By Terry Gardner, Special to Tribune Newspapers
9:36 PM EST, December 11, 2012
Seat Alerts (Free for iOS and Android)
What it is: an app from ExpertFlyer to land a better seat on an airplane.
How it works: After launching the app, you input your flight information to create a seat alert. The app finds the seat map for your flight, and you select the class of service and type of seat you prefer. Options include Any Window, Any Aisle, Any Two Together, Any Exit Row, etc. The first alert at a time is free, but to monitor multiple flights users either pay 99 cents per seat alert or sign up for a pro subscription plan at ExpertFlyer.com. If a desired seat becomes available, you contact your airline to snag it; the app doesn't do it for you.
Why it's great: If you find yourself stuck in a middle seat or separated from your traveling companion, the app can help you find seats together or a better seat (unless you enjoy the middle). The app has seat data for specific flights on specific dates for more than 130 airlines, along with info from SeatGuru about the best seats. Sometimes you'll find a desirable empty seat without having to finalize the alert.
Why you might hesitate: The app alerts you only that a better seat is available; you must contact your airline to get the seat.
Hotwire Hotels (Free for iOS)
What it is: an app to book a hotel at a discounted price. As with any Hotwire opaque booking, you know the general location, the amenities and star level of a hotel but not its identity and address until after you pay.
How it works: The app can use your device's GPS to search for a hotel in your current location, or you can input your dates and destination for a search. The app then generates a list of hotels available for your dates in that location. You sign in with your Hotwire account and credit card to buy a room, and the app can save this info for future bookings if you want.
Why it's great: It makes scoring a hotel deal very easy. The sliders on the calendar make the app fun to use, and it is very fast. When I test-booked a couple of hotels, the savings seemed greater for a last-minute booking.
Why you might hesitate: You aren't flexible about where you are staying. If you are attending a specific event such as a convention, you may need to know the address before you buy, so you don't wind up at a nice hotel in an inconvenient location.
Hulu + (Free for iOS, Android and Windows 8 but requires a paid subscription to Hulu Plus)
What it is: a free app that allows Hulu Plus members to stream Hulu content that includes current and classic TV shows or movies to their smartphone, tablet or other connected device.
How it works: You launch the app, then either search for specific programs or choose content from Featured and Popular selections on Hulu Plus.
Why it's great: This is a great travel companion when you are killing time at the airport, on a bus or on a train. I plug in my earbuds and typically veg out to current episodes of "Grey's Anatomy," "Glee," "Grimm" or "The Daily Show." I love the fact that when I don't have time to finish watching an episode, Hulu Plus remembers where I left off, even if I resume watching the episode on my home computer.
Why you might hesitate: You primarily travel internationally, where Hulu Plus content isn't available for streaming, or you don't want to pay $7.99 a month for Hulu Plus.
Also, though I have tried the app using Wi-Fi on a flight, video takes up so much bandwidth that video streaming doesn't work well on a plane.
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