Again, I start with a multi-booking site.  This gives me an idea as to how much we should budget for a hotel.  Hotel costs really vary depending on location so our budget varies as well.  It wouldn't make any sense to use the same budget for Paris that we do for Edmonton, Alberta.  Afterwards, I start the actual research.

I keep a travel bookmark folder on my computer so if I happen to come across a great hotel online, I'll tag it in there for later.  I will also go back to my fellow bloggers who I know have traveled to that particular city and who have a similar travel style to me.  Personal recommendations are best but it's important to keep your travel style in mind.  A budget travel blogger may rave about a particular hotel but it might not fit with my style or needs.  I'll also head on over to Condé Nast and do a search there as well as they often feature new and unique hotels.
TripAdvisor is open ALL THE TIME during the hotel booking process.  It gives me recommendations to check out but mostly, the reviews give me the information I'm looking for.  I particularly look for comments on the location of the hotel but also the overall quality of the property.  It's not the be-all, end-all for me as there are always reviews that sway it's ranking, etc. but I find if I read both the good reviews and the bad, I'll have a realistic idea of the hotel.

I've also used Mr & Mrs Smith, a luxury, boutique hotel site that keeps a database of 'Smith Approved' accommodation in various locations.  While many are quite pricy, there are usually a few options in the mid range suitable to us.  Blog reader, Caterina, recommended Splendia which I'm also keen to try out and after Casey's recommendation, I've perused TabletHotels.

I'll usually generate a list of the top 3 hotels that fit with our criteria and then start checking their availability and costs across the various platforms.  I often find the main hotel sites give the best rates (and sometimes they'll offer things like free airport transfer with a booking) but occasionally, Expedia will have a 25% sale or one of the other sites will have a promotion.  It pays to check them out.  

A few things to note when booking hotels:
+Keep an eye on extra costs!  One hotel may advertise a cheaper nightly rate but you'll pay extra for WiFi and breakfast.
+Check out their promotion pages.  There's often 'Stay 2 nights and get the 3rd for 25% off' or similar deals!
+If you know you most definitely won't change your booking, go for the 'Pay Upfront' option.  It's often substantially cheaper!
+When looking at hotel photos on TripAdvisor, make sure you look at the 'Traveler Photos.'  They're bound to give a more honest portrayal than the professional photos posted by hotel management.
+If you're curious about a hotel that someone has blogged about, send them an email and ask specific questions.  Most of us are happy to give our honest thoughts to help you out as long as we have time.

Do you have any go to sites or resources for flights and hotels?


Also, you have until Sunday at Noon CET to enter to win one of nine digital magazine subscriptions via Zinio.  Details here.


  1. Great tips! Sounds like we are very similar in our travels and planning process! I'm like you, I like a good hotel so we always splurge on that. And I've actually used Splendia a bit too... pretty good site as well! And thanks for the shout out :)

  2. great note, it's really helpful. next time I will definitely try Your tips about choosing hotel!

    1. Happy to hear it and hope they help you find some great hotels!

  3. thanks for the great post! always good to get more tips and make sure we're doing things the smartest way! xoxo

    the well-traveled wife

  4. These tips are fantastic! I'm just now getting into leisure travel and have been looking for good sites to find great deals.

  5. So you don't get tips from my blog on where to stay? Come on...hostels? B and Bs? Camp grounds? No? How did we ever become friends?

    1. I was beginning to think my style was rubbing off on you until this summer but I think Russ swings you the other way ;-)

  6. Thank goodness for the web, right? What did our parents do before all of these resources (and customer reviews!) were available? I know, go through a travel agency and hope for the best. Yikes. I'm so glad we never had to experience traveling that way in our adult lives.

    For our honeymoon, we used to get a great rate on a hotel that we were set on staying at. This site brought down the nightly rate by $75. And of course we use AirB&B and have yet to be disappointed.

    And I agree with you, paying extra not to sit in an airport for a connecting flight for hours is totally worth it! : )

    1. I often think of how lucky we are in terms of being our own travel agents these days!

      I've heard gives great rates and I occasionally peruse AirBnB but often when we're planning a weekend stay in a city, it's just so much easier & more convenient to stay in a hotel.

  7. Great post, Jay! I have similar technics when booking flights and hotels. I am a long time fan of the TripAdvisor. Can't thank it enough :)

  8. Great tips Jay! I get jealous everything you post pictures of hotels you travel to! TabletHotels is waaay too much fun - they even put out cute little playlists. I found a great place to stay in Paris in the 1st arrondisement last time I was there that was a great deal considering Paris can usually be quite pricey. I also usually check out local tourism board websites before traveling somewhere to see what they recommend. xx J

    1. They give playlists?! I haven't come across this yet but that does sound like way too much fun!

      The tourism board is a great idea - I'll usually check for activities but never thought for accommodation!

    2. I give you Tablet tunes on eight tracks :) Enjoy!

  9. Skyscanner is my favorite when searching for European flights since it actually includes the budget airlines - such a difference maker!

  10. It's funny - your favorite part of trip planning is my LEAST favorite part. Seriously, it stresses me out!! I don't like trying to figure out the best way to get somewhere {train, bus, plane, etc}, and no matter how many Tripadvisor reviews I read, I'm always a little worried that I'll end up picking a bad hotel. The part I DO like {besides the actual traveling} is finding cool things to do. That part is easy! :o)


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