Keep these travel innovators on your radar.
With a dizzying array of trip-planning tools and services jockeying for your attention, it's hard to know which ones are worth the investment. While some stalwarts (TripIt, Google Maps and Kayak) make customizing your itinerary, navigating on the go and snagging affordable flights a cinch, other resources end up cluttering your phone and offering few extras to make travel easier. For this reason, we caught up with travel experts to get the lowdown on the innovative startups and services that are making travel smoother, cheaper and, most importantly, more enjoyable.
"Keep your eyes on the Lola app," says Jen Leo, who writes the nationally syndicated Web Buzz column for the Los Angeles Times. Created by Paul English, the co-founder of Kayak, the app, which is compatible with iOS 9 or higher, "is now mixing [artificial intelligence] with humans to bring an on-demand travel concierge to your pocket," says Leo, emphasizing that it can help you whether you're researching and booking your travel or seeking travel advice on the fly. Cailey Rizzo, editorial director of lifestyle site The Local Dive, likes the app's layout. "Lola has an incredibly intuitive design, and the way that the app is centered around a chat experience feels very natural," she says.
In the corporate travel space, there is little incentive for business travelers to be more frugal, explains Skift business editor Grant Martin. That's where Rocketrip comes in. The product, which just garnered $9 million in funding, entices road warriors to spend less on travel by providing them with budget-friendly accommodation and flight options based on their trip parameters and policies specified by their employers. When a traveler stays below their trip budget, they're rewarded with perks available through Rocketrip, including gift cards, cash cards and other freebies.
If your top priority is clinching a bargain on airfare, sign up for DealRay's subscription service. Here's how it works: After punching in your desired departure location, the company sends you a fare alert for deeply discounted airfares, such as a $59 round-trip ticket between May and June on JetBlue from District of Columbia's Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport to Nantucket in Massachusetts. The catch: Deals disappear quickly, so if you see a reduced ticket, grab it before it's gone. After the first month of service, DealRay charges a $9.99 monthly fee.
If you have some flexibility in your plans, Upside, which will debut in September, aims to help you – and your employer – save money by giving you perks for choosing cost-effective flight or hotel options. Controlling business travel costs has been a problem for a long time, explains Jay Walker, the company's chairman and CEO. "I think the real motivation for Upside is the recognition that with new technologies and new tools, you can create solutions to old problems," he explains, noting that Upside empowers budget-minded travelers to leverage their flexibility. For example, choosing an alternative airport or hotel could yield a $50 to $150 gift card.
With crammed flight cabins, many passengers are in search of extra unused luggage space to get their belongings from point A to point B. And if you happen to have extra room to spare, the app Airmule (compatible with iOS 8 or higher) gives you a monetary incentive to transport another traveler's items, Martin explains. You can simply post available storage space for prospective shippers to pay by the pound, which could easily translate to a lucrative sum. But there is one caveat: airport security. While travelers and shippers must go through a verification process, consider your level of comfort transporting a stranger's items.
For globetrotters interested in co-living spaces, WeLive helps people stay flexible in their travel plans and rent furnished studios, one- to three-bedroom units or communal spaces for weeks or months at a time. WeLive is currently available in New York City and the District of Columbia, and monthly rates for a private bedroom in NYC start at $1,700 per person. With WeLive, cost-conscious jet-setters have the flexibility to stay for short or longer periods of time, and they can move freely without having to worry about bringing furniture or similar items. What's more, membership grants access to high-speed internet, towels and complimentary coffee and tea.
One of the most challenging aspects of participating in travel rewards programs is navigating when and where to apply your points and miles. That's why the points-savvy website AwardAce is aiming to make the process easier by directing travelers to diverse destinations where they can use their points, based on their individual travel goals. AwardAce's pricing tool also allows you to pinpoint the award travel option that tenders the greatest redemption value for your points across 15 different loyalty programs.