It seems like a new travel website or app is being released every day -- and that is probably an understatement. And while they all make great claims about helping ease your travel experience, it can be overwhelming sorting through them all.
With the release of its 2013 "Travel’s Best" list, TravelChannel.com has taken some of the work out finding which travel services can help save you time and money. Here are its recommended picks:
Best Car Rental Options: Costco Travel
If you have a Costco membership, you can get such deals from Costco Travel as not incurring additional driver fees with certain rental companies.
Best Credit Card for Travel: Chase Sapphire Preferred
The Chase Sapphire Preferred card offers generous sign-up bonuses and flexible points that can be transferred to both airline and hotel partners. The Sapphire Preferred makes it easy to amass points quickly, with 2x points on travel and dining. The original sign-up bonuses can be worth over $500 in travel after you meet the required minimum spend, within the first three months typically.
Best Frequent Flyer Program: United MileagePlus
United MileagePlus is a great program, as it offers access to an extensive route network and award inventory. In short, they make it easy to redeem your miles. United miles are also easy to earn, with the Chase Sapphire Preferred card offering instant 1-to-1 transfer of points to United.
Best Hotel Rewards Program: Starwood Preferred Guest
Starwood Preferred Guest is a great hotel program, with a vast portfolio of hotels throughout the world. Redemptions start at just 2,000 points and members have the option to transfer points to dozens of airlines at a 1-to-1 ratio, with a 5,000 point bonus on every 20,000 points transferred.
Best Phone App for International Travel: Viber
Calling, texting and emailing while abroad can rack up thousands of dollars in fees. However, there are great apps such as Viber that you can use for free with an Internet connection. Viber users can send free text messages, photo messages, video messages and more with other users, and it’s compatible with iPhone, Android and other major mobile and desktop devices.
Best Site for Blind Travel Bids: BiddingForTravel.com
Before making a blind bid on the discount travel sites, log on to BiddingForTravel.com to see what other people's luck was with their bids. This site shows how much people paid for which dates and will give you a pretty good idea of which hotel you will end up with.
Best Site for Fare Alerts: Yapta.com
If you don’t want to constantly check and recheck websites for the best fares, then sign up for Yapta.com’s fare alerts. They will automatically keep you updated on the fares you are interested in. All you have to do is set the date(s), city pairs and the price point, and they will alert you via email.
Best Site for Travel Packages: HolidayPirates.com
Check out the website HolidayPirates.com for hard-to-find deals such as $500-roundtrip flights to Europe or $50 flights from Europe to Turkey.
Best Times for Off-Peak Travel: January 15 to February 28; October 15 to May 15
US Airways offers economy round-trip tickets to Europe from North America for just 35,000 miles from January 15 to February 28. If you have their co-branded credit card, that price drops to 30,000 miles per round-trip. American Airlines also offers off-peak discounted award tickets to Europe from October 15 to May 15 for 40,000 miles – down from the usual 60,000. If you have their co-branded credit card, you can even get 10% of those redeemed miles back, up to an annual cap. US Airways and American Airlines are considered two of the top LGBT airlines in the United States.
Best-Value Trip: Eastern Europe
The Eastern European countries including Bulgaria, Romania and Ukraine are prime for travelers looking for great food, friendly people and few tourists. It's the medieval Europe you want, without the crowds in Prague or Tallinn.