Meet In The Middle: Plan Group Travel With TripCommon

TripCommon group travel planning toolHave a friend in Austria while you are in Austin and want to take a trip together this summer? How do you figure out where to meet? Do you choose a destination in the middle, or one with regular cheap flights from both of your destinations? A new website just launched in beta, designed to make planning group travel an easier process. TripCommon is a flight search engine that computes the cheapest common destinations, giving you the option to filter by region (maybe you’ve both always wanted to explore South America), activity (make it a beach trip), and where you have local friends (if you link up to Facebook).

What makes TripCommon genius is that it doesn’t just find random points on the map that are midway between you and your friends (you can enter up to six cities for big group travel planning), it finds destinations that have the lowest average price. Maybe you are in grad school and have a fixed budget; you can find places with the lowest cost from your city. If you have frequent flier miles to burn and your friends are the ones looking for the cheapest seats, you can sort by lowest price from one of their home cities. You may discover destinations you never thought about (Canary Islands sound nice for summer!), and make the trip planning process a lot more equitable.

Start planning your group trip at www.tripcommon.com.

[Photo credit: Trip Common]

New Airline Watchdog Pledges To Name Airlines That Don’t Respond To Customer Complaints

airport Did you have a bad experience with your airline? Was your on-board meal atrocious? Did a dispute go unresolved? Now you have a place to complain and have your voice heard, as the new Airline Customer Advocate website has just launched on July 1.

The website focuses on Australian carriers, and pledges to call out any airlines that have treated passengers unfairly. When you go on the website, you’ll be able to lodge a complaint that you were not able to resolve on your own. The customer will be asked to first lodge two complaints with the airline directly before using the service, as this gives carriers two chances to solve the problem. Interestingly, the service is funded by the country’s major airlines.

Said advocate Julia Lines, “I see the airline customer advocate as an ally for consumers when things go wrong. It’s another option for travellers. They should raise their complaints with the airline at first instance and if they are dissatisfied with that process they need to let the airline know that.”

Do you think there is a need for a similar service focusing on U.S. airlines?

[Image via Big Stock]

Major hotel brands band together to launch RoomKey.com




What do you get when six of the world’s leading hotel brands come together? You get RoomKey.com, a new hotel search engine that launched on Wednesday.

Choice Hotels International, InterContinental Hotels Group, Hilton Worldwide, Hyatt Hotels Corporation, Marriott International, and Wyndham Hotel Group form the group of six that created RoomKey.com, a simple search tool that allows travelers to search for hotels by date and location, then delivers results that can be sorted by price, distance, hotel name, and star rating. Room Key users can toggle search results to view them on a grid, in a list, or on a map.

At first glance, Room Key’s format appears to be modeled on Google Hotel Finder, the hotel search engine that Google unveiled last summer. Like Hotel Finder, Room Key results link to the hotels’ websites rather than a third-party booking site, thereby ensuring “a personalized and welcoming experience that offers flexibility, accuracy, and benefits of booking with the hotel companies’ proprietary sites,” according to Shafiq Khan, senior vice president of ecommerce, Marriott International. Choice Hotels International’s Senior Vice President of Global Distribution Robert McDowell added, “We at Choice are thrilled to be a part of Room Key alongside these five other global hotel companies. In the face of a staggering number of online booking options, our goal is to make the experience of finding the right hotel as personal and enjoyable as the experience of staying in one.”

Room Key’s beta launch includes only U.S. hotels, but that should change in a future iteration of the site given the vast inventory of properties available under Room Key’s six partners. Also look for the site to expand with more user reviews, comparison tools, and social sharing of travel plans.

Hipmunk makes travel planning easier with integrated calendar technology

hipmunkIn recent months and years, flight search technology has greatly improved (hello, Google Flights!), but it still isn’t a mind reader.

Launching today, travel site Hipmunk’s new Google Calendar integration aims to make travel planning even easier. The site has launched an upgrade that integrates your Google calendar directly into the travel-planning process, meaning that you’ll automatically be looking for flights that automatically leave after your night grad school class and get you back in town in time for that important business meeting on Monday.

It’s a great idea – the idea of personalizing and customizing the search experience has greatly changed both the search landscape and traveler behavior in recent years – and the idea of being able to “sync” or share multiple calendars makes planning group trips much easier.

We can easily see the application – it would make it much easier to plan that girlfriend getaway, coordinate with a significant other’s work schedule, or even plan a last-minute meeting out of town that doesn’t interfere with other work events.

The program can even plot multiple destinations on a map and help you select a hotel that’s convenient to your needs – something we’ve seen on sites like Trippy and loved.

You can get live help via a chat feature, search by price, duration, departure, arrival and airline and also see the amount of layover time and which airport you’ll be connecting through, all in one easy spreadsheet-like feature. There’s also a funny “agony” button that allows you to see similar flights that are “worse than this one.” It’s also easy to use “flex” features that allow you to search within a one- to three-day window. You can’t book through the site, but you can easily click to book directly through the airline, with your search parameters already inputted into the query – you’re deposited directly into the payment screen.
On the hotel front, the site is fairly easy to negotiate, allowing you to search on a map, narrow according to attractions nearby, features and even hotel chain. You can also access the service via iPhone or iPad, which makes booking travel on-the-go even easier.

Limitations? The Hipmunk program only works with Google Calendar – meaning that someone like us, who uses Outlook, won’t be helped. If you haven’t tagged an event correctly – like a friend’s birthday that you’ve accidentally scheduled as a full day event, for example – the site won’t show your time as available. It also requires that you “share” your calendar with friends / colleagues to use it, meaning we’ll have to change “bikini wax” to “important medical appointment” on our schedules…

Still, the app and new integration are on the way to helping us plan our travel. And we’ll take anything that makes our lives easier.

A roundup of travel chats hosted on Twitter

Talking travel on Twitter Hashtags. If you are on Twitter, then you have seen plenty of tweets accompanied by hashtags. A hashtag provides context to a tweet, enables tweeters to rally around a cause, as well as allows others to find tweets more easily in a search.

As Twitter has evolved, hashtags have become integral to following events and conversations. The utility of hashtags has also made it possible for groups of people with common interests to come together for daily, weekly, or monthly discussions. This has certainly been the case for travel enthusiasts, many of whom have created several hashtag talks on Twitter. If you’d like to get in on the many travel conversations on Twitter, read on as we break down the best ways to get talking about travel 140 characters at a time.#TNI
The pioneer of travel talks on Twitter, #TNI, which stands for Travelers’ Night In, was created by the ladies of ZipSetGo.com (@zipsetgo). Each Thursday at 3:30 EST, #TNI begins with a question centered around the week’s theme and continues with 10 questions tweeted out from the #TNI hosts approximately every 10 minutes. Topics have ranged from geographical subjects, such as California, to travel genres, such as adventure travel. #TNI discussions are quick, usually funny, and often enlightening for the travel information that they impart. When it’s all over, one of the members of ZipSetGo writes up a summary of that week’s discussion for the website, highlighting the best and/or wittiest answers.

Because #TNI has become such a phenomenon among travel folks on Twitter, tourism boards and PR firms often work with ZipSetGo to set a theme and provide prizes. #TNI has also become a hashtag that travel tweeters use to share their content or ask a question.

#TTOT
“Travel Talk on Twitter” or #TTOT was started by Melvin Boecher of Traveldudes.org as a way to “have a travel event on Twitter…that [doesn’t] get dominated by sponsors who pay for it.” #TTOT works similarly to #TNI, however. The talk takes place on Tuesdays at both 9:30am and 9:30pm GMT and is based around a theme chosen from questions posted on the TTOT Facebook page. Also like #TNI, #TTOT has become a catchall hashtag for travel-related tweets and questions.

#MexMonday
I’ve been following travel topics on Twitter since I joined in March 2009 and #MexMonday is the only country-specific hashtag with its own day that has any sort of staying power. Twitter user @traveldesigned began #MexMonday in September 2009 in order to promote tourism to Mexico in light of the bad press stemming from drug crime and the H1N1 virus in that country. Each Monday, Mexico aficionados tweet out content, photos, and questions using the #MexMonday hashtag.

#TravelTuesday
Tuesdays became all about travel the day that tweeter @whereivebeen began using the #TravelTuesday hashtag. Rather than being a travel discussion, #TravelTuesday, often shortened to #TT, has become a way for persons on Twitter to give a shout-out to those who provide useful travel tweets. In other words, #TravelTuesday is very much like Twitter’s most famous hashtag #FollowFriday.

#BeachThursday
If beaches are your thing, then Thursday is the time to drop in on Twitter to follow the #BeachThursday hashtag. Twitterer @isabellestravel, the blogger behind Isabelles Travel Guide, started #BeachThursday while daydreaming about the beach on a dreary Thursday afternoon. Now anyone who wants to learn more about beaches or share seaside photos can find like-minded travelers every Thursday on Twitter.

#FriFotos
It’s Friday. You’re ready for the weekend and you need something to distract you as you count down the hours. Enter #FriFotos. Organized by Jonathan Epstein of @epsteintravels, #FriFotos is the chance for travelers to show off their best travel photos based on themes, which have ranged from animals to world capitals to stone. #FriFotos is open to everyone from amateur photogs sharing blog posts or Flickr photos to professional photographers tweeting out links to portfolio shots. Always fans of big, bold photos, our friends at the Huffington Post provide information on each week’s #FriFotos theme and you can also follow @epsteintravels, @kirstenalana, or @hotelprguy on Twitter for the #FriFotos scoop.

In addition to these well-known Twitter talks, you may also be interested in following #WineWednesday which often pairs travel with terroir, and #NUTS (“Not-so Usual Therapy Session”), in which, according to host @midliferoadtrip, the “primary focus is food, travel and adventure.”

Of course, new travel talks are popping up all the time on Twitter, so stay tuned to @gadling for the latest. Better yet, follow all of Gadling’s bloggers by subscribing to the Gadling Bloggers list. Happy tweeting!

Photo / Flickr user danmoyle