smart spending

Want a vacation? Deals are everywhere

Most of the online travel brokers also have Facebook and MySpace pages featuring promotional discounts and discussion boards for users.

"If travelers are on any type of social media networking sites, they can certainly find out about deals through those areas," says Gaines.

Also, keep an eye on your favorite airlines' Web sites. Several are currently running promotions that feature rock-bottom prices on national and international flights, and if the economy fails to improve, expect even more.

Drive a hard bargain. The distressed world economy has travel companies willing to deal, says Greenberg. "It's up to the consumer now to figure out really that the advertised prices that they're seeing from hotels, for example, are just a starting point of the negotiation; they're not the end point," says Greenberg. "The hotel says, 'Our rooms are $79 a night.' OK, that's what they are, but listen, what else can I throw in for that?"

He suggests negotiating one-on-one with a hotel representative to get perks like free parking and free meals for kids. "In Las Vegas right now, there are hotels that will sell you the room for $100 a night, give you two tickets to a show and dinner. And for a hundred and a quarter, you can actually star in the show. I'm joking, but not by much," says Greenberg.

And while airlines have a reputation for having a pricing system that's as rigid as it is complex, even they may be willing to cut a deal to fill a seat. When Ashley Hunter, frequent traveler and president of HM Risk Group in Austin, Texas, found that the airline she normally uses was charging $500 more for flights to Dubai, United Arab Emirates, than a competitor, she decided to try to negotiate. She called an airline representative, who looked up her history with the company and asked a manager to authorize a price cut. Not only did her preferred airline match the competitor's price, it also agreed to give her bonus frequent-flier miles, too.

Hunter attributes her haggling success to good price research ahead of time: "I don't know that necessarily would have worked had I not been able to tell her that the flight was leaving on the exact same day."

Cash in frequent-flier miles. Airlines are notoriously restrictive about when and where they'll allow you to use frequent-flier miles, but this year is different.

"It's the one time in recent history when the airlines are actually becoming more lenient and letting you burn miles because you're not displacing a revenue passenger," says Greenberg. "There are that many empty seats."

Orza is cashing in frequent-flier miles to get to Europe for his cruise, and he found his airline was willing to negotiate for the dates and direct route he wanted. "If you're flexible, the airlines would just as soon have somebody in a seat than nobody in a seat," says Orza. While he didn't get exactly the route he wanted, "doing Dallas (to) Toronto rather than Dallas straight to London for what effectively is $10,000 or $12,000 worth of airline tickets is not a big inconvenience in my book," he says.

So strike while the iron is hot. After all, in today's economically uncertain world, who knows when some airline or bank will go under, effectively negating your frequent-flier miles altogether.

If you are heading to a foreign country, find out the most cost-effective way to get cash once you're there by reading "Best ways to get cash overseas."

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