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*Intro* I'd read about this website in the travel section of my Sunday paper. It sounded so good that for my summer trip Inter-Railing in Europe (also see my review of my hotel in Paris), I decided to give it a try. The site is part of MoneySupermarket.com. What is does is basically search the Internet for you. So rather than visit Lastminute.com, Opodo, Travelocity, you just use one site. Why spend hours trawling through sites, when one does it all for you? So much quicker and easier, and you will get a bargain. Of course, the site claims to search a vast number of travel sites (and I'm sure it does), but it doesn't search the entire Internet - none of theses sites do. So you are never guaranteed the best possible price. I think it is important to stress this. The home page is far too busy for my liking, as I prefer simple website design. There are banner ads, and links to services such as "e-mail alerts to this week's best buys" and "top destinations" (possibly unnecessary, possibly useful, depending on your point of view). The home page basically consists of a list of the websites the site searches for hotels, car hire and flights. There is perhaps an assumption you know what the site is, as it isn't explained. You can buy all kinds of travel related things - hotels, flights, travel insurance and car hire. You click on the link to what you're looking to buy on the bar across the top of the page. As well as just one product, you can also search for flight, hotel and car hire together. You can also look at flight and hotel, or flight and car hire. (But not hotel and car hire). You are given these options again when you click on one…a bit pointless, surely you already know what you want? Although admittedly it might not have occurred to you to buy, say, hotel and flight together. The site is not difficult to navigate. It is just a bit busy and there are too many links which all go to the same page. The pages all tend to have banner ads, which I just find annoying as it makes the site too busy. They are travel-related, so some people might be interested. One thing that really bugs me is the annoying pop-ups…every time you click on a new page. Excessive and annoying.
*Hotel Bookings* It does find some cheap hotels. It searches a huge number of well-known travel sites, there is a list on the home page but they include Lastminute.com, Opodo, ebookers, Expedia, British Airways, Holiday Inn, Intercontinental, etc. "and many more" (no way of substantiating this claim!). A site I hadn't heard of before is Rates To Go, which is the site I booked my hotel through. Another is Alpha Rooms. You tell the site where you want to go and when, and how many people are going, as usual. Helpfully, there is a mini calendar which pops up when you go to put in the date. I like this, it's a pain to sit there thinking "that Saturday is the 8th, isn't it…or is it the 7th?" You can choose the star rating of your hotel, 1-3, 4-5 and 5+. You will see a list of hotels, price, star rating, address and (sometimes) a picture. It will take some time to come up with the list (depending on your Internet connection obviously) it can be a couple of minutes. You can see the progress of your search as a percentage, which is useful. You can also see your list as it is being compiled, and watch as new, cheaper hotels are added to the list (which is quite satisfying!). You click on "more" if you like the sound of the hotel and you are transferred to the relevant site. From then on you are dealing with that site, and you book your hotel through them. Travel Supermarket is just a gateway. However, the site is opened in a new window, so you can easily navigate back to your original list to compare hotels. You are usually taken to the details of the hotel you selected. There isn't always much to go on, just price, star rating, possibly a picture, and an address - which won't mean anything to you unless you know your destination well. One gripe I have is that with some sites, you are taken immediately to the page with details of the hotel you are interested I, but some don't do this - e.g. last minute.com. You are just transferred to the site home page and have to search all over again. This defeats the whole point of the exercise really! Some sites offer their own list of hotels as well as the one you followed the link to. You could easily get lost and confused! The selection of hotels - well, see my review of my hotel in Paris which I found through this site, and was very happy with. This is not the best site for a real budget traveller who doesn't mind where they sleep. There are no youth hostels, etc. However, if you are looking for a cheapish break with slightly more comfort than the YMCA, you will often get a bargain. You can find hotels in Paris for as little as £23 a night. These tend to be way out from the city centre though. You could find somewhere quite nice and central for £35 - £50 a night. (This is going by my search back in June, and I've just done one for next weekend to compare. Prices are quite similar, although I think there is a better selection now, not being peak tourist season!) You probably get the best deals by booking far ahead, but not too far ahead - e.g. a week or 5 days. But then, you might get a great deal by waiting until the day before, if your nerves are strong enough. This is of course the problem with buying travel over the Internet!
*Flight booking* The process is much the same as for hotels. Again, the usual suspects are searched, including EasyJet, RyanAir etc. Unfortunately, I found it impossible to book a flight to the UK - my plan was to InterRail from Paris to Rome, then fly back from Rome. For that reason, I booked a flight directly with the airline's website.
*Summary* Travel Supermarket...as in ASDA. What did I mean by that? Well, you get a different experience in Waitrose than you do in ASDA. TravelSupermarket is by analogy is the ASDA of the travel website world. Cheap and cheerful, reliable, great for what it is, but if you want class or luxury, try somewhere else!