This article originally appeared in TidBITS on 2017-04-11 at 3:11 p.m.
The permanent URL for this article is:
Include images: Off

Comparing Five iOS Travel Management Apps

by Mike Matthews

Well over 30 years ago, I had just started a new job when the boss strolled by — and out of the clear, blue, friendly skies asked me to make an airline reservation for him. I had little to go on, just the destination airport, travel days, and some rough travel times. I had no idea about his airline preferences, much less whether he preferred window or aisle seating.

Back in those days, you called a travel agent and stepped through the process of getting a ticket delivered to your door. Or, if you wanted to make sure the travel agent was on target, you could do a little of the legwork yourself first by looking up flights in the Official Airline Guide, a thick book with tiny phonebook type.

I eventually located a suitable set of flights and passed the info on to his assistant, who dutifully typed the itinerary on an index card for him to carry in his pocket.

How times have changed! Airlines now offer booking Web sites, their own apps, and mobile boarding passes. Plus, you can quickly and easily research flights, hotels, rental cars, and more with apps that are dedicated to that purpose. But two things haven’t changed: travel is still a very personal thing, and I’m still looking for the best way to keep all my travel info in one place. The index card approach just doesn’t cut it today.

Over the years, I’ve done a fair bit of traveling, both business and personal, and here’s what I’m looking for in a travel management app:

There are a number of candidates in the App Store, but these five stood out: Google Trips, App in the Air, Kayak, TripCase, and TripIt.

All the apps have most of the same basic features. After you set up an account with their service, they scan your email inbox for details about a trip (flight times, hotel bookings, etc.) and build an itinerary for you. With most of the apps, you can also either forward booking emails you’ve received to a standard address to create the itinerary or enter the details manually.

Once the trip is in place, the app generates additional information such as airport info and local weather, and adds it to your itinerary. You can share the trip with others, add the details to your calendar, and receive trip-related notifications such as check-in times and flight delays.

If you’re on the move, your travel plans should move with you in the most convenient way possible. So all these apps make their data accessible on different devices, and most of them extend a subset of their features to the Apple Watch. Only Google Trips lacks an Apple Watch app, and of the other four, only TripIt doesn’t include a complication that can show at-a-glance flight details such as gate information, time to check-in, and baggage claim carousels.

Also, all but Google Trips include a Messages app, which can be helpful if you regularly need to share trip details in conversations.

Beyond these basics, there’s plenty of room for each app to differentiate itself, be it through the use of crowdsourcing, packing lists, flight trackers, or the ability to book travel from within the app.

In short, there’s probably an app in this group with features that will best fit your needs. We can’t cover every nuance in this article, but let’s take a look at some of the more interesting features.

Google Trips -- Google is nearly ubiquitous and its services are generally regarded as being top tier. Plenty of people rely on Google while planning and booking travel plans, so organizing travel information with the free Google Trips [1] app seems like a reasonable extension of its services.

Setup is simple. You allow the app to access your location while using it, allow notifications about your trip to be sent to you, and sign in with your Google account, giving the app permission to detect past and future trips from information it can find in your Gmail account.

From there, the app’s real strength appears, as it suggests things to do, creates customizable daily itineraries of places to go, provides food and drink recommendations, covers how to get around in the local area, and offers “need to know” facts such as emergency numbers, shopping, and tipping info. Plus, it lets you download all this information from Google for offline viewing. Making use of Google’s vast collection of the world’s knowledge is easily the strongest part of the app.

[image link] [2]

However, Google Trips is the newest of the five apps in the group and lacks many features that the others have.

If you don’t use Gmail as your primary email provider, Google Trips won’t be nearly as useful. You can add a trip manually, but unlike the other services, Google doesn’t offer a standard email address to which your booking emails can be forwarded to create an itinerary.

Many of the other four apps offer at least some notification options. Google Trips itself contains no notification settings within the app, just the opportunity during setup to enable them — but offers no specifics as to what the notifications are. Also, in the current version of the app, you can’t share itineraries, which may be a deal-breaker for many people. There’s also just an iPhone app; no iPad, Apple Watch, or Messages app.

And now a confession: I don’t use Google’s services much. As such, Google Trips has limited value for me because it relies heavily on harvesting flight data from a Google account. As the new app on the block, it’s also missing basic features that the other more mature apps have. But if you’re waist-deep in the Google ecosystem, the way the app makes it easy to explore your destination might make it the ideal solution for you or as a companion to one of the other apps.

App in the Air -- Not surprisingly, given its name, the free App in the Air [3] focuses on managing air travel but has recently begun to branch out by allowing you to include hotel and car rental details in your itinerary.

Flights are organized into cards. Tapping a card reveals all the details from a generous selection of up to 16 customizable widgets, including a timeline, airport and airline info, an online check-in form, maps, wait times, hotel and car rental details, and more.

[image link] [4]

Unique among the five apps, App in the Air presents flight information in a timeline of four segments: Check-in, Boarding, Take-off, and Landing. Knowing these four items in a flight’s timeline can help you prepare for your flight and keep family and business associates in the loop as to your schedule.

You can also allow App in the Air to access your calendar to import existing flights and access your contacts for itinerary notifications.

App in the Air offers plenty of push and text alerts that you can activate individually (including one for in-flight exercises), but you’ll need a subscription to make them work. Other premium features ($29.99 per year with a free 14-day trial or $49.99 for lifetime access) include a family subscription and unlimited auto check-in. As with many freemium apps, it sports a long list of in-app purchases that range from disabling ads for $0.99 to a lifetime subscription for flight alerts for $49.99.

Other notable features include:

There’s a lot to like in App in the Air and there’s likely more to come. The cost to enable the additional features provided by the subscription isn’t cheap. But if you fly regularly, the lifetime subscription is probably a worthwhile bet to place, since the app receives regular feature updates. I highly recommend App in the Air.

Kayak -- Now owned by Priceline, the free Kayak [6] app boasts a long list of travel-related features. Most notably it helps you find and book flights, hotel rooms, and rental cars; and provides a top-notch interface.

You can filter your searches by a multitude of categories, including price, non-stop flights, car type, hotel brands, amenities, and much more. When the search results are presented you can book them, or in the case of flights and hotel rooms, set up a price alert. Kayak does a nice job suggesting whether it makes sense to buy an airline ticket immediately, or to wait a while and see if prices come down.

Kayak takes travel planning a step further with its Explore feature. You set parameters for your trip, such as a budget, time of year, location, and activities, and Kayak responds with suggestions.

Along with all the basics, once a trip is created, you can also add related events and details such as meetings, dinners, and local transportation, a plus for business travelers.

[image link] [7]

One-upping App in the Air, Kayak automatically creates a calendar feed with all your itineraries, so if information about the trip changes, it’s automatically updated in your calendar. To get the URL for the calendar feed, you’ll need to log in to Kayak on the Web and look in Trips Settings [8].

Kayak recently added the capability to import booking confirmations automatically from Gmail accounts. That’s a nice improvement, but like Google Trips, it works only with Gmail while App in the Air and TripIt can sift through the inboxes of many more email services.

Kayak provides a number of other niceties:

While it’s a good fit for personal travel, Kayak also works well for business travelers, who can use the app to include meetings and other events in their itineraries, follow flight plans of co-workers, and allow others to edit their trips. If you’re looking for a single app to plan, book, and manage travel, you can’t go wrong with Kayak, especially given that it’s entirely free.

TripCase -- Our next entry is TripCase [9], which is owned by Sabre [10] — perhaps the first company to get into the real-time, computer-based air travel booking business. TripCase provides a full array of travel management tools, including several that target business travelers.

Unlike the other apps, after you set up an account and complete your profile (which you must do to use TripCase), TripCase doesn’t search through your email for travel info and automatically build itineraries. Instead, you either:

Neither of these is as friction-free as having the app look through your inbox. And the mystery surrounding the affiliates isn’t good, either — two demerits.

[image link] [12]

Once you have a trip built, you can add activities such as meetings, restaurants, and attractions, and the app provides access to Uber, airport maps, weather, and other information right within the trip. Separate screens provide links to restaurants and things to see and do at your destination.

TripCase offers the usual trappings, such as push/email alerts and the capability to share trips with others, although updates other than flight changes are not sent automatically to people you designate. However, if those people sign up for TripCase, your trip appears in a convenient Following list, with full updates — a handy feature for business travelers.

On the calendar side, TripCase lets you do a one-time import of your trips, or it can create a calendar feed that will update itself.

Of course, there’s more:

TripCase is clearly built for business travelers. But it feels incredibly dated in terms of look and feel and lacks too many standard features that its counterparts have. Unless your company mandates its use, I recommend looking elsewhere because there are better options.

TripIt -- As with a couple of the other apps, TripIt [13] is part of a larger company’s travel portfolio. It’s owned by Concur Technologies [14], which provides travel and expense management services to businesses. Concur also owns Hipmunk [15], another app that can book flights and hotels. Combine the two and you have a travel solution aimed squarely at business travelers.

[image link] [16]

TripIt has all the basics covered and, like Kayak and TripCase, you can manually beef up your itineraries with additional travel plans, such as train or ferry trips, and activities like meetings or theater outings.

TripIt provides a calendar feed that maintains updated itineraries in your calendar app. You can share trips, which isn’t unusual, but TripIt allows you to share only parts of your itinerary, so you could choose to share flight info but not hotel arrangements, for example.

For $49 per year, you can upgrade to TripIt Pro and get flight status alerts by text or email, reward tracking with a number of vendors, check-in reminders, automatic trip sharing, flight refund monitoring, and more. That cost is higher than what other apps charge, but you can try TripIt Pro for 30 days for free.

TripIt is big on social via its Network feature, offering a dizzying array of options, including:

And that’s not all:

TripIt is solid on all fronts and works equally well for both personal and business travel. If you travel a lot, the Pro features are a must-have. Unless you have a big problem with using a separate app to book travel, TripIt has you covered.

Book It -- Let’s wrap it up. All five of these apps can work for personal travel, but Kayak, App in the Air, and TripIt are clearly ahead of Google Trips and TripCase thanks to a more complete set of features.

Kayak and TripIt are best suited for business travelers given their capability to add other activities to trip itineraries, and the inclusion of TripIt’s $49 Pro package gives it a slight edge over Kayak for business travelers.

With its features that appeal to groups and teams, TripIt is the best option for organizations that need to manage complex travel calendars and costs, bolstering its position as the best app for business travelers.