Here are a few tips to help you make the most of your online vacation search:
Be flexible. The looser your travel schedule, the better the deal you can get. If you're willing to travel last minute, you can take advantage of bargain-priced airfare and hotel accommodations as travel sites scramble to get rid of unsold inventory. Airfare Watchdog helps travelers who are willing to fly at the drop of a hat take advantage of deep discounts, while LateRooms.com finds last-minute international hotel rooms at up to 70 percent off their original prices.
Look for deals. Don't settle for the first price you find -- not when the Internet makes it so easy to comparison shop. A hotel that's $220 on Expedia might only be $124 on Cheaptickets or vice versa, because each site is dictated by the site's inventory and vendor relationships. Sometimes travel booking sites don't have the cheapest rate after all, and you can save more money by going directly to the hotel or airline's site. A number of sites, like Hotwire, will hunt down the best bargains for you. Kayak will search hundreds of sites simultaneously so you don't have to. Yapta will not only let you know ahead of time when prices drop, but it will also alert you of price decreases after you've purchased your ticket so that you can get a refund or credit of the difference. Signing up for e-mail alerts from your favorite travel booking sites can help you take advantage of great deals as soon as the price drops.
Get rewarded. Many travel booking sites will pay you back for using them to plan your trips. Book 10 nights through Hotels.com, and you'll get a free one-night stay worth up to $400. Expedia's rewards program gives travelers "Thank you points" for booking with them. Every dollar you spend is worth a point, which you can save up to use on free travel or gift certificates. cFares.com charges a $50 annual membership fee, but in return they'll give you rebates on airline ticket purchases, which can really add up if you're a frequent traveler.
Read the fine print. Before you hit "send" and instantly relay your credit card information to the travel site, make sure you're clear on its policies. Does the site charge booking fees? If so, how much will be added to the cost of your trip? What other fees will you have to pay? Will the site refund your money if you have to cancel your trip? If so, what is the cancellation fee?
For more travel information, see the links on the next page.