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Travel Tips

7 Ways to Avoid Bogus Travel Deals

We’ve all been there before. You book a hotel, flight or trip, only to find you got seriously jipped on the price. But it doesn’t have to end that way. Here’s how to sucker-proof your next vacation.

Disclaimer: The prices in this article were accurate when written but are subject to availability.

See recent posts by April Ellis

Reach for the refund
It’s the classic kick-yourself situation: You bought a bargain trip from Kayak or Expedia and then a few days later, you see the fare is even lower on the same site or other booking engine. Don’t want to get screwed again? Make sure to research the site’s rules and regulations. There are plenty of nifty travel apps that will automatically refund the difference if the price drops or rebook you at the lower rate. Check out Yapta for airlines, Tingo for hotels and Autoslash for car rentals.

Read the fine print on budget airlines
Cheap tickets are tempting, but take it from us, sometimes the lowest fare isn’t the real steal. Watch out for budget carriers like Frontier, Spirit and Ryanair, which are loaded with hidden fees, as well as new so-called low-cost programs like Delta’s "basic economy" (it’s non-refundable with random seating and no itinerary changes or paid upgrades). For example, a round-trip flight from New York to Denver is $245 on Spirit versus $384 on United. But factor in Spirit’s pricey à la carte perks — like carry-ons ($70) and seat selection ($50) — which add up to an extra $120!

Shop around and beware of exclusions
The only way to sift out the deals from the duds is to roll up your sleeves and do some digging. Caution: Many fare listing sites and apps like Hopper exclude certain carriers (Southwest, American, JetBlue, Norwegian, Turkish, etc.) from their results, giving a false idea of what’s really available. Look at a variety of places, or keep up with new sales by signing up for Airfarewatchdog’s fare alerts. It’s also smart to tune into Twitter for the most immediate flash sales.

Crack the discount codes
There’s nothing more annoying than seeing a discount code box upon checkout and knowing you could be paying less. But how do you find them? Say hello to Honey, a browser extension that alerts you of discount codes as you’re making a purchase and applies them in one click. Bonus: it works on popular travel sites like Hotels.com, Priceline and Trivago. Get hacking and packing, ya’ll.

Throw away the set schedule
Sorry, Type A people. If you truly want the greatest fare, you have to be flexible. In fact, sites like The Flight Deal warn buyers when routes are only an option if you leave on certain days within a specific time frame. Take the recent $149 round-trip American flight from NYC’s LaGuardia to LAX; it’s only valid for travel between late February to early March, for Tuesday or Wednesday departures and returns.

Look twice on all-inclusives
It seems so easy — a vacation where you don’t worry about bills. But while not having to reach for your wallet is nice, it may actually be costing more money than saving. How? When you book an all-inclusive resort or cruise, the base price often doesn’t count top-shelf liquor, specialty restaurants and other experiences. For example, it’s $249 per night to stay in an all-inclusive villa at Buccament Bay Resort, but select restaurant menu items and premium wines easily rack up an extra $200 (or more for heavy drinkers!). Also, all-inclusives tend to have stipulations like limited dining hours and VIP-only pools. Look at the activities on offer and make sure you’re really going to be taking advantage of them. Otherwise, you may be better off with a regular resort.

Weigh the pros/cons of smaller airports
Who says bigger is always better? Flying into a smaller airport can actually save you a ton of moolah. According to the 2015 Airport Affordability Report, it costs an additional $165 to fly into New York’s JFK instead of LaGuardia Airport. Around San Francisco, you’ll spare $100 by landing at Oakland International Airport rather than SFO. Just remember, you’ll have to fork over for larger cab fares since smaller airports are typically farther from your destination. It’s up to you to run the numbers and determine if it’s worth it.

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