How to Use Travel Booking Sites

Travel Bidding Sites

How often do you get to name your own price? How often can you stay in a four-star hotel on a one-star budget, or get a luxury car for the price of a subcompact?

Thanks to travel bidding sites like Priceline, you can select the general travel options you want -- such as your location, length of stay and minimum star level. Then you name your price and put in your credit card number. If the computer finds a deal that matches what you're looking for, you're on your way.

Here's the catch -- you'll pretty much be flying blind. Sites like won't tell you exactly which flight you'll be on or what hotel you'll be staying at until after you pay. That means you could wind up with a long layover in Minnesota on your way to Hawaii, or a hotel in a less-than-desirable neighborhood. Not knowing where you're going before you pay can be a risky proposition, especially if you're traveling to a city you've never visited. And once you've booked on a site like Priceline, your itinerary is binding and nonrefundable. But if you're adventurous and flexible, you can enjoy the feeling of knowing that the guy in the room next to you probably paid double what you did. (Priceline also offers a traditional booking option to accommodate travelers who like to know exactly what they're getting before they plug in their credit card numbers.)

Other travel bidding sites follow the eBay auction model (and in fact, eBay has its own travel auction section), in which travelers vie against one another for the cheapest tickets. Skyauction lets consumers place bids on airline tickets, hotels and even all-inclusive vacation packages. The winner gets the trip. Sometimes bids start as low as $1. Auction travel sites give you more control, because you can see ahead of time what you're buying. The downside is that you have to spend a lot of late nights watching the auction clock tick down and hoping you don't lose out on that trip to Fiji to someone with faster fingers.