We're thrilled to present this smart Kiplinger story here on Savvy!
Rising oil prices and increasing travel demand mean higher costs for your next vacation. But you can still find good deals -- if you know where to look online. Here are the best travel sites we’ve found to help you bag the best bargains on airfares, lodging, car rentals and all your other travel needs. Note: All but one of the following sites are free to use.
1) Kayak.com scours hundreds of online sources for the cheapest fares available. The more flexible you are on time and destination, the better your chances of finding a great deal. Search for dates up to three days before and after your ideal travel dates, or use the Buzz tool to search for flights that leave within a calendar month, in the six upcoming weekends or just anytime. If you’re flexible on destination, Buzz lets you search a region, such as the Caribbean, Europe or Asia. And with the site’s Explore tool, you can scan a world map for all the destinations you can reach within a specified price range.
2) Bing Travel gives you a recommendation to either buy a ticket now or wait for a fare based on its “price predictor.” The price predictor forecasts whether fares on major domestic routes will go up or down. Enter your desired itinerary and the site will return a list of flight options, along with a recommendation to buy now or wait.
3) AirfareWatchdog works best for travelers ready to take off at the drop of a deal. The site has workers lurking on airline Web sites in anticipation of fare sales. They sign up for rewards programs to snag promotional codes and discount offers that can be passed on to AirfareWatchdog users. Bonus: The site includes fares from Southwest, JetBlue and other small airlines that may not appear on bigger search sites, such as Kayak and Bing.
To see what websites can help you save on flights, lodging, and more, read on.
4) WhichBudget.com will help you build an inexpensive overseas flight plan by using local, budget airlines -- a great way to save on international travel. It’s based on a comprehensive list of airlines servicing 170 countries. To start, select your overseas starting point, end point or both, and the site will list airlines you’ve probably never heard of that service each route. For example, if you search for flights from Bangkok to other Asian destinations, you’ll get options from AirAsia, Jetstar and Nok Air. Click on an airline’s link and you will be redirected to its home page to book a flight.
5) Yapta.com will track a flight’s price for you after you buy your ticket. If the costs drop below what you paid, most airlines and online travel agencies will refund the difference, usually in the form of travel credits or vouchers. Yapta will alert you to falling fares via e-mail or tweet. And if the change in price dips below the cost of any “re-booking fees” some airlines charge in these situations, the site will explain how to collect your refund. Note: Yapta does not currently track Southwest flights.
6) Priceline.com offers you its Shatner-faced Negotiator to help you haggle for the best bargains on hotels. Select a minimum star class, your dates of stay and preferred neighborhood, and then name your price. You can save up to 60% off published rates, and bids of less than $100 a night on luxury lodgings often win -- particularly for last-minute bookings. But here’s the catch: Priceline doesn't tell you the exact hotel you're booking until after you pay, so you won’t be sure exactly where you’ll end up. Blind booking like this can be particularly risky when you’re visiting an unfamiliar area, especially overseas. Note: The site also offers its Name Your Own Price feature for flights and car rentals.
7) With LateRooms.com, you can find great last-minute bargains at international hotels. Once you find your deal and before you enter your credit card information, you may click on a link to book by phone -- a smart move to guarantee an eleventh-hour reservation. The site will give you the hotel’s phone number, plus a reference code for the marked-down rate you found online. LateRooms also lists special offers, including “secret room” deals with deeply discounted rates at four- and five-star properties. The rub, as with Priceline, is that you won’t know the exact hotel until after you pay.
8) To find a smaller inn or B&B, try searching BedandBreakfast.com. It gives details on even the tiniest inns and points to “hot deals” in your desired location. You can also search for specific amenities, such as a hot tub, a fireplace or whether a place is pet-friendly.
9) Vacation rentals are an especially good value for groups because they generally offer more space and amenities for prices similar to or less than hotel rates. HomeAway.com offers the biggest selection of rental lodgings, with more than 230,000 listings worldwide.
10) At CruiseCompete.com, more than 300 travel agents vie to give you the lowest prices for voyages based on dates, ports and ships you specify -- whether you're booking well in advance or at the eleventh hour. You provide an e-mail address and they send you their best offers. Plus, the site has agents available to guide you through the process via live chat or by phone.
11) DealBase.com has collected nearly 70,000 hotel and flight deals worldwide that are easily searchable. But what this site is best for is its “Deal Analyzer.” Hotels often create promotional offers that include, for example, continental breakfasts or some other add-ons along with the room. DealBase.com will dissect these packages and let you know whether or not they’re good values by telling you how much you’d really save. If you find that an offer is in fact a good value, click the “Get This Deal” button and DealBase will redirect you to the site where you can purchase it.
12) Hotwire.com often offers the best published deals on cars by collecting rates from its seven rental car company partners, including Budget, Enterprise and Europcar. The site also offers “hot deals” from rental companies that won’t be identified until after you’ve paid. With cars, the risk in taking the blind-booking approach is minimal: A minivan is a minivan, no matter which company provides it. (You can also head back to Priceline.com to try bidding for a better bargain on your rental car.)
For more great travel site recommendations to help you save money, read on.
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