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sep 19 2011

Four trip planning services often overlooked

New sites will help you book the smartest hotel for your big trip (Courtesy kevindooley/Flickr)

Anyone can quickly book a cheap flight between U.S. cities. But when your travel plans are complicated, sometimes it helps to hand over research duties to an expert—for a fee.

Here's a cheat sheet to a few travel services with great track records at helping travelers.

Fortnighter, tailored itinerary-planning

Let's say you want to know the basics about a destination you're visiting, but the information in guidebooks about the latest restaurants and shops may be out of date, and you don't have time to do much online research. Enter Fortnighter, which charges about $100 to $200, depending on the length and complexity of your trip, to provide a detailed cheat sheet planning your itinerary.

The site posts a sample itinerary. These typically three or four page documents are written by a noted travel writer who has fresh, on-the-ground intelligence.

Jetsetter's personalized itinerary-planning service

Honeymoons are one example of a type of trip where you want everything to go perfectly, because, if a trip goes bad, people can start pointing fingers at each other. Why not shove off the planning responsibility into the hands of an expert. That's goal of the flash-sale site Jetsetter, which launched an itinerary-planning service this summer that's similar to what Fortnighter offers.

Its contributors have written for major travel magazines and guidebooks and they usually live in the locations they're writing about, so they have up-to-date information. If Jetsetter were a coffee chain, it would be Starbucks, compared to Fortnighter, which would be like the independent Chicago coffee chain Intelligentsia. As with coffee, relying on a big corporate service has advantages and disadvantages.

Cranky Concierge air travel planning assistance

This digitally savvy update of the old-fashioned travel agency offers a team of concierges, who help you pick optimal flights and take action to re-route you in the event of an emergency cancels your flight (hurricane, etc.) They'll book your tickets, too, but it's not necessary—unlike traditional travel agents, they're not incentivized via commissions to steer you to a particular airline against your best interests.

Cranky Concierge coverage varies in price by how many people are traveling and the complexity of the itinerary. For example, a family of four can pay $60 for round-trip for coverage that includes: finding child and infant fares if available; picking the best available seats (given your family's size and the ages of your kids); fielding your questions about airline rules for strollers, car seats, and breast milk; re-book your family in the event of a flight cancellation; and follow up with airlines in any dispute resolution, should something go amiss during your flights.

Mygola for specific trip-planning questions

Ask an expert to do online research for you to answer your specific travel question, and pay a tip. To ask more than one question for a trip, pay $30. Or buy a year's worth of access to asking questions for $90.

Pluses: No forms to fill out, no sales pitches to wade through. The experts appear to be especially strong on recommending flights, hotels, and sightseeing jaunts in India and Asia.

Note of caution: The theory is that you get what you pay for, with better answers when you pay, but how will you know if the answer is accurate unless you have something to compare it to? If time allows, ask your question in an online forum for free, first, on a site like Reddit, Lonely Planet's ThornTree, or MetaFilter.



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Note:This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.

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