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In some ways, taking a vacation today is more troublesome than ever. Long security lines at airports, the prevalence of airline delays (customer satisfaction with America’s airlines continues to nose dive), the rising cost of fuel, a weakened dollar and the need for passports even to fly from the U.S. to Canada have all conspired to make travelers grumble. According to the Bureau
of Transportation Statistics, 24.3 percent of flights in the United States arrive late; 21.3 percent register a late departure.

However, all hassles aside, Americans still love to travel — even if we receive and take fewer vacation days than other industrialized nations. Whether it is a gambling trip to Las Vegas or a romantic getaway to New England, many of us long for the road (or, more aptly in many cases, the sky.) The good news is that while actually taking the trip can be distressing, planning it is easier than ever thanks to a plethora of online resources. In the old days, planning a vacation either required a visit to a travel agency or spending lots of time on the phone requesting rates, asking for directions, making reservations, etc. The process was laborious.

Today, thanks to the wonder of the Internet, booking a trip is both painless and fast. A number of online travel agencies, such as: Kayak, Expedia, Hotwire and Orbitz, allow users to search multiple airlines, hotels and car rental companies for the best rates, flight schedules and lodging locations. Want to take a cruise? No problem. Bundle airfare, ground transportation and the cruise at one convenient price. What once took multiple phone calls and a lot of time is now achieved with a few clicks of the mouse in mere minutes.

Here are 10 tips that will be beneficial
when planning your 2019 excursions.

Be Safe — By and large, online shopping is a safe venture. That said, identity theft is very real and credit card numbers can be stolen online if the proper precautions aren’t taken. Before you use your credit card to book travel online, be sure you are on a reputable Web site and that it is a safe place to do business. The Federal Trade Commission www.ftc.gov recommends if it is your first time shopping on a particular site, that you should call the seller’s phone number to make sure you can reach them later if necessary. If there is no phone number available, move on to another site. Additionally, look for a sign the site is secure, such as a closed padlock on the browser’s status bar, before entering personal and financial information. Furthermore,
says the FTC, when you are asked to provide payment information, the beginning of the Web site’s URL address should change from http to shttp or https to indicate the purchase is encrypted or secured. Lastly, print and keep records of your online transactions, confirmation numbers and any other important information.

Shop Around — When looking for the best rates, don’t just visit one site. Try several. While many of the large online travel agencies will have the same prices for hotels, for example, they often contract with the lodging companies to offer specialbitz
discounts for their users. The only way to know which hotel or car rental is “on sale” on a given web site is to check it out for yourself. Taking the time to shop around will take a little longer, but you could save substantially in the long run. If you are a gamer — and we know you are — you might be interested in visiting www.gamblingresort.com. This site, designed specifically for gamblers, allows you to book your travel to any gaming city around the world. Need a flight to Reno or a hotel in Macau? No problem. GamblingResort.com partners with Expedia, Hotels.com,Orbitz and Travelocity to allow you to conveniently compare prices. It also allows you to book cars, shows, cruises and package deals. Todd Lewis, gamblingresort.com founder, says: “We created a site that is specialized for the traveler who wants to go to the casinos. It is a niche that allowed us to combine the two things we were interested in: gambling and travel.”

According to Lewis, site users can also learn about player clubs, the size of a given casino, its number of slots and more on the site. “You can search by city or by hotel name if you already know specifically where you want to stay. Or, you can locate a casino and then search for a hotel nearby if you don’t want to stay in the casino’s hotel.”

Book Early — Yes, great deals are available at the last minute. By and large, though, your best deal is often made when you book 30 days in advance. Besides, it is much less stressful when you are not trying to pack and find a hotel at the same time!

Be Flexible — No matter where you look for counsel on booking online travel, this particular piece of advice will come up. That
is because it has legs. Booking a Wednesday afternoon return flight, for example, can save a hundred dollars or more versus flying home from vacation on Sunday night. Not to mention, hotel rooms typically are cheaper through the week than on Friday
and Saturday. If you really need to take that quick getaway Friday to Monday, fine. You will have a great time but you might enjoy a greater value if you can take that same trip Monday to Thursday.

Stay Grounded — With your attention understandably focused on air travel and hotels, it is easy to forget how you are going
to get from point A to point B once you are on the ground. This is where booking in advance can really pay off. If you wait
until you get to the airport to secure ground transportation you are going to get to the rental counter only to find out all the less
expensive vehicles are already rented out. Of course, you could take taxis or shared rides, which don’t require advance planning. If you want to rent a car or limo service, however, it is best to secure your reservation early.

Research Your Destination — Not only can you book your trip online, but you can learn all you need to know about your destination before you ever get there. In fact, it is downright silly not to do so. From checking the weather reports to finding the best restaurants in the city, the Internet allows you to plan every last detail of your trip, whether it is how to pack or how to spend your Friday night. One of the best resources for learning about your destination is the city’s local Convention and Visitors Bureau. Every major city has one, and they are easy enough to find online. Just go to Google and enter the city name followed by the letters CVB (example: “Tunica CVB”) and you are on your way. Many CVB’s provide information on hotels, weather, attractions, restaurants and more on their sites. Some offer discounts to restaurants, theatre tickets or theme parks. A particularly helpful section on most CVB sites is the calendar of events, which will let you know if there are any local festivals or headlining acts of note coming through town during your stay.

Pam Scott, Communications Manager for the Spokane Regional CVB in Washington State, says: “The great thing about CVB Web sites is they will tell someone right away the most important things going on in a city. That is basically what the CVB is paid to do — to market the city and the most important events.” Another good reason to use a CVB site is for the savings, says Scott. “If you book things through a CVB site you often can get deals that you can’t find somewhere else. For example, on our site (www.visitspokane.com) you can book ski packages and hotel rooms or golf packages and hotel rooms for one low price, depending on the season. Many restaurants offer drink specials or other seasonal discounts through our site and I know a lot of other CVBs around the country do the same thing.” Scott, who says she always books her trips online for the convenience, adds: “I always start with the CVB site to see if they have any special deals. I am a comparison shopper, so then I like to go to other sites, such as Expedia or somewhere else, and price compare. I will take the best price I can get, but I often find it hard to beat the CVB site. If they have local specials, they are usually the best.” In addition to CVB sites, www.fodors.com and www.frommers.com are good places to research a given city.

Consider Going Direct — Just because you can book everything in a package deal, don’t forget to go directly to the airline or hotel web site, too. Perhaps the most glaring example is with Southwest Airlines. You will not find their flights on travel sites. Other times, pricing may be the same, but you will receive extra bonus miles for booking directly with the airline if you are a member of their rewards club. It all goes back to point No. 2: shop around.

Read the Fine Print — When you do book travel online, be sure to pay attention to dates, times and passenger names. If
you make a mistake and need to change something, there is a good chance you will have to pay a penalty fee.

Be a Weather Watcher — Will you need to pack shorts or sweaters? Do you need a raincoat? Will you be able to ski?
Don’t forget to check the weather before you go. Contrary to popular belief, Seattle isn’t always rainy and Florida isn’t always hot. Your best bet is to visit www.weather.com or another weather site and simply enter the city name or zip code for a 10-day forecast.

Heed the Dinner Bell — Some of the most enjoyable moments of any vacation are captured at the dinner table. A restaurant can make or break your day, so plan accordingly. There are several good sites where restaurant reviews and ratings can be found. We like www.zagat.com and www.citysearch.com. The venerable Zagat is good because its scores are based on thousands of visits by real consumers, not food critics. Citysearch, meanwhile, offers both consumer reviews and editorial overviews — plus the site allows you to read about the restaurant’s pricing, dress code and other important information.
Of course, if you have a particular restaurant in mind it’s best to Google it and find its homepage, if it has one. Most restaurants
have their menu online and can take reservations over the Web.

So, there you have it, a quick guide to booking your 2019 travel plans. Now put down the magazine (after you read it all!), turn on the computer and plan your next vacation.

By: Cindy Mulrooney