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54 Online Travel Sites to Bookmark Now
* RickSteves.com: The expert on travel to Europe brings his engaging personality to this wide-ranging site. Beyond guidebook-style info, there's the Graffiti Wall forum, where travelers swap opinions, and audio streams of Steves's radio show. Another excellent site for Europe-bound travels: Durant Imboden's EuropeForVisitors.com, with country guides, hotel recommendations and travel articles. The monthly magazine Travel News is packed with timely updates.
* About.com/travel: Experts showcase their advice and link to other resources on the topic. There are pages for just about every popular destination, from China to Las Vegas. A handy menu in the left column links to the most popular travel pages. The site also features pages on topics such as theme parks, golf and honeymoons/romantic travel.
* Viator.com: Many travelers spend hours researching airfares and hotels but don't plan what to do once they get there. Viator solves that problem by showing dozens of activities for popular destinations. The site can help you avoid getting shut out of must-sees and can save you time by helping you skip the long lines. Choose a destination, such as France, and see top picks, deals and tips for what to do, including a Versailles bicycle jaunt and a Paris pastry- and chocolate-tasting tour.
* WebFlyer.com: Frequent-flier guru Randy Petersen keeps his eye on bonuses and other deals for mileage junkies. Airline and other loyalty programs are rated by Petersen and his staff; use the "Head2Head" feature to compare them. The MilesLink newsletter keeps members up to date. And the robust discussions at the site's related forum, FlyerTalk.com, make this one of the best all-around destinations for frequent travelers to get advice. Also see the excellent FrequentFlier.com and MileMaven.com; the latter is especially useful for finding mileage bonuses.
* Priceline.com: This site's almost irresistible premise of "naming your own price" for hotels, airfares, car rentals, cruises and vacation packages has lost a bit of its luster during the past few years of full flights and crowded hotels, with less inventory to offer. (Bright side: If the economy continues to tank, the days of the $40 hotel room may return.) To bid for hotels, you select the city and neighborhood, then enter your price. If Priceline has a hotel in its database willing to accept the price, you get a room. We prefer Priceline's bidding feature for hotels rather than flights: We like to fly when we want (with Priceline, you have to accept departures at any time of day), but if we can get a three-star hotel for $68, we don't really care if it's a Radisson or a Sheraton. Wondering how much to bid? You can now see winning bid amounts in 27 cities on the site, but check the sites BetterBidding.com and BiddingForTravel.com for more detailed info, such as hotel names and failed bid amounts. Note: Priceline also offers standard travel booking, similar to Expedia and Orbitz.
* Hotwire.com: Similar to Priceline, but you don't bid. Hotwire shows, for example, a three-star hotel (without displaying its name) near the San Francisco airport for $59 a night; you decide whether to book it. All fees are shown before booking. Hotwire also shows the list price ($95 for this hotel), but bear in mind that "rack rates" are often higher than most guests pay.
* Lastminute.com: This easy-to-use site, which features the content of the now-defunct Site59, has some great last-minute getaways, especially if you're willing to go offseason. The day we checked, a three-day weekend in Madrid, booked on five days' notice and including hotel and round-trip air from Washington, was going for $485 per person double -- including all taxes and fees, a refreshing approach. Also see SkyAuction.com, where you can bid on eleventh-hour trips.
* Hotels.com: With more than 70,000 properties worldwide, from big chain hotels to tony B&Bs, this site is worth checking before booking a room. Hotels.com offers a "Price Match" guarantee: If you find another rate within 24 hours that's lower, the site will refund the difference. The site also has reviews from guests. Use the slider bars at the top of each results page to narrow your choices by price, star ranking and guest rating. If you book here, it's advisable to confirm your reservation and preferences directly with the hotel.
* Quikbook.com: Specializes in boutique properties and deals at hotels that aren't filling up. The site features more than 1,000 hotels in more than 100 cities, and its interface is easy to use. Pick a city and a neighborhood (optional) and Quikbook turns up rates, such as $90 a night at Las Vegas's Luxor hotel (average rate is $120 to $140). Especially good deals are highlighted with the "Quikpick" tag. Check the hotel's location carefully: When we searched for a New York City hotel, Quikbook coughed up properties in Brooklyn -- true, it's in the city, but not where most visitors to New York want to stay.
* Laterooms.com: With travel across the Pond getting ever more expensive, this specialist in European hotel rooms is worth checking. Inventory is updated daily by member hotels, so deals abound, especially on short notice and during the low season. Note that you book directly with the hotel (guaranteeing with a credit card), making it less likely that the hotel can't find your booking when you arrive. We found several options for a winter stay in London at upscale hotels for less than $200 a night. When results come up, click on the hotel's name for more details and reviews from fellow travelers.
* BedandBreakfast.com: With a vast inventory of B&Bs in the United States and around the world, this site is valuable for finding small-scale lodgings like the Inn at Cranberry Farm in Chester, Vt. Search by city, state or region. You can book on the site for many of the B&Bs listed; for others you must go to the inn's own site and book there (or call). The site includes maps, reviews and details, including architectural style and year opened. And if you're so inspired by what you see that you want to buy an inn, you can check the list of B&Bs for sale.
* VRBO.com: This site (Vacation Rentals by Owner) lists more than 94,000 vacation rentals around the world, with hundreds of choices in such hot spots as Hawaii. Select a U.S. state or foreign country to browse the properties, then select a region. The site's design is a bit retro, but all the information is there, including price, number of bedrooms and baths, pictures, and either a "book it" link or contact information for the owner. Some properties have calendars showing availability. This isn't the prettiest site -- the inability to sort by price is one deficiency -- but the volume of listings makes it the one to check for vacation rentals. Another useful site with lots of listings: Cyberrentals.com.