You may already know where you'd like to go. But if you need help deciding, visit besttripchoices.com and take the Plog Travel Personality Quiz, which will match you to your dream trip.
1. Make a budget. Allow for transportation, lodging, food, activities, excursions, as well as the unexpected. Dig out those senior, corporate, military, or organizational discount cards, likeAAA and AARP.
2. Lock in your airfare. Kayak.com pulls information from airline websites and smaller databases to give you the most comprehensive list of low fares. It also flags red-eye flights, long layovers, and short connection times. Once you choose your fare, you'll be directed to that airline's site. (Kayak.com doesn't search Southwest Airlines but will redirect you to its site.)
3. Time it right. At yapta.com, you can track the price of a flight before and after you book it, and yapta.com will alert you (by e-mail or Twitter) if the rate drops. Contact the airline directly for a refund; for $15, Yapta will go to bat for you. 'The best time to book a flight is 12:01 a.m. Wednesday morning, in the time zone where the airline is based,' says Peter Greenberg. 'Don't do it on the website. Pick up the phone.'
4. Get a bargain on lodging. Hotels.com lists 85,000 properties, including chains and independent hotels, vacation rentals, bed-and-breakfasts, and all-inclusive resorts. It's hard to beat the discount-often 10 to 20 percent-and there's a Price Match guarantee (find a site with a lower rate, and hotels.com will refund the difference). For advice from fellow travelers-there are over 20 million reviews-check out tripadvisor.com.
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5. Don't forget travel agents. If a trip is complicated, consult an agent (find one at tripology.com). Typical fees: $50 to $200.
6. Search for last-minute options. If you suddenly decide that you have to get out of town, start with the travel experts' favorite pick, lastminute.com. Click on the Last-Second Deals link for packages that include flights, hotels, and car rentals by date and destination. Airfarewatchdog.com posts airline 'fire sale' prices.
7. Want to hit the high seas? Consult a cruise agent (locate one at cruising.org) for the best deals. He can also walk you through the details of cabin choice, activity fees, and other extras.
8. Look for deals on wheels. Hotwire.com is our favorite for low rates. Avoid the airport convenience fee (up to 10 percent of the base rate) and rent from a location just outside the airport or near your hotel.
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9. Insure your trip. Travel insurance is a good bet for any getaway costing more than a few hundred dollars. Compare plans at insuremytrip.com. Basic coverage (trip delay, baggage loss, emergency medical expenses) for a $900 vacation through Travelex Insurance, for instance, starts at $42.