Managing travel itineraries: Easier said then done even with digital toolsNewsBy Viewpoints | December 11, 2012Share This article was originally published on NB: This article is a continuation of our TCritic series, where reviewers from across the industry cast their eye across products, services and software. The author is Mark Peacock, of Travel Commons. Back in the golden age of travel, when everyone dressed up to fly (or at least showered and shaved) and there was legroom in coach, frequent travelers used travel agencies to book travel. Before you left on your trip, your agent sent you physical plane tickets and a printed itinerary with your flight, hotel, and car rental reservations onto a single page. You got at least three copies -- one for your admin, one for your spouse, and one for you. And at the bottom as an 800 number to call if something went wrong. In today’s DIY (do it yourself) age of travel, where people are searching and booking their own travel a la carte -- using Hipmunk for flights, Orbitz for hotels, and booking a car directly with Avis -- and then want to share these plans with 450 of their geographically distributed “friends”, there is a need to update those paper itineraries with something a bit more interactive – that’s where travel management apps come into play. THE PRODUCT: Trip Management Apps for iPhone and Android PhonesTHE PROMISE: “Manage your trip from your smartphone”THE FEATURES: "Everything but the kitchen sink" [table id=3534 /] THE KILLER FEATURE: "Not having to dig in pants pockets/digital folders/brain for travel details"THE TRUTH: "It depends on what you need" As a test bed, I used a November trip to New York on United Airlines during the nor’easter the Weather Channel named “Winter Storm Athena” to test the free apps and a Utah ski vacation on Southwest Airlines to test the paid apps. I loaded the apps on an AT&T iPhone 5 running iOS 6.0.1 and a Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 tablet running Android 4.1.2 (“Jelly Bean”). I tested three common travel management scenarios Integrating multiple trip components into a single itinerarySharing the trip itineraryReceiving real-time updates during an “irregular ops” situationIntegrated Trip Itinerary All the apps quickly and correctly parsed the United and Southwest confirmation e-mails that I forwarded to their special e-mail addresses (e.g., firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com). They all picked up a stopover in Las Vegas on the Southwest trip; TripIt and WorldMate explicitly called out its 40-min length. Two of the apps also have ways of automatically ingesting your travel plans if you book through one of their partners. Concur Solutions, which owns TripIt, will automatically send your itineraries to TripIt. You can also authorize TripIt to scan a GMail account several times a day for confirmation e-mails. TripCase, owned by the Sabre, can pick up trips made in Sabre or Travelocity. I assume WorldMate is planning a similar connection with Carlson Wagonlit after its acquisition by CWT is complete, but nothing has been announced. Trip Itinerary Sharing In this day and age, people typically interpret “sharing” as a social media posting -- Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn. However, there are different levels of trip itinerary sharing. I might want to post to Facebook and LinkedIn that I’m planning a New York trip, trolling for some serendipitous beer drinking, but might not I want to widely broadcast my flight and hotel details to the thousands of connections in my social media network.. But to a much smaller group, someone scheduling my meetings, meeting me at the airport, and my wife, I want to share all my trip details as well as any delay/rescheduling updates as soon as they happen. All of the apps handle what I’d call the base level of social media sharing, publishing to Facebook and LinkedIn, though it doesn’t appear that WorldMate pushes to Facebook automatically. I like TripIt’s two pushes -- “I’m planning a trip” when I book the trip and then “I’m leaving” the day before departure. TripCase and WorldMate could publish to Twitter. TripIt couldn’t, but could push to enterprise social apps like Salesforce Chatter and Yammer. For sharing more detailed plans, the free versions of TripIt and TripCase publish web calendar feeds you can pull into all of the popular calendar programs (Microsoft Outlook, Google Calendar, Apple iCal). Getting it set up can be a bit fiddly (requires subscribing to a webcal feed), but once in place, your spouse or assistant sees your updated travel calendar next to theirs. Getting the same functionality from WorldMate requires an upgrade to their paid Gold product. But for ad-hoc “here’s where I’m going to be when” sharing, nothing beats untrendy e-mail. Which you’d think this would be easy. And for WorldMate and TripCase it was -- click on the Share button and they quickly shot out a one-page e-mail with all the trip details formatted in a nice table. TripIt sent out an e-mail with a big blue “View Trip” button in the middle. Pressing that button takes the recipient to a TripIt login page. Guess you need to be a TripIt user before I can send you my itinerary. Way too much work if I need to quickly share my travel plans with a colleague. Real Time Flight Updates When you’re on a trip and things start to go wrong, what airlines like to call “irregular ops”, you need accurate and fast notifications of flight delays, cancellations, gate changes. This is where trip management apps can be invaluable. TripCase is the only app providing flight updates in its free version. TripIt and WorldMate require you to upgrade to their paid products, TripIt Pro and WorldMate Gold. All three applications use the push notifications capabilities on the iPhone and Android to deliver the updates -- the phone dings, lights up to show the update on the lock screen, and then keeps the update in the notification center. This works great if you have good data connectivity. Not always the case in a crowded airport; certainly not if you’re with AT&T. Or if you’re out of the country and keeping your cellular data turned off to keep from racking up a huge bill. TripCase and TripIt provide the option for text (SMS) notifications which use the phone network instead. And all of them were faster than the airline’s notifications. Each app provides a single screen trip status with current departure/arrival time and gate information, though in my tests, TripIt’s screen didn’t provide gate information until an hour before departure; much later than the other two. TripIt and TripCase did the best job of updating expected arrival times. Choosing the best screen layout is very subjective, but I preferred WorldMate’s status screen. I like how the design highlights the most important information, the departure time. WorldMate and TripCase also do a good job in using color to highlight key information. Both use red fonts to indicate late flights; TripCase also uses red to highlight recently updated information. All three apps use the push notifications capabilities on the iPhone and Android to deliver the updates -- the phone dings, lights up to show the update on the lock screen, and then keeps the update in the notification center. All of them were faster than the airline’s notifications on my iPhone. However, only WorldMate’s notifications appeared consistently on my Android tablet. TripCase and TripIt provide the option for text (SMS) notifications, a good backup for places with poor data coverage. Other Features Quick access to alternative flight schedules is often critical while navigating “irregular ops” situations. All three apps offered this capability. TripIt Pro and TripCase Pro, the upgraded versions, were the best. They offered one-click searches direct from flight legs with seat availability. TripIt Pro goes one step further, telling you the actual number of seats available; a key piece of information when deciding to book an alternative flight. TripCase and WorldMate have currency converters updated with the latest exchange rates. TripCase’s converter is linked to your trips, showing the conversions for the countries in your itinerary. Convenient, but also a bit limiting. There’s no obvious way to switch to a country not on your TripCase itinerary. THE TCRITIC TAKE: TripCase for smartphone only; WorldMate Gold for iPhone + iPad If you only use a smartphone, the free TripCase app is the best choice. It was in the top of all three scenarios: itinerary building and sharing, and real-time flight status updates. However, it doesn’t have a tablet-specific app, just scaled up the smartphone app. iPad users should pay the $9.90/year for WorldMate Gold’s universal (iPhone + iPad) app. There’s nothing in TripIt Pro that justifies it’s $49/year price tag. The handful of Android tablet users should just accept the scaled-up TripCase app and hope for better treatment in 2013. TripCase plans on releasing an all new product in the coming months, so that certainly could be a game-changer. THE RATING: "Generally good" [table id=3535 /] SNAP POLL: [poll id ="72"] NB: This article is a continuation of our TCritic series, where reviewers from across the industry cast their eye across products, services and software. The author is Mark Peacock, of Travel Commons.