WITH A FEW CLICKS OF THE MOUSE and in less than an hour's time, you can plan your entire vacation (and rest assured you're getting the best bargains), if you know where to look.
Forget about searching the traditional online services; the biggies like Travelocity and Expedia don't even include all of the top discount airlines (Southwest or JetBlue). Instead, download free BoardingPass software from www.travelogia.com, and let this program do the comparison shopping. This super-fast search engine combs more than 60 websites for the best deals. Click the flight you want and book it directly for a $20 service fee per ticket. If you don't mind spending a few extra minutes and pocketing the 20 bucks, try www.sidestep.com. It also searches dozens of sites, makes side-by-side price comparisons with sites such as Expedia and Travelocity, then connects you directly to the airline's website for booking.
Check out www.hotels.com and www.quikbook.com for bottom-line prices. Then go directly to the hotel's website, where you may find additional package deals and friendlier cancellation policies. Nearly every property will now match online third-party prices. (Marriott, for example, will match the price, then slash another 25 percent.) This game plan works best for chains and well-known properties. What if you're looking for something a bit more unusual? Visit your destination's tourist information or chamber of commerce website to uncover local lodging options like country inns, B&Bs, and small family-run properties. You may also find special promotions, discounts to local events, and coupons for nearby attractions to sweeten the deal.
For Rental Cars
You can't beat orbitz.com, with a track record for consistently sleuthing out the best bargains. And before you head to the airport, check out airportcarpark.co.uk/usa.html to book airport parking at discounted rates. Locations are within five minutes of most major airports, with free shuttle service. The site also lists nearby hotel and parking packages for early departures.
If your plans include a road trip, visit www.roadtripamerica.com for the best online maps (yes, you really should ask for directions before you hit the road). For a more personalized on-the-road itinerary, click onto www.freetrip.com. Want to avoid tolls? Do you favor scenic byways? Want lodging or camping along the way? Click, click, click . . . directions and suggestions at your fingertips.
Now, wasn't that quick and easy?