The soaring price of gasoline has put a damper on travel across the country. Already pressed airlines have been struggling to maintain passenger loads, and more and more families are having to question whether summer travel is affordable.
While the Internet can't help much with the price of gas, it can often be an extremely useful tool in lowering overall travel costs. Learning how to use a few of the many available Web sites that offer or provide information about travel bargains can make the difference between an affordable vacation and one that never happens.
Some of the most useful sites include:
BiddingForTravel – This site (www.biddingfortravel.com) is basically a Web forum where customers share information about what hotels and cars they were able to obtain from Priceline (www.priceline.com), the Internet's most popular travel discount site.
Priceline's biggest issues for most travelers are the fact that they are unsure of what hotels they are in fact bidding on, or how much to bid to get the best deals.
BiddingForTravel provides viewers with lists of hotels categorized my state and Metro area that give actual examples of winning Priceline bids, the total cost of the stay including taxes and fees.
Priceline bids are non-refundable and non-changeable once accepted, so be certain you are firm on travel plans before placing a bid there.
While BiddingForTravel can be a good predictor of what hotels are likely to be available in a given area, Priceline bidders should be aware there are no guarantees you will either be able to book a hotel at rates that have been accepted for others, or that you will receive the exact property you expect.
In my experience it's possible to achieve a 60-80% certainty that you will in fact receive the hotel you expect at the price bid, but I have also been surprised by receiving a different hotel than the one expected.
The same scheme applies to rental cars, where information is available on what cars and classes are likely to be provided from a given airport location and what amount was bid to actually obtain a rental.
Hotwire – If Priceline's uncertainty has you a little skittish, the next best bet can be Hotwire, which offers hotels, flights and cars at fixed prices. Like Priceline, Hotwire (www.hotwire.com) doesn't actually reveal the the name of the provider until after you have committed to buy.
An insider's guide for Hotwire is also available, however, at www.betterbidding.com. BetterBidding (which also includes information about Priceline providers) can often give travelers a good idea of what hotel they are likely to receive, based on the location and amenity codes included in a Hotwire description.
Hotwire also offers often deeply discounted rates on rental cars, which can be another large savings.
Another source for large savings can be the Web sites of airline and rental car companies themselves.
Recent examples I've seen include a three-day weekend rental from Avis of a large-size car for less than $40 including taxes and fees from a major U.S. airport.
Airline Web sites can be a good place for package deals including hotels and rental cars, especially on short notice. It's often possible to find a multi-day package at a savings of 40% or more that includes flights, hotels and a car through some major airline sites.
Tom Meek is a computer and media consultant working with businesses and individuals on high-tech needs. Another Day In Cyberville is published weekly in print and online via The Gainesville Voice, a weekly publication of The New York Times Regional Newspaper Group. You can reach Tom Meek at firstname.lastname@example.org.