And the Best Travel App Is...
Now this is the kind of study we love: The Application Resource Center, an editorial and research arm of the app quality and testing company Applause, analyzed close to 3 million app store reviews of 122 travel apps and crunched the numbers based on user feedback.
One travel-booking app blew the competition out of the water: Booking.com.
With a score of 84 on a scale of 1 to 100, Booking.com rated high across the board for quality—higher than the other booking apps, but also higher than apps in more specific categories like drive (Uber, Lyft, etc.), fly, and stay. What's important about the booking category, though, is that it's the most highly used category, meaning you're more likely to tap on a booking app than, say, a cruise app.
Why do users find Booking.com's app so great? It all boils down to ease of use and "does it work?"—especially in real-world conditions around the globe.
Applause's digital experience analyst, Ben Gray, says the app offers "unparalleled choice, offline maps, exploration features, seamless switching across devices, auto-filled forms, and more. Booking.com's Android and iOS customers love how stable their apps perform, how richly its content is presented, and how elegantly designed their experiences are."
Here are the rest of the winners and losers, by category:
Worst-rated: Royal Caribbean International
Best-rated: Alaska Airlines
Worst-rated: Aer Lingus
Worst-rated: GPS Navigation & Maps by Cygic
Best-rated: Rail Planner by Eurail Group
Meet Wingz, the New Way to Get a Private, Reliable Ride to the Airport
We’ve all been there: You’re exhausted after a long flight and can’t wait to get home, but someone just stole your Uber at the airport and the taxi line is a mile long. So what’s a traveler to do? Book with Wingz. The new startup exclusively provides scheduled airport rides. Whether you opt to book on their site or through their Android or iPhone apps, it only takes a few seconds to schedule your ride, so there’s never any waiting time before or after your flight. And unlike other ride sharing companies, there are never any surge charges, so you’re guaranteed the flat price quote when you book regardless of the weather or traffic. You can even choose a favorite driver or car. Wingz has more than 20,000 active customers and thousands of local drivers, who are all vetted with a background check, trained, and provided with a $1 million insurance policy, plus all vehicles are professionally inspected. Payment is processed online or through the apps. Wingz is currently servicing most major airports across the western U.S., but thanks to an $11 million investment—Expedia is a backer—they’ll eventually go nationwide, giving you one less thing to stress about on your next trip.
Snag This Retro-Chic Gear That Supports National Parks
Trend alert! Just in time for National Park Week (admission to every park is free right now through Sunday, April 24), we've become obsessed with the on-trend national parks–themed clothing, jewelry, and outdoor gear from Parks Project (from $10, parksproject.us). The organization organizes park volunteer days and donates proceeds from every item sold to initiatives like habitat and trail restoration, animal conservation, and educational services in the parks. Need help deciding which one to visit? Read BT's Which National Park Is Best For You? or go to FindYourPark.com. Not only is the Parks Project's made-in-the-U.S. gear vintage cool, but its causes correspond with the park the clothing depicts: Pick a graffiti-style T-shirt featuring a benevolent Bigfoot in Yellowstone, Great Smoky Mountains, and Sequoia, and proceeds go toward planting trees, maintaining trails, and protecting animals in those parks. Same deal if you buy this women's racerback tank top emblazoned with an iconic, sun-soaked Joshua Tree in Joshua Tree National Park: Money from the sale will help the Parks Project plant two Joshua Trees, a species facing challenges due to a recent drought brought on by climate change. Another favorite: This Big Sur National Park tee, designed by psychedelic-pop artist Steven Harrington. A portion of proceeds help support art programs at the park's Henry Miller Memorial Library Arts Center. The Parks Project's motto is Healthy Parks Make Healthy People. We couldn't agree more.
Tap That App! Ask a Digital Jeeves for (Almost) Anything With HotelTonight's Cool New Feature
The last-minute hotel-booking app HotelTonight has been a longtime favorite of ours here at BT. The genius is in its simplicity: Wait until 12 p.m. for across-the-board price drops the day you want to book a hotel (or 6 p.m. for deeper discounts), then scoop up deals on properties ranging from "Solid" to "High Roller." (HotelTonight says its prices tend to be 18 percent less than Expedia's or Booking.com's.) Today, the app is launching a feature called Aces: real-time "digital concierges" that dole out everything from restaurant recommendations to expedited requests for an early check-in. The text message–style interface is so quick—average response time is 23 seconds—and its responses so on point, it's giving us major Scarlett Johansson-in-Her vibes. That's a good thing if you're in a new city or neighborhood trying to juggle tasks on the fly, or if you don't want to awkwardly call down from your hotel room to ask for a shaving razor. Unlike ScarJo's artificial-intelligence persona, HotelTonight's concierges aren't bots (we asked). Actual humans are answering guests' questions around the clock. Right now, Aces is available when your total booking price is $200 or more (this can translate to $70 per night for three nights, and so on) in 28 U.S. cities, plus a handful in London and elsewhere in North America. List below: Arlington, VA; Atlanta, GA; Austin, TX; Boston, MA; Brooklyn, NY; Cambridge, MD; Charleston, SC; Charlotte, NC; Chicago, IL; Denver, CO; London, England; Los Angeles, CA; Miami, FL; New Orleans, LA; New York, NY; Orlando, FL; Palm Springs, CA; Philadelphia, PA; Phoenix, AZ; Portland, OR; Raleigh, NC; San Diego, CA; San Francisco, CA; San Juan, Puerto Rico; Santa Barbara, CA; Savannah, GA; Seattle, WA; Scottsdale, AZ; Tampa, FL; Tempe, AZ; Toronto, Canada; and Vancouver, Canada. And HT has more money-saving news: The app has been retooled to favor users who are already in a geographic area, rather than those booking from afar. For example: If you're exploring Midtown in New York City, you'll see a green Geo Rate flag for hotels nearby and watch the price drop: While testing out the app, I saw the centrally located boutique hotel the Marcel at Gramercy, which offers free wine tastings and a rooftop terrace, plummet from $305 per night to $170, thanks to my being nearby. If you're trying to book from, say, Dallas, you won't see those deals, HT says. Call it a homecourt advantage—ideal for adventurous travelers looking to fall in love with an area and experience it like a local.
Now Google Can Plan Your Entire Vacation in One Click
Offering fully formed trips with a single search is an ambitious move, but if anyone can pull it off, it's Google. Yesterday the company rolled out its smartphone-based Destinations on Google, "a mobile-first travel planning experience": In addition to its practical and easy-to-use Google Flights and Google Translate services, Google is aiming to plan your next vacation for you too by offering comprehensive trip plans that include flight and hotel suggestions, day trip ideas, road trip itineraries, suggested activities and attractions, and general travel guides. Here's how to use Destinations on Google. First, don't download anything new. (Unless it's the Google app.) To access Destinations on Google, all you do is type directly into your phone's Google search bar or your Google App. To plan a trip, type in the place you want to visit, followed by "destinations." Enter the state, country, or continent you're thinking of visiting plus the word "destinations." Think "Florida destinations" or "Iceland destinations." You can further filter your ideal trip by price, dates, number of travelers, and your interests available in that area, such as art, beaches, nature, and surfing. Up pops a grid of wanderlust-inducing photos. Tap the city that interests you—average flight and hotel prices are listed helpfully below the image—and then the real magic happens: Under the heading Explore, Google provides potential itineraries, popular sights, and the estimated price of an seven-day trip, suggested for its "good value." (We love that.) Settled on your perfect locale? Toggle over to "Plan a Trip and take a look at the sliding Price Graph, which lets you select dates, flights, and hotels that work within your budget. To see multi-city itineraries and cross-country road trips, type in a city or larger geographic area, followed by "vacation" or "travel." This feature works a lot like typing "destinations," but the words "vacation" and "travel" trigger guides. They work for cities ("Miami vacation," etc.) and are particularly helpful if you want to explore Europe but not stay put in one country for very long. Or if you want to get a taste of both Paris and the South of France in one week. Example: If you type "Ireland vacation" and scroll down to Destinations, Google spits out several suggested itineraries, including "6 Days in Dublin, Cork, Ring of Kerry, Killarney, and Galway." Click on the Transit info between each stop, and Google Maps will show directions for getting around by car, public transportation, walking, or biking. Play around with it. It's addictive, and you might find yourself enthralled by a place you'd never considered. The BT Test Drive: I tried out Destinations on Google on my iPhone's Google app by typing in "Morocco destinations," a country I've always wanted to visit. Sweeping vistas of Marrakesh and Casablanca appeared, with flight and hotel prices beneath each. I hit the blue arrow button for "More destinations," and gorgeous photos of Agadir, Fes, and other towns joined the first two images. Visiting classic cities tends to be my travel style—not to mention that I'm dying to try a traditional hammam—so I tapped on the photo of Marrakesh to start planning my dream trip. With that click, a wave of information hit me hard and fast: First, there was a brief overview of the city's history and its attractions. Then, Google wanted to know, would I like to follow a suggested itinerary? "48 Hours in Old Marrakesh," perhaps? "Top Places in the New City," including strolling through gardens and visiting a "haggle-free crafts emporium" in Ville Nouvelle? "Romantic Marrakesh"? Oooh. Even Google knows I'm a sucker for romance. But wait, there was more: "Marrakesh for Art Lovers." "Marrakesh with Kids." Directly under that were Points of Interest, including Jemaa el-Fnaa square, Majorelle botanical garden, Bahia Palace, and on and on.... I counted 38 total attractions. On the same page, Google also outlined "Top Sights" in the city, like the 1500s El Badi Palace, complete with star ratings. (El Badi received 3.9 stars out of 5.) Below that, Google took the liberty of planning a seven-day trip for me later this month: one traveler, a week a three-star hotel, and a round-trip flight on KLM, all for $1,313. It was so oddly specific I was briefly deluded into thinking I was actually embarking on this trip. Farther down, Google mentioned that peak travel to Marrakesh is July through September, with very hot summers and mild winters, so a March trip wouldn't be the worst idea. I used the sliding price bar graph to try to find an better deal that worked with my schedule. Even though the average price of a weeklong trip to Marrakesh with a three-star hotel is $1,530, I found one for $1,157 in mid-April, flying on British Airways. Actually booking the the trip isn't quite as easy as the first click that sent me down an information rabbit hole. I was still kicked over to CheapFlights.com, Kayak.com, and Orbitz.com to find the inexpensive British Airways flight for myself, and booking one of the suggested hotels—in this case, the Red Hotel Marrakech, with two hammams—was least expensive on Hotels.com, for $53. Is Destinations on Google going to immediately change how we book trips? Probably not. And the recommended attractions aren't exactly off the beaten track. But if you want inspiration and a general idea of what a trip might be like (and cost) all in one place, it's a great starting point.