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Special section Jump into travel

Here's how to find inexpensive lodgings to host sweet dreams on your journeys.

Where to stay

Shopping online for hotels and resorts
 

Looking for a nice place to stay on vacation? Sit in front of your computer and let your fingers do the walking.

Web sites are a great way to get information on accommodations and pricing, according to top travel experts. But if you really want to get the best deals, always follow up with the human touch. That way, you know what you're getting and you're assured of a good value and a great time.

"There's a two-word concept we've lost in this country: human being," says Peter Greenberg, author of "The Travel Detective: How to Get the Best Service and the Best Deals from Airlines, Hotels, Cruise Ships, and Car Rental Agencies." He likes to call the hotel first, and then do a little Web crawling.

What everyone wants is a magic URL where everything is cheaper.

If you find a better price, you can usually cancel your original reservation within 24 hours with no penalty, he says. You're also in a good position to bargain with the facility manager for a matching rate.

But, "the Internet is not always your friend," says Greenberg. Too many times, it "pushes you to buy something before you know what you've done."

But the combination of the human touch and electronic surfing can net you a great deal.

It also pays to be realistic. "What everyone wants is a magic URL where everything is cheaper," says Edward Hasbrouck, author of "The Practical Nomad" travel series. "But that doesn't exist."

What makes things very confusing: Sites may be a hybrid of several types. They might not make their business model clear to the casual observer.

Hasbrouck recommends checking out different types of sites and making sure that the information you receive doesn't come from the same source.

For example, many hotels have their own Web sites. Ditto the chains or hotel families to which they belong. In addition, aggregators, which often get their information from the hotels, will post rates.

Another type of site is run by hotel brokers or consolidators who purchase blocks of rooms in hotels and sell them to the public. Sometimes the prices are better than the market rate, sometimes not. But brokers also can be a good resource for reasons that have nothing to do with price. "At peak time, they may be the only ones who have any rooms left," says Hasbrouck.

Some sites will offer great prices, but you're buying sight unseen and may not know which hotel or resort you're actually reserving. "There's usually a reason," he says. Some of the most common: The facility is undergoing (or has just completed) renovations or has changed brand names.

Hasbrouck's advice: Save those sites for occasions such as business trips, when the actual facility plays a less important role in your trip. But if you're treating yourself or taking the family for a getaway, and the accommodations and amenities could make a big difference, know exactly what you're purchasing before you buy.

-- Updated: June 21, 2007
 
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