smart spending

Online travel sites trim costs

The new economy has many consumers keeping their wallets tightly closed. This year, holiday phone calls or e-mails may replace hopping on an airplane to visit family. But before you despair that you'll never see your kinfolk again, consider this tip from our Frugal $ense winner for November, Beth Botsis, of Fairfax, Va.

November's Frugal $ense winner: Beth Botsis
Beth Botsis of Fairfax, Va., won $100 for submitting the following tip:

Trim costs with online travel site.
"A site called Yapta searches the airlines and other travel sites and finds the best prices, itineraries, etc. Then, you can select the flights for which you want to track prices and they'll monitor the prices and send you e-mail updates when/if the prices drop. They'll also monitor the prices on air tickets you already purchased and let you know if the price drops far enough to make it worthwhile (after change fees, etc.) to receive a refund from the airline. The site helped me recently book a trip to see my dad for his 85th birthday by tracking and letting me know the price had dropped about $200 on the ticket. Recently, I've been using it to book business travel for my office as well and it has saved us several hundreds of dollars!"

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Bankrate: Do you do a lot of airline travel?

Beth Botsis: I go back and forth to Michigan to see my dad. You know, I send him back and forth a lot. I just booked a bunch of flights for him and myself for the holidays. I have a brother who lives down south, and we were going to go down and visit him. When I first checked the flights for a trip to New Orleans from Washington, D.C., they were in the mid-$500s. Tracking them, I just bought the tickets last week for $309.

Bankrate: How is the Yapta service different?

Beth Botsis: What's great is that they send you an e-mail when the price goes down a certain amount, which you can choose. I had purchased a ticket for my dad and paid about $335 for it. After you purchase the ticket, you can continue to track it if you want to. A couple of days after I bought the ticket, I got an e-mail saying the price had gone down $200 and telling me what Northwest's policy was. You can click on a button and it tells you step by step what to do and what to say, and it takes all the hassle out of it. Call this number, tell them this. It worked great.

Bankrate: Is there a charge for this service?

Beth Botsis: You don't pay any fees to either Kayak or Yapta. You click on the button and are taken to the Web site that has the price, whether it be Orbitz, Expedia or the airline. Yapta won't do any open-jaw tickets, but Kayak will. (EDITOR'S NOTE: An open jaw ticket is a round-trip airline ticket that provides the customer a return flight from a city different from the one he or she flew into.) I booked a ticket to Italy, I was to go into Rome and fly back from Venice. At $550, it was unheard of.

Bankrate: Sounds like you use the Internet to your advantage when looking for bargains.

Beth Botsis: Absolutely, and not just for travel. I had been looking for a piece of exercise equipment; they are very expensive -- about $1,600. I was searching around and I found one that was way below the retail price, around $400. I checked it out and then I sent an e-mail to myself to look into it more. Then I got an e-mail from the company advertising a one-day special for half-price, $199. So I said, "I can afford to try that." And I did, and it has been one of the best purchases I've made in a while.

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