10 travel apps to smooth your next business trip
By John Brandon, Computerworld, 15 July 2016.
By John Brandon, Computerworld, 15 July 2016.
It sometimes seems as if business travel is expressly designed to raise blood pressure. Cancelled flights, long airport security lines, even a misplaced receipt for your expense report can throw a monkey wrench into your trip. To help, we’ve rounded up several mobile apps designed to reduce travel stress in a variety of ways, from booking a flight or last-minute hotel room to finding a quiet airport lounge or secure Wi-Fi hotspot. With one exception, all of our picks are available for both iOS and Android devices, and many are free.
Hopper takes the guesswork out of flight booking, particularly if you have a little flexibility. The free app lets you quickly search for a flight using your current location. Color coding shows price ranges for given dates, so it's easy to spot cheaper options. When we used it to find flights from Minneapolis to San Francisco, it uncovered a few dates with much lower fares. Hopper also predicts the best time to buy tickets and sends push notifications when prices drop.
2. FlightView Flight Tracker
FlightView's Flight Tracker is a powerful...well, flight-tracking app. You can either type in your flight number (or route) or forward your flight confirmation email to firstname.lastname@example.org to automatically add it to your saved trips. The US$1 app shows your terminal and gate, any flight or airport delay information, real-time flight-tracking with a radar weather overlay, the weather in your destination city and the baggage claim information. It can also send you real-time flight status notifications, give driving directions to the airport, and show you the location and flight status of the plane you'll be getting on if it's coming from another location. And like all of the apps we selected for this roundup, FlightView is fast.
There's an ad-supported free version of Flight Tracker, but we don't recommend it; the ads can be annoying and slow things down. There's also a US$4 Elite version that adds arrival and departure boards for top airports, but we think the main Flight Tracker app offers the best bang for the buck.
Your flight is delayed; now the waiting begins. A good tip? Make the wait more comfortable by finding an airport lounge with LoungeBuddy. Enter your frequent flier accounts, elite statuses, airline credit cards and so on into the free app, then plug in your trip itinerary. LoungeBuddy shows you which lounges you can enter for free at the airport you're in. You can also browse fee-based lounges and check out amenities, photos and star ratings from other travelers before you pay to enter.
The DUFL app is the front end for a highly unusual travel service that promises to take the pain out of packing for a business trip. You register via the app, and DUFL sends you a large suitcase that you send back filled with your own business travel clothes, which DUFL photographs, inventories, cleans and stores. When it's time for a trip, use the app to select the items you want to bring, submit your itinerary, and a suitcase filled with your selected clothes will be waiting at your hotel when you arrive. At the end of the trip, the service will pick up, clean and store your clothes so they'll be ready for your next trip.
At US$10 per month for storage, plus US$99 per trip, the service isn't cheap, but it can pay for itself when you factor in fees for checked bags and dry cleaning, not to mention the hassle of schlepping a suitcase around and waiting for checked baggage. DUFL isn't for everyone, to be sure - for one thing, it assumes that your business clothes are not clothes you want to wear at home. But it's an intriguing prospect for some business travelers.
Oh, joy - your flight just got cancelled and you really don't want to sit in the airport all night. Time to fire up HotelTonight. Its big selling point? Immediacy. The free app uses your current location and shows you low-cost hotel rooms available that night, with no pesky login required (unless you book the room). The company partners with hotels in hundreds of cities around the world to offer unsold rooms at discounted prices. (If you don't need or want to wait till the last minute, you can book up to a week in advance.)
Lola (short for longitude and latitude) is a new chat-based app, an interesting hybrid of artificial intelligence and human travel agent. Most of the time you chat with an actual human, but behind the scenes, a bot is helping that person find you flights, rental cars and hotels based on preferences you select in the app as well as your past travel with Lola. The idea is to zero in on the best options for you rather than showing you an endless list of possibilities. Miss a flight or want to add a day in Chicago before heading home? You can chat with an agent for real-time help changing your itinerary on the fly.
Lola is free for now, but it's also invitation only. Download the app (iOS only) to get on the waiting list. The company says it will start charging an annual membership fee "soon."
Available for iOS
7. Avast Wi-Fi Finder
Avast Wi-Fi Finder has two main purposes. First, the free app shows any Wi-Fi networks in your vicinity, noting whether they're private or public. More importantly, it reveals whether each network is secure (and how it's secured). As a bonus, it also shows the signal strength of each network, along with speed and reliability ratings from other users. Recommended networks - those with the best security and speed ratings - show up first. There's even a map view to guide you to safe, reliable hotspots nearby.
Image: Google Play
MobileDay saves time when you have a conference call to make on the road. The free app looks through your calendar and reminds you about upcoming calls, then, with one tap, it automatically enters the required digits - dial-in numbers, IDs, passcodes and all. You can even send the other attendees a quick note if you're running late. After testing a full day of calls, we found the app made our day much smoother. One caveat: Instead of direct dial, calls made with MobileDay are routed through the company's private network and may incur charges for those without unlimited long-distance calling.
Image: Google Play
This is not your typical "deals" app. Gogobot, which is free, uses your current location (or you can search for any city) to suggest places to eat and things to do; drill down and you can see what other users have to say about local hotels, restaurants and more. You can join a "tribe" (like Business Travelers) to get recommendations geared toward your style of travel. A major perk? It's lightning fast.
A June update to the iOS app added an artificial intelligence component that takes weather conditions, time of day and other changing factors into account when making recommendations. As of this writing, that AI enhancement has not been added to the Android app.
One of the major pains of business travel is keeping track of all your expenses. That's why we like Expensify's SmartScan feature: It lets you simply take pictures of your receipts as you go along to automatically create expenses (complete with date, vendor and amount) that you can add to an expense report throughout your trip. From the app you can also add and edit expenses, track your time, track your mileage and create an expense from it. Optionally, the app can sync to your credit card for automatic transaction import.
Expensify's business plans offer many more features, including expense approvals from the app, corporate expense policy integration and the ability to sync with QuickBooks and other tools. Individuals can use Expensify for free; business plans start at US$5 per user per month. Note that with the free account, you get only 10 SmartScans per month, although you can still upload as many receipts as you want and enter the expense info manually. With the paid plans, each user gets an unlimited number of SmartScans.
Top image credit: Unsplash/Pixabay
[Source: Computerworld. Edited. Images added.]