Going on vacation is something most of us dream of during the work year.

With the aid of the internet, many travelers are now using technology to find vacation deals and packages online. As a seasoned traveler who’s been to over 30 international cities in the past decade, I’ve realized the internet can be an amazingly useful tool in finding good deals, but there are also plenty of not-so-good deals to be aware of when you’re searching for your dream vacation. Here’s how you can avoid some common pitfalls and ensure you get the most bang for your traveling buck. 

Comparison Sites are not created equal.

From Expedia to Travelocity and Bookit, many of these comparison sites run using the same flight search engines, but there are better ways to comparison shop. Since there are so many variables when booking travel (dates, times, number of stops on a flight, and so on), when you run a search on a comparison site, many of them stick to rigid rules to show you only exact prices. If you’re flexible about some of these variables, you can save quite a lot of money. Kayak.com, for example, has nifty tools in their toolbox like the +/- 3 days view. This view lets you see the lowest fares plus or minus 3 days of your original start date. Since flights are generally cheaper during the weekdays (especially Tuesdays), this method can shave off almost half the price of an airline flight. Here is an example of what the +/- 3 day matrix looks like:

 This is a sample of fare views for a round-trip flight from New York City to Los Angeles. You can quickly see at a glance that flights departing on Tuesdays and returning on Tuesdays are the least expensive option ($318) versus departing and returning towards the weekend ($605).  It also goes without saying that flights near holidays or during events in a certain city will almost certainly cost more, so do your best to avoid those dates if you can if you’re budget conscious. Don’t forget to add in any airline fees such as checked baggage costs and taxes. 

There’s more to lodging than just staying at hotels.

Many travelers still believe staying at a hotel is their only option when in a different city. Not true! While you can, of course, comparison shop for hotels in the same way you search for flights, many other options exist in terms of accommodations. Maybe you want more space, privacy, or the use of a kitchen while in town that hotels generally don’t provide. In these cases, consider a vacation property rental or short-term stay rental. The largest websites that cater to these types of rentals are homeaway.com and airbnb.com. Airbnb allows you to rent anything from a bedroom in a private house to an entire luxury apartment or villa all to yourself. For modest lodgings the prices are usually similar to that of hotels with the added benefit of more privacy and use of a kitchen. Depending on which accommodations you choose, the home can have amenities from hot tubs, pools, or use of an entire villa home for an event. It also allows you to live in a different city as a local would, further removed from tourist traps, allowing you to experience the city in a more authentic way. 

If you want to stay at a hotel and get a flight, always do a package deal through one website.

Travel deals are not created equal. If you want a typical flight + hotel deal, comparison shop on the usual travel booking sites like Expedia or Travelocity and book both together. It is almost guaranteed that if you book the flights and hotel separately, you will be paying more than if you book the two at the same time.

The one exception to this may be adding a car rental. Since comparison travel sites often charge per person, adding a rental car to the package may actually cost more than renting the car separately. For example, on one of my recent trips, a comparison site asked for $15 per person, per day for a rental car for 4 people. But booking the car rental separately was only $29 per day, regardless of the number of people. $15 per person for 4 adds up to $60 per day – more than double the $29 rate I found separately. Due diligence will allow you to avoid overpaying in situations like this.

If you already have the flight and only want a hotel, it is virtually guaranteed that you can get a better price from the hotel directly. Once you find a hotel you like with acceptable prices, call them up and ask if they can give you a better rate than the internet is offering you. 95% of the time, they will: this way they get the full amount from you rather than paying a commission to the travel site. 

Getting the best deal on travel requires a great deal of research and patience. Knowing how comparison sites operate and avoiding common mistakes is key to getting the best prices on all aspects of your vacation travel. Wherever or whenever you’re next going on vacation, use these tips and you can save hundreds of dollars with just a bit of research and shopping around. Happy travels! 

Jen Lim is an avid traveler and blogger working in New York City providing short-term rentals and vacation stays to vacationers. To book vacation properties in NYC please visit http://www.yhiny.com

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