From the Kenosha News on 4-3-05

Booking On-line.  Good Idea or not?

      When planning a trip, you can research and even book your flights, accommodations, and car rental on-line.  But before you do your on-line booking, make sure to research your options and read the fine print.

      You can use the "big three" on-line travel services (Travelocity, Expedia, and Orbitz) to research or book all of the above.  Note that Upromise subscribers get a 1% rebate from Travelocity, PriceLine, and Expedia.  My favorite service for researching airfares and flights is Expedia since it gives you the option to change airports and dates without starting the search over.  Note that not all airlines are included in some on-line travel services.  For example, in researching flights to Paris, Expedia initially shows only flights with connections.  Not until I click on "non-stop flights only" does it reveal any flights on Air France or the non-stop option on American.  Travelocity gives the same results, and Priceline.com shows no non-stops at all. 

      Priceline's "name your own price" service requires you to commit to buying a ticket before you know the exact times, connections, airline, or flight numbers.  I've never used this option since I'm particular about flight times (nothing that makes me wake up too early) and routes (Dallas is NOT on the way to New York!)

      Once you've done your research on-line, call the airline and/or a travel agent you trust to see if they have other, better options.  When calling Midwest Express to arrange a flight to New York, I found that they have discounted senior citizen rates that are not available on the internet.

      For hotels, you can use any of the sights named above or Hotels.com, but don't expect much of a discount, if any.  When looking for rates at the Quality Inn in Springfield, IL (highly recommended by Tripadvisor.com), on-line services showed rates from $80-$120 per night.  The Quality Inn web site showed a AAA rate of $72 per night.  When I called the hotel's local number to see if I could reserve two adjoining rooms, I learned that they had a suite suitable for my family of four at $99 per night.    

      Note also that booking hotels through on-line services may result in added cancellation fees.  For example, when researching rates at the Chattanooga Choo Choo Holiday Inn, on-line services showed a best price of $89 per night.  Calling the hotel, their best price was $110.  I went back to the on-line service to book, but reading the fine print revealed that any change would result in a penalty of a full night's room fee.  Knowing that my family likes to remain spontaneous, I didn't want to risk it.  I called back and the desk agent agreed to split the difference and give me a price of $99 per night.  As it was, we ended up changing the reservation to a different night and only staying one night instead of two.  Since I booked directly with the hotel, there was no penalty for the change.  Ask the hotel what their cancellation policies are.

      In general, I recommend using on-line services for research, but only book through them if you're sure it's the best deal and you don't have added restrictions.

By Carol Sabbar from the Kenosha News on 4-3-05