Another tool to track fare sales
Today Sidestep.com launched a fare tracker service, joining the many websites that offer automatic, constant searches of booking engines.
Like other services, Sidestep lets you plug in your dates and routes. The site will do several price searches per day. You can then set a schedule of how often you wish to receive an e-mail alert either weekly or as soon as the flight drops below the price you set. Uniquely, you can set the searches up for seven days from your preferred departure date, letting you take advantage of fare sales on alternate days if you're flexible. (Note: You have to run an ordinary search for fares on Sidestep.com before you're given an option to create a flight alert.)
I tested the service sporadically throughout the day, and found that it performed best on heavily traveled routes. But it didn't always deliver the lowest available fare on less trafficked routes, such as between Louisville and Minneapolis/St. Paul.
As always, no single Internet source is definitive when it comes to booking low fares. (Sigh!) My plan for the next few months is to use one fare tracker among the many available, such as Sidestep's, Yapta's, Farecast's, AirfareWatchdog's, FareCompare.com's, Orbitz's, etc., to track fares. But before I book a ticket, I'll compare flights on a metasearch site. At the moment, I alternate between Sidestep or Kayak because they allow you to simultaneously search on Expedia and Orbitz to make sure you find the lowest fare among the three websites. Other metasearch sites are CheapTickets and Yahoo's Farechase.
Other Budget Travel staffers have different approaches, and I'm sure you have your own favorite strategy, too. Please let us know your experience with fare tracking sites by posting comments below.
Earlier: Get cash back when fares drop.
A super, newsy new Facebook tool
As you may know, Facebook is the social-networking site of the hour. About 46 million members have joined and created profile pages, which list their favorite books, hobbies, and friends. If you aren't already a member, you're missing out on quite the party. It's free to sign-up, so why not give it a try? Washingtonpost.com (the big brother of BudgetTravel.com) has just launched a very savvy, useful Facebook application called newsTracker. It allows you to personalize the news articles that you want to follow, and it displays these articles in a remarkably intuitive format. NewsTracker takes about a minute to add to your Facebook page and to customize. I typed in "travel" as a search term. Now, each time I go to my Facebook page, I see a list of stories from hundreds of news sources (not just the WaPo) that match that topic. Full disclosure: I'm biased in touting newsTracker. The idea for the program came from Don Graham, the head honcho of the Washington Post Company, which owns BudgetTravel.com. Even so, I say without shame that if you're a news junkie or a frequent Facebook user, you'll find it worth taking out this app for a spin. It's fast and easy to install, and if you change your mind about it, it's fast and easy to uninstall, too. Facebook members can check out newsTracker by clicking here.
A leap forward in noise-canceling headphones?
Sony announced today that it has taken the technology behind noise-canceling headphones a step further with its (eloquently named) MDR-NC500D. Sony claims in its press release that the headphones will block 99 percent of noise in the range of a jet engine. That's good news: Some medical studies say that jet-engine noise helps cause jet lag because the brain gets worn out having to deal with the buzz for a prolonged period of time. Sony's headphones aren't a budget-travel option yet, given their expected $400 price tag when they go on sale in February. But hopefully the technology will filter down to lower-priced models in the years ahead. Gizmodo, a technology blog that was present at Sony's announcement in Las Vegas, asked Sony what exactly made these a world's first digital noise canceling headphones. Sony says that while other headphones use an analog mechanism for equaling out the sound, their headphones "do an analog to digital conversion using a digital signal processor with three filters. That should, in theory, result in far better sound since the sound gets cleaned up with digital equalizer before you hear it." If you can explain what that means, feel free to post a comment. EARLIER ON THE BLOG Before you buy a digital camera, visit this website.
Security: A better, cheaper lock for your luggage
A TSA inspector at a small East Coast airport has contacted us with a tip. I am choosing not to identify her because, as a TSA employee, she is not supposed to talk to the press without official permission. Plus, TSA workers do not have whistleblower protections, which other federal workers have. That's an overly dramatic introduction, I admit, to a rather simple travel tip: It's not necessary to buy the pricey, TSA-approved locks. You don't have to buy fancy luggage locks at all. Instead, buy a pack of plastic zip-ties, or cable locks, for about $1. Here's what our tipster says: I see hundreds of locks and zipper pulls get broken off as they go through the conveyor belts at airport security gates. The locks fall off and land under the conveyor belts. Most locks that people use are the kind you could pick with a bobbie pin or paper clip. Zip ties (also called cable locks) are something that we use at the airport. They are long plastic ties that lock. They can't be opened unless cut with a scissor or nail clipper, which are allowed to be packed in a carry-on bag. The ends of the plastic ties fit through the zipper pull tabs. They come in all sorts of sizes. Use zip ties for carry-on or checked luggage. We put them on for people after checking their bags if they want them locked. I did this for a guy traveling to India today. If we have to cut a lock we zip tie it afterwards at my airport. The zip tie is something I use for International travel myself. TSA locks are useless in other countries. I have never had a bag opened and you know if your zip lock (in your choice of color) is still there it hasn't been messed with, unlike a lock...which you can't tell if it's been opened or not. As an aside, I will say that out of 2000 bags today maybe 40 bags were opened. If they don't alarm the X-ray machine then the bag is cleared. 100 count bag of zip ties, at Amazon.com for $5. Also sold at local hardware and housewares stores, typically for $2 for 100 count bags. EARLIERFAQs about items stolen from checked bags
Best Credit Cards for Travel Insurance
Each year, the "running of the bulls" in Pamplona, Spain, gets me seriously focused on... wait for it... travel insurance. Yep, with the running happening next week (July 6 through 14), we'll see thousands of locals and visitors participate in the madre of all mosh pits, with the least lucky getting gored or stepped on. Coincidentally, our friends at CardHub just published its 2015 Travel Insurance Report, taking a look at what kind of insurance the most popular credit cards offer for travel mishaps ("mishaps" include interruptions, misplaced baggage, illness, natural disasters, and accidents and have nothing whatsoever to do with running with bulls, by the way). CardHub's main findings include: Accident coverage is offered by 88 percent of the rewards credit cards examined; luggage is covered by 63 percent. More than 20 percent of credit cards that offer travel accident insurance provide amounts over $300,000. Among cards that cover luggage, 73 percent cover lost luggage, 45 percent cover delayed luggage, and 18 percent cover both. When it comes to travel insurance, CardHub found the following cards to be especially helpful: Chase Sapphire Preferred, Discover It, Wells Fargo Propel 365, Citi Prestige, Wells Fargo Propel World, Chase Freedom, and U.S. Bank FlexPerks.