All the amazing travel search and booking websites that make it easier to be a globe-trotter can also create a mess of your email inbox. Confirmation messages, alerts regarding flight delays, and reminders to check-in online and snag an aisle seat can make you feel totally disorganized and unprepared for your trip. TripIt (free to $49 per year for a Pro account) has long offered a unique and worthwhile solution. Its Web app, unfortunately, seems to have stagnated in recent years, while its mobile apps provide a much better experience.
I spend a good deal of time organizing and planning my vacations each year, and I want to like TripIt more than I do. Although the Internet says the world is shifting toward a mobile-only tech landscape, I still find that certain tasks require time in front of a big-screen computer—travel planning being one of them. The website TripIt.com falls short in what it could offer travelers, even though the service it provides is valuable. It’s also, well, ugly. It looks like it hasn’t seen a redesign in years.
How TripIt! Works
TripIt’s primary function is to connect to your email accounts—yes, multiple accounts are supported –so that it can find and summarize important travel information from confirmation emails. TripIt strips out all the fine print to give you just the facts you need, such as arrival and departure times, airport terminals, confirmation numbers, phone numbers for hotels or third-party booking sites such as Orbitz, and a few other pertinent pieces of information. TripIt! includes restaurant reservations and activities you book, too.
If TripIt somehow misses a confirmation email, you can forward it to email@example.com, and the service will figure out what to do with it.
To test the forward-from-email feature, I sent along a flight itinerary that had originally come to me from a travel agent in the form of an attached Word document (and don’t get me started on that). It was for a flight that had already taken place. I wondered what TripIt would do. Within a minute of sending the file, a new item appeared in my account under “unfiled items.” I could edit, copy, move, or delete it. I could also open it and then add it to an existing trip, or create a new trip. It asked me to select the type of travel arrangement (a flight in this case), and then populated the screen with empty fields for things like airline, confirmation number, departure time, airport of origination, and so on.
You can add elements of travel from the Web app at any time—you don’t have to forward an email to do it. And that works well for times when you don’t actually have (or need) a confirmation email, like when you make plans to meet colleagues for drinks. You can add that item to your itinerary without needing the full details.
The Extra Mile
The service not only keeps track of your flights, but also how much you spend in total, frequent-flyer details, and your seat assignments. Those last two features are only available with a Pro membersship, however, and this costs $49 per year. A free 30-day trial requires a credit card and manual cancellation. Beware.
Points Tracker is the feature that lets you monitor travel rewards points so that TripIt can let you know if miles are about to expire. When I tested it, however, I learned it doesn’t support United, American Airlines, or Delta. Really? Those are three of the largest passenger air carriers in the U.S.! A hint on the Points Tracker page tells you to instead forward your monthly statement from these companies to firstname.lastname@example.org, and TripIt will track the points automatically, much as you can forward itinerary confirmations it may have missed. Nevertheless, I was shocked it didn’t support the big three airlines. Most other rewards travel monitoring tools I’ve seen have worked fine with them. I had better luck connecting to Jet Blue and British Airways, for what it’s worth.
The Seat Tracker feature is pretty cool, finding the exact aircraft for your flight and offering tips and details about which seats and rows will be the most or least comfortable. You can also set up requirements for your seat, a window seat over the wing for instance, or two free seats together, and set TripIt to alert you by email or SMS when such as option becomes available.
All TripIt members, Pro or free, can look up maps of their destinations (or origin, for that matter) and search for things nearby. In testing, however, this feature proved completely fruitless. I’m bound for Puerto Rico in a few weeks, and a search for “snorkeling” near San Juan found something of interest in Costa Rica as its closest match. Boo, hiss.
One big benefit of TripIt is the ability to connect with your fellow travelers or business associates to centralize travel between multiple people. You can find friends who also use TripIt by permitting the site to access your contacts in email, Facebook, Twitter, and a few other social networking sites. There’s a separate but related service called TripIt Teams designed for team travel, which is more geared toward businesses than individuals, if you’re interested. (Fun fact: TripIt’s parent company is Concur, a company that specializes in business travel-expense reporting, too.)
By default, TripIt! sends you a confirmation email when it finds an itinerary and has added it to your trip, which I find gratuitous. I don’t want extra emails. If the whole point of TripIt is to simplify travel management, why generate more emails? I’d rather receive nothing at all, or perhaps a weekly summary, but certainly not a one-by-one confirmation that the service is working as expected. You’ll want to immediately change your settings from the TripIt Web app to cut down on email. You might also want to review what will be publicly available, what can be seen by friends, and what’s private in the TripIt profile settings.
TripIt shines on mobile devices, used when you’re in the midst of traveling and need to access your itinerary quickly and effortlessly. One the Web, it falls a little flat, even though it’s on the whole quite useful and practical as a service. It’s such a missed opportunity. There’s a lot TripIt could and should do to enhance the experience for its users. Heck, even a facelift of the dated interface would make it a little easier on the eyes.
I still think it’s a good service, especially if your email inbox is in need of serious clean up, but be sure to turn off many of those default email alerts before you get too far with TripIt.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc