Squeezing Your Summer Travel Dollar

They may not post a last-minute bargain fare, but it is more likely. This gets especially important if you've waited to within seven days of your targeted travel date and find your desired flight is still showing 30 percent to 40 percent empty. That means it's a reasonable gamble to wait a few days longer and watch the airline's site for a sudden special drop in fares.

Booking hotels. While the third-party packagers make it easy to search a galaxy of choices, they also purposefully make it difficult to get the direct phone numbers of those hotels and resorts because they don't want you booking directly.

As a rule, anything they don't want you to do is something you should explore, and in the case of phone numbers, hey, you're already on the Web! Just pull up Google and type in the hotel's name and address (or city) and that facility (or the chain's) Web site should pop up and provide you the number.

Call direct and see whether you can better the deal it's offering through the third-party site. Sometimes that works very well when you're closer to departure day, the hotel or bed and breakfast is small, and there are rooms going that are for the days you want. Just be sure that you're talking to someone who has authority to make a decision on the spot.

Caveat emptor. That, of course, is the old Latin phrase meaning "Let the buyer beware" (or cautious, or suspicious, or even paranoid at times). Remember that the marketers out there try to make it easy for you to spend more money than you should. Time invested in research pays big dividends, and the Web gives us all the ability to be just about as effective as the travel agents of yesteryear.

By the way, great travel agents still exist, but they make so little on airline tickets they either have to charge extra fees or spend very little time doing the research.

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