A Dozen Tips for Bargain Hunters

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Sunday, February 4, 2007

Every week, the Travel section's What's the Deal? column rounds up the best travel bargains around the globe, by land, sea and air. Ever wonder how we come up with the goods, week after week? Here's a tipsheet from deals maven Carol Sottili and The Washington Post's Travel staff on how to ferret out the best deals on your own.

Important: When considering a package deal -- whether it's from a travel agent, a third-party booking site or a vacation discounter -- always price out the individual components at the source to make sure it is an actual deal.

1. Check the aggregator sites. Reputable sites that compile travel deals weekly include Smarter Travel ( http://www.smartertravel.com/), Travel Zoo ( http://www.travelzoo.com/), Independent Traveler ( http://www.independenttraveler.com/) and ShermansTravel.com ( http://www.shermanstravel.com/). You can sign up to be notified about new offerings by e-mail every week.

2. Register with the so-called big three travel booking sites -- Expedia, Orbitz and Travelocity -- to receive e-mails about deals and special offers that they broker with travel providers.

3. Sign up for airline and hotel loyalty programs. As soon as you do, even if you haven't earned any miles or points, the companies will send you e-mails notifying you about their special offers. Frequently, you can qualify for the bargain simply by being a member of the program.

4. Check discount tour operators. They frequently offer great deals on air-hotel packages. These include Go-today.com ( http://www.go-today.com/), which specializes in Europe, Asia and package deals; Vacation Outlet ( http://www.vacationoutlet.com/), top-brand hotels and cruise lines; Fare Deals ( http://www.faredeals.com/), general discounts; Apple Vacations ( http://www.applevacations.com/), the Caribbean, Bahamas, Mexico and Hawaii; and Vacation Express ( http://www.vacationexpress.com/), the Caribbean and Mexico.

5. Check cruise discounters. Companies such as Icruise.com ( http://www.icruise.com/) and Cruise Hound ( http://www.thecruisehound.com/) have weekly specials, clearance sales and low-price guarantees.

6. Consult a travel agent, especially if you're interested in an air-hotel package or if you're considering a resort like Atlantis in the Bahamas, for which companies such as Liberty Travel ( http://www.libertytravel.com/) and American Express Travel ( http://www.americanexpress.com/travel) frequently offer special deals.

7. Register with sites that notify you about airfare sales to specific destinations. These include Southwest Airlines' site ( http://www.southwest.com/), where you can download software called Ding onto your computer, and Kayak ( http://www.kayak.com/), whose Buzz program notifies you about sales via e-mail.

8. Check individual airline sites. Many airlines offer special deals to the destinations they fly to, especially in the offseason. Sign up to receive e-mail notification.

9. Check publications, in print and online, that specialize in discount travel, such as Frommer's Budget Travel magazine (on newsstands and at http://www.budgettravelonline.com/) and Sherman's Travel ( http://www.shermanstravel.com/).

10. Consider renting vacation lodging directly from owners. Rates are frequently much better than at hotels, and since the properties usually have kitchens, you can save money on meals. Sites include CyberRentals ( http://www.cyberrentals.com/) and Vacation Rentals by Owner ( http://www.vrbo.com/). True, you won't have the peace of mind that comes with renting from an established hotel chain, but if you do your homework -- quiz the owner beforehand, ask for pictures and talk to former renters -- you can find some great deals.

11. Work backward. Instead of trying to find sale fares to your destination of choice, consider places not on your radar screen that pop up on airline sales. A Southwest Airlines sale fare to Cleveland may be just the incentive you need to visit the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Or investigate the possibilities in a city serviced by several airlines, such as Chicago. You won't see as many sales to cities served by only one or two carriers.

12. Be flexible. Be willing to travel in the offseason, to fly out of all three Washington area airports or to change the dates of your trip to catch a sale. If you insist on flying out of Reagan National on a Friday afternoon, you're going to be spending a lot more money on your trip. Best days to travel are generally Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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