Before you book a flight, hotel room, or vacation package, check the price on each of the individual vendor’s sites. Oftentimes, cutting out the middle man and booking separately is cheaper than buying a package on sites like Expedia or Orbitz. Furthermore, buying directly from the airline gives you more flexibility to manage your flights, and calling the hotel can result in unadvertised savings (especially during low season and if you are celebrating a special occasion). Remember, third party sites require full payment up front, so do your homework before plunking down the plastic.
Bonus tip: Our favorite site for hotel deals in Europe is Venere.com, which has an incredibly easy user experience, a vast Rolodex of hotels (including smaller boutique properties that you’d never find on many U.S.-based sites), and lots of great deals and discounts. We didn’t include it in our comparison of discount travel sites because its forte is hotels rather than flights, but we’ve booked many European stays through Venere and have never been disappointed.
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Sometimes you won’t find your favorite or most convenient airlines on these sites. Southwest Airlines doesn’t list its flights with any third party vendors, while American Airlines is missing from both Orbitz and Expedia. When in doubt, search your itinerary directly with airlines to ensure that you don’t miss a cheap rate.
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Consult a Travel Agent for Cruises
Don’t book a cruise on any of these consolidation sites. A travel agent specializing in cruises is always the better option because they have relationships with cruise lines, which means discounted rates; and they can score you deals on the cruise ship and with shore excursions.
But most importantly, there are a lot of moving parts on a cruise trip (flight, transfer to ship, the cruise itself, etc.) and if one part goes awry, an experienced travel agent can use his or her connections to fix it. Meanwhile, if you’d booked your cruise via an aggregation site, you’d be stuck doing phone battle without a life preserver.
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Read the Label
Beware of hotels or airlines labeled “top picks” in your search results. These aren’t necessarily of a higher quality or better value. Instead, they are often a business partner of the booking site, and therefore get populated at the top of your search.