To save fellow travel shoppers some steps, here are some web sites I recommend, as well as a few tips:
AIRLINE TRAVEL (IN GENERAL):
Fuel surcharges in Europe are steep. Make sure you check the fine print when you are reseaching flights online (click all the way through the booking steps), so you can see the true full cost of the fare. Ryanair has recently updated its web site so that users can see the fuel charge and taxes after they click on the base fare price.
Non-EU citizens are often not allowed to check-in online, and some airlines, such as Ryanair, charge a fee for not checking in online, so if you are an American, you are screwed.
Even if you have an Irish ID/registration card, you still have to visit the non-EU immigration line at airports in Ireland. The lines can often be long with tourists, and you just want to get back home, but you have to wait along with all those who do not live in the country.
Traveling by bus to the airport seems to be the best option in Ireland, but it all depends on the cost of gas, how many days you'll be traveling and who is paying. We often drive to the Shannon airport because parking is only €8 a day, gas is paid for under the work assignment, so it's cheaper than spending €13 each on the round-trip bus ticket. CityLink is a great city-to-city bus service in Ireland; however, the cost to travel from Galway to Dublin airport on CityLink is now €29 per person, so we have ended up driving to the airport car park and paying the day fees instead.
Air Ninja is a great web site when you're trying to figure out which airlines fly to the country you are trying to reach from your departure city.
For sites that search multiple carriers and offer multiple options/fares, Expedia still seems to have the best prices for travel to and from the U.S. I also researched fares to get from France to Hungary, and found Expedia to also have the best deal -- especially since I have a U.S. bank account and am paid in U.S. dollars.
Kayak.com is the web site that AirNinja uses to check flights and prices on non-discount airline carriers. I haven't seen Kayak offer the best prices on any of my searches.
LowFares also allows you to check multiple carriers at once.
OpenJet seems to be a good web site for also checking out multiple carriers, but I've found that they only offer a couple of great fares, and the rest are really expensive.
There is a Beta version of a new web site called CheapFlights out there with an Irish URL. It has decent prices and appears to be linked in with eBookers.ie and Lastminute.com. eBookers hasn't shown me much love on the cheap: haven't found a great deal there. LastMinute appears to be a UK-departure-focused site, good for booking holiday packages.
When my mom was trying to find a flight from the U.S. to Ireland, the best deal we found was located at Airfare Planet. Make sure you click all the way through on the fare searches, so that you can see the final price, including tax.
For airline-direct web sites...
People can complain all they want about Ryanair, but I don't get it. Even with the sur charges they slap onto your final bill (checking a bag, checking in at the airport, paying with a credit card), it's still been the least-expensive option for us most of the time. Even if you pay 26 euros round-trip to get from Paris-Beauvais to Paris (see destination comment below), your flight was still about 50 euros. It's hard to beat. The key is that you need to be able to fly on off days. The weekends are almost always expensive. We've gotten the best Ryanair deals by flying out on Thursday, back on Tuesday. There are few, if any, deals to be had May 1-August 30. Book your summer vacations as early as possible to get the best rates. Also, use the destination map tool at their web site. It's invaluable because Ryanair travels to small airports near the big cities, names you may have never heard of.
SkyEurope seems to be another value option for traveling within Europe. I haven't flown them, but did find the best fare from Budapest to Strasbourg with them. They travel to many destinations.
AerLingus is trying to get competitive with Ryanair. We did find them to be less expensive for flights from Dublin to Lisbon.
AirFrance and CityJet seemed to have the most expensive online fares. I checked flights from Ireland to France, Ireland to Italy and France to Hungary -- ridiculously expensive.
Before I moved here, I thought that Europcar was the best company with which to rent a car in Europe. In my research, I've actually found Hertz to be very competitive, usually matching the price of Europcar and beating it a few times. We ended up renting cars through Hertz in Lisbon and twice in France because the prices were a little better. In Hungary, I found Europcar to be the most expensive, while Hertz and ArgusRentals offered very competitive prices.
When booking hotels in Europe, I've only found Expedia to be competitive when it comes to airport hotels. Couldn't find good deals for hotels in major cities--except for a few with very bad ratings on TripAdvisor.
The best deals I found for hotels (not B&B or hostel), were at Booking.com. Venere was a close second.
When searching multiple types of lodging (apartments, hotels, hostels), I discovered the 30.com lodging sites. You have to google search "30.com hotels" to find all their different URLs for each city. Their search maps are very useful. I didn't end up booking any lodging through this site (never ended up with the best price--but always close). I spent hours looking at the icons for available lodging against the map, so I could see which properties were in the best locations. I most recently used Barcelona30 for searches.
Ireland is very well-known for its B&Bs. The owners are usually very friendly and the accommodations comfortable. The Ireland B&B Network doesn't allow online booking, but it has a convenient tool for sending reservation inquiries.
The best web site I found for researching B&Bs in Switzerland was Bed and Breakfast Switzerland. The map tool is very useful; you can mouse over the icons to find the B&Bs with price ranges. B&Bs seemed like the most-affordable option in Switzerland, besides a hostel.
I never found a great web site for researching and booking chambre d'hotes or B&Bs in France. If you have any recommendations, please let me know. There is this site, but you have to know which region you are staying in--can't search by city name, which did me no good.
We are staying at hostels four times during our travels this year. Hostels are much nicer and more acceptable here than in the U.S. We used TripAdvisor to select our hostels, only reserving rooms at places with high ratings. Many hostels offer rooms with en-suite bathrooms. We have heard good things about hostels in Ireland, Prague, Barcelona and Switzerland.
I've have very good experiences booking through HostelBookers.com. You only pay a deposit (the rest is due when you arrive at the lodging), but the prices have been better here on the web page of the hostel, in my experiences.
If you don't mind sharing bathrooms and staying in dorms, Ryanair has a partnership with HostelWorld, and you can search availability on their web site. These fares have always been great, and sometimes a private room with shared bath or en-suite room will pop up on the availability.
Apartments seem to be the way to go when staying in Prague; Barcelona too. This seems to be most cost-effective for parties of four and larger; we couldn't find a good deal on an apartment for just the two of us. AccommPrague can help you find an apartment in Prague. They were very helpful, but we opted for the cheaper alternative, a hostel. We have some friends with kids who just rented an apartment in Paris for four days, and they absolutely loved it. Highly recommended for families, groups of couples.
You probably all know that TripAdvisor is the God of all travel web sites. We've used it to research and select accommodations for 99% of our trips this year, and have yet to be unhappy with our selections.
To view any of my lodging reviews and recommendations, visit TripAdvisor and search the word "vinovixen". My member profile should pop up, and you can click on it, then select the "contributions" tab to read all my review postings.
Safe and Happy Travels!!
- Rome, Italy
- Paris, France
- Las Vegas, NV, USA
- Lisbon, Portugal
- Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
- Galway, Ireland
- San Francisco, CA, USA
- Fort Lauderdale, FL, USA