Food & Drink

Nabbing deals on travel sites

Competition among online travel sources means that, at a time when higher energy costs have pushed expenses skyward, consumers can still find deals – if they are willing to spend the time looking.

Online travel agencies say they can save travelers money by negotiating discounted prices on package deals of a flight, hotel and rental car. And by offering multicarrier fares – flying different airlines on different legs of a trip – agencies can sometimes get customers better deals than with a single carrier.

In its largest sale ever, Expedia last month announced it would offer 50percent off on stays of four nights or more at about 125 hotels booked by Sept. 2. Priceline.com, which offers blind bidding on airline tickets as well as traditional services, has seen sales strengthen since it dropped booking fees on airline tickets.

And in June, Orbitz launched its Price Assurance program: If a customer buys a ticket, and another customer books the flight at a lower price, Orbitz sends a check to the first customer for the difference.

Airlines and hotels say they provide better customer service than travel agencies, since the suppliers are most familiar with their own policies and control things such as canceled flights or room inventory. Suppliers prefer to sell directly to consumers to avoid paying agencies a commission.

Travelers, regardless of which sites they use, are showing they're comfortable with online booking. Last year, for the first time, more than 50percent of U.S. travel dollars were spent online.

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