8 must-have travel apps
(CNN) — Whether you've got wanderlust or an airline grievance, here are some apps to pack onto your phone.
We've all experienced delayed or canceled flights, and AirHelp thinks you should be compensated for it.
AirHelp -- which has five full-time lawyers on its 35-person staff -- helps travelers determine what they're entitled to when their travel plans are disrupted.
According to AirHelp, 26.5 million travelers are entitled to monetary compensation each year -- and less than 2% actually file claims.
"The problem is trying to figure out what your rights are," said cofounder Nicolas Michaelsen.
They resolve most claims within six to eight weeks (unless further legal action is needed).
"We'll follow through and take the airline to court," said Michaelsen. "We've done that a lot of times."
So far, they've been mostly successful: 90% of their 50,000 users have received money back -- with an average payout of $600 before AirHelp takes its 25% share.
A wayfarer's best friend, HitList keeps tabs on all the destinations you've been eying for your next vacation.
The site offers an alternative to endlessly perusing the web or waiting to book until a specific time of the week. Users select potential travel destinations, and then HitListmonitors real-time flight prices and sends email notifications when rates drop.
In addition to acting like a travel agent, HitList's image-based design encourages discovery. Users can browse locations, see the best time of year to travel and compare flight times. There's also a Facebook (FB, Tech30) plug-in that shares where friends have traveled (because if everyone's going somewhere, so should you).
Flights are booked through Skyscanner, one of the largest search engine databases.
3. Mobile Passport Control
The customs process is being digitized.
This month, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection unveiled its Mobile Passport Control app, which aims to speed up the cumbersome customs process.
U.S. and Canadian citizens create a profile with their passport information. For each trip, they just select their flight info, take a selfie and answer customs questions directly in the app. It produces a QR coded receipt to present to the customs officer.
This is a continuation of the Automated Passport Control self-service kiosks at many airports, which have cut down on wait times by as much as 40%.
Right now, the free app can only be used at the Atlanta airport, but other U.S. airports plan to accept the technology later this year, according to the CBP.
While you're Instagramming a picturesque vacation, you might as well meet some new people.
Enter Glimpse. Technically a dating app, the photo integration (it connects to a user's Instagram account) and geolocator make it a perfect opportunity to meet those around you -- especially because they might be Instagramming the exact same places.
Users choose a profile picture and add eight Instagram photos to their profile -- that's it. You can browse photos of those nearby (or around the globe), and the app notes who's been to the same locations as you.
"We use your photos to connect you with people you'd like to meet," said cofounder Elan Miller. "When traveling, you usually have limited time but want to get the local experience."
Backed by First Round Capital and Google Ventures, Glimpse released a new version of the app in August (it initially launched in February 2014).
To discover and book activities for your travels, turn to Peek.
A personality quiz takes in user preferences (street art or fine wine? Sports cars or the Eiffel Tower?) and then offers personalized activity suggestions.
The app has real-time booking options, and users can search a calendar for events on specific days. Activities are added from tastemakers like Diane von Furstenberg, Wolfgang Puck and Tory Burch. When users book, Peek takes a cut from activity operators but users don't pay anything extra.
It covers 24 cities at the moment (everything from New York and Las Vegas to Cancun and Paris) but plans to continue expanding coverage of the U.S. and Mexico.
Peek has raised $6.5 million in funding from Google's (GOOGL, Tech30) Eric Schmidt andTwitter's (TWTR, Tech30) Jack Dorsey, as well as travel experts like Carl Sparks (former CEO of Travelocity).
6. Traveling Spoon
It's not technically an app (yet), but Traveling Spoon is worth opening up a browser for.
Imagine having a friend's mom prepare you a home-cooked meal in every country you visit. Traveling Spoon founders Stephanie Lawrence and Aashi Vel are making that a reality. Through the site, travelers can reserve a spot at the table of native hosts, all of whom have been vetted by the founders.
The "chefs" (25% of whom have a culinary background) will cook lunch or dinner ($20 to $60), or provide a cooking class and a market tour ($80 to $170).
"Culinary tourism is a catalyst for complete cultural exchange," said Lawrence. "Beyond making the world a smaller place, the program also provides valuable income to hosts working to support their families."
There are currently over 125 hosts in 35 cities across 14 countries. Lawrence and Vel have focused their efforts on southeast Asia but plan to expand to Greece soon.
Instead of dealing with banks and costly exchange rates, London-based startup WeSwap offers a peer-to-peer exchange.
Customers connect their WeSwap account to a bank account and are given a prepaidMasterCard (MA). When traveling, users request to exchange funds with another user who has the desired currency. Any new funds are accessed through the MasterCard.
Each transaction incurs a 1% swap fee -- unless a match can't be found in time, in which case WeSwap steps in (this incurs a 1.5% fee).
With anti-money laundering measures in place, it's safe to make swap with anyone on their platform.
Right now, it's only available to customers in ten European countries but founder Simon Sacerdoti says they'll "absolutely" expand to the U.S. in the future.
They've raised $3.75 million in funding and are in the process of closing a larger round of founding.
8. Flight Tonight
The name pretty much says it all: This app makes it super easy to book last minute flights for the spontaneous traveler.
Flight Tonight, which launched in late July, is from the brains behind travel startup Hopper (founded by former Expedia (EXPE) engineers).
The app aggregates cheap fares from your "home" airport departing in the next 24 hours. Flights are booked through the airline or travel site, and Flight Tonight takes a standard agency commission for the referral (which varies depending on the site).
"Customers have been trained that buying flights is complicated and takes a lot of time," said Hopper chief data scientist Patrick Surry. "We're saying, 'Why should it be so difficult?'"
Surry said they see potential in approaching airlines to help them sell leftover inventory. There seems to be a market: In its first week, there were 130,000 flight searches in the app.
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