3 June 2013

10 best iPad and iPhone apps for planning your holiday

Booking a holiday used to be easy, kind of expensive and occasionally disappointing: you'd spend hours poring over brochures before popping to the travel agent and booking a fortnight in what inevitably turned out to be a building site halfway up a volcano.

 Now we have access to the kind of information holidaymakers of yesteryear could only dream of. We can find out what many of brochures don't to tell us, as well as the best time to hit the buffet; how to shave hundreds, or even thousands, of pounds off the price of hotels, car hire and flights; and how to find the best attractions, exhibitions and eateries in places we've never been to before.

A few well-chosen vacation-planning apps can make sure your holiday memories are happy rather than horrible. Some apps will help you find the cheapest deals or advise you on the best days to fly. Others can help you find the perfect place with the help of hundreds of other holidaymakers' honest opinions and top tips - some apps will even make sure you don't forget to pack your pants.

Whether you're a creature of habit or a fearless explorer - and whether your holiday's a budget break or an expensive extravaganza - the right apps can make sure you don't pay more than you need to while helping you find the best places to stay, the most interesting places to visit and the best times to go. They can even help you learn the lingo and find your way around when you get there.

So grab your bucket and spade, and discover how you too can plan an app-y holiday with these top holiday planning apps for iOS.

1. Kayak

Price: Free
Works with: iPhone, iPod touch, iPad
Kayak is a kind of Swiss Army Knife for travelling: it enables you to search for the best and/or cheapest flights, hotel rooms and car hire deals, and it has a handy Price Alerts feature to let you know if prices go up or down. It knows about add-on fees such as airport charges and hotel taxes, and you can even book everything from within the app.

That last bit is how Kayak makes its money: it gets paid for referring people. It's a very good app - especially if you're planning to visit the US - but it isn't perfect: for example, if you search for flights from Glasgow to Faro, it suggests British Airways via Heathrow without letting you know that, if you go a few days later, EasyJet has direct flights for one-fifth of the cost.

Kayak does know about those flights, but it doesn't tell you about them because they aren't on the dates you specified. It's definitely worth trying a few different date ranges to see what difference it makes.

Kayak comes in two versions: the standard app (free) and Kayak Pro (69p). There's hardly any difference between the two versions bar airport terminal maps - which Pro users get and free users don't. Everything else is the same, so whichever version you go for, you're getting a really handy travel app.

2. TripAdvisor

Price: Free
Works with: iPhone, iPod touch, iPad
The main draw with TripAdvisor isn't the booking engine or the hotel prices (although TripAdvisor is a good deal finder); it's the user reviews. We've used the TripAdvisor website and app for years, and despite the odd bit of obvious fakery - 'this run-down hotel is the best hotel in the world and I am not the owner in disguise, honestly, I'm not!' - it's saved us from booking the kind of holiday you remember for all the wrong reasons.

It tells you what the brochures don't: that this hotel is on top of a cliff; this one's next to a building site; this one's full of stag nights, and so on. TripAdvisor doesn't just warn you - if 400 people reckon your first choice is a god-forsaken hell-hole, the sidebar shows you a whole host of alternative options with equally honest reviews.

The trick is to ignore the very worst and very best reviews and concentrate on the 'it was great, but…' ones - they tend to be the most reliable and trustworthy opinions. TripAdvisor is as good at finding local restaurants as it is at finding things for you to do when you travel abroad. It also provides access to TripAdvisor's great forums, where you can get advice on everything from gayfriendly hotels to the best places to take easily bored children and adults alike.

3. Skyscanner

Price: Free
Works with: iPhone, iPod touch, iPad
When it comes to booking flights, Skyscanner is the app to beat. When you launch the free app it shows a collection of last-minute deals from your nearest airport, and if you're looking for something specific, it brings the results back as a handy graph showing just how expensive flights for each day is.

If your dates are flexible, that feature alone will save you a fortune, because prices vary from day to day. For example, if we'd wanted to fly to Paris from Glasgow on the fifth of the month, the cheapest flights were £94 per person, but if we were willing to wait a week, the same flights were just £34.

You can filter the results by the number of stops, direct flights and so on, and when you select certain times, Skyscanner looks for the best prices from multiple booking agents including Expedia and Lastminute.com.

4. TripIt

Price: Free
Works with: iPhone, iPod touch, iPad
So what if you're organising a trip with more than one provider or service? With Tripit, you email all your confirmations to them using the app and the service works out what's going on and adds it to your TripIt itinerary. It can easily recognise confirmation emails from some 3,000 different booking services for flights, concerts, restaurants, hotels and other key travel services - it also converts those emails into diary entries with related information such as contact information and prices paid.

If, for whatever reason, the emails don't work - and we found a few instances where emails simply vanished into the ether without turning up in our TripIt app - you can enter the details manually. The app also includes a 'find what's nearby' feature to help locate cash machines and other essentials during your trip.
The core TripIt app is free, or 69p if you don't like ads - there's also a $49 annual subscription.

5. Airbnb

Price: Free
Works with: iPhone, iPod touch
You don't need to spend a fortune on accommodation when you travel. With the excellent - and free - Airbnb app, you can find details of incredibly cheap places to stay all over the world, and there's a handy 'I need somewhere tonight!' option that finds places near you when you haven't booked ahead.

Airbnb knows about accommodation in some 33,000 cities across 192 countries, and it's great for finding deals. The available options cover everything from shared spare rooms to full apartment rentals.

It's important to note that Airbnb is a marketplace, not a travel agent. Think of it as eBay for accommodation, a service that brings buyers and sellers together, but one that doesn't do background checks and might attract the odd conmerchant. Make sure you read airbnb.co.uk/safety - Airbnb's Trust & Safety Centre - before you commit to anything.

6. British Airways

Price: Free
Works with: iPhone, iPod touch
BA was quick to embrace the power of iOS, and its BA app does everything you'd expect with the minimum of fuss. There are downloadable maps for the world's bigger airport terminals, a very fast search engine that doesn't try to lead you to the most expensive options, online check-ins, Wi-Fi passwords for the airport lounge if you're a Silver or Gold Executive Club member and up-to-date information about arrivals and departures.

The app even doubles as a boarding card - it enables you to download and display a machine-readable boarding pass that'll satisfy security and get you on board the aircraft. If you're in the Executive Club, you can also use the app to store and display all your future bookings - membership is free and, of course, you can join from inside the app. It's typically BA: smart, stylish and efficient without fuss or faffing around.

7. Travel List

Price: £1.49 / $1.99
Works with: iPhone, iPod touch
If you've ever got to a destination only to discover that you forgot to pack your pants, you'll see the value of Travel List immediately. This useful app lets you put together a list of everything you need and ensures you pack it.

As you pack, you tick items off the list, and if you attempt to leave with items still unticked, the app will sound an alarm to alert you. Travel List comes pre-populated with most items - shirts, t-shirts, dresses, makeup, personal care, gadgets, chargers and so on - and you can, of course, add your own items if the developer hasn't included them already.

In a nice touch, you can copy any existing packing lists to new destinations or trips, because there are some things (underwear, passports, sun cream) that might appear on every list you make. It also syncs over iCloud, letting you update your lists from any iOS device or Mac - perfect if you're making a list between devices.

8. Jets - Flight & Seat Advisor

Price: £1.99 / $2.99
Works with: iPhone, iPod touch
These days, many airlines allow you to choose your own seat - charging handsomely for the privilege, of course - but how do you know what you're paying for? Enter Jets, an app that can make the difference between travelling in comfort and being unable to stand up when your plane lands. Simply enter the name of your airline, pick the plane you'll be flying in, and Jets shows you exactly what each seat does.

You'll see which ones recline and which ones don't; which ones have the most legroom; which ones are next to the food preparation area or the toilets and which ones have funny little tray tables and nowhere to put your stuff.

The app knows most but not all airlines - so Ryanair, BMI Baby and EasyJet are there, but not Jet2 - but if you can find out what kind of plane you'll be on, you can see the seating plan and make your booking based on the standard seating plans.

9. Google Maps

Price: Free
Works with: iPhone, iPod touch
Google Maps isn't just a great app to have on holiday (although you need to watch out for data roaming charges if you're using it to navigate while abroad) - it's a great app to help you plan your holiday, too.

Google's driving directions are superb, and we've found its estimates of driving times to be very accurate - and that means the app's a great way to plan days out or road trips, exploring different options and zooming in to see what the terrain is like.

You can also use it to prevent disappointment by switching to satellite view and/or Street View to get a really good look at potential places to stay. That way, you can see if the location is really as unspoilt and idyllic as the brochure blurb suggests - or if it's between an army firing range and a sewage treatment plant.

The combination of Google Maps and TripAdvisor can really help you avoid a nightmare holiday.

10. EasyJet Mobile

Price: Free
Works with: iPhone, iPod touch
One day, every airline will embrace Apple's Passbook and make travelling that little bit less annoying, but for now, the British ones prefer to have their own proprietary apps, if they offer apps at all.

EasyJet is one of the airlines that has embraced apps, and its EasyJet Mobile app enables you to find and book flights; add options such as specific seats; sports equipment or extra baggage; see the status of your flight on the day and book additional items such as hotels. The app works well enough, but it's not ideal for people who like to think long term - when we tried to book flights four months ahead, the app listed outbound flights, but no return ones.

There are also some curious omissions, so, for example, you can't use the app to check in online, and you can't use it instead of a paper boarding card. It's more of a travel booking app than a travel app.


  1. Nice article as for me. It would be great to read something more concerning this theme. The only thing it would also be great to see on this blog is some pics of some gadgets.

  2. I am very much pleased with the contents you have mentioned. I wanted to thank you for this great article. I enjoyed every little bit part of it and I will be waiting for the new updates.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. The apps that you have listed are awesome. I like the app Skyscanner in particular, because it provides a graph of flight ticket price which helps users to book their tickets when the price is less.

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