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How to Deal: A Dozen Tips for Bargain Hunters

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Sunday, February 3, 2008

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 an updated tipsheet from deals maven Carol Sottili and The Washington Post Travel staff on how to ferret out the best deals on your own.

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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), Travelzoo ( http://www.travelzoo.com), Independent Traveler ( http://www.independenttraveler.com), BookingBuddy.com ( http://www.bookingbuddy.com) and ShermansTravel ( http://www.shermanstravel.com). You can sign up to be notified about new offerings by e-mail every week.

2. Check with the so-called big three travel booking sites -- Expedia, Orbitz and Travelocity -- for deals and special offers that they broker with travel providers, and register with the sites to receive e-mails tailored to destinations that you designate.

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.

4. Check discount tour operators. They frequently offer deals on air-and-hotel packages. These include Go-today.com ( http://www.go-today.com), Vacation Outlet ( http://www.vacationoutlet.com), Fare Deals Ltd. ( http://www.faredeals.com), Apple Vacations ( http://www.applevacations.com), Vacation Express ( http://www.vacationexpress.com), TourCrafters ( http://www.tourcrafters.com), Funjet Vacations ( http://www.funjet.com), CheapCaribbean.com ( http://www.cheapcarribean.com), Ritz Tours ( http://www.ritztours.com), Foreign Independent Tours ( http://www.fittours.com) and General Tours ( http://www.generaltours.com).

5. Check cruise discounters and cruise specialists. Cruise lines have taken strong control of their inventories, which means there are fewer deep discounts from third-party brokers. But many discounters are fighting back by throwing in extras, such as free shore excursions, shipboard credits and bottles of wine. Icruise.com ( http://www.icruise.com) and Ecruises.com ( http://www.ecruises.com) are two of the more aggressive specialists. Try http://www.smallshipcruises.com for lesser-known lines.

6. Consult a travel agent, especially if you're interested in an air-and-hotel package or if you're considering a popular resort during peak season. Companies such as Liberty Travel ( http://www.libertytravel.com), American Express Travel ( http://www.americanexpress.com/travel) and Carlson Wagonlit ( http://www.carlsontravel.com) frequently have deals and availability.

7. Download software onto your computer that notifies you about sales to specific destinations. These include Southwest Airlines' Ding ( http://www.southwest.com), Expedia's Fare Alert ( http://www.expedia.com) and Orbitz's Insider Deals ( http://www.orbitz.com).

8. Check individual airline sites. Many airlines offer special deals to the destinations they fly to, especially in the offseason. Cathay Pacific, for example, offers a Deal of the Month available only through its Web site ( http://www.cathaypacific.com). British Airways ( http://www.baholidays.com) and Austrian Airlines ( http://www.austrianair-vacations.com) often offer good package deals.

9. Check publications, in print and online, that specialize in discount travel, such as Budget Travel magazine (on newsstands and at http://www.budgettravel.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). Make sure you quiz the owner beforehand, ask for pictures and check references.

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. Sites such as http://www.airfarewatchdog.com and http://www.kayak.com (click on the buzz icon) allow you to plug in an originating city, and then a list of current deals is displayed.

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.


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