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Use travel deal sites? Avoid price 'gotchas'

February 15, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
Many people are getting very savvy at online comparison shopping for great travel deals. But you need to do your research. Avoid paying more money than you have when you travel.

Eyewitness News teamed up with Consumer Reports ShopSmart magazine to reveal even more travel site "gotchas" that could end up costing more for flights and hotels.

When Hindi Golden and her family travel, she carefully searches the Web for a good deal. But what if she found out a travel site wasn't actually giving her the lowest price?

"I would be annoyed. I would be. I probably wouldn't use that site again," said Golden.

"Believe it or not, just using a different browser can get you a dramatically lower travel deal," said Lisa Lee Freeman, Consumer Reports ShopSmart editor-in-chief.

Consumer Reports ShopSmart learned this when it searched for the same itinerary at the same time on the Expedia travel site using two different browsers, Safari and Firefox. Turns out the flight was $718 lower using the Firefox browser.

"Travel sites can track your searches," said Freeman. "We checked a flight twice on Safari and once on Firefox. And what we learned is that if you check a flight more than once, the cheapest fare can disappear."

Expedia insists pricing is not affected by previous searches. Still, ShopSmart advises removing "cookies" that track those searches. To remove cookies, go to your browser and pick "preferences," then "privacy." There you can remove all cookies.

"Another frustrating thing is you find a great rate, but when you click through to book it, the price jumps up," said Freeman.

For instance, a flight to Tokyo on Orbitz went up $29 when ShopSmart tried to book it. And a hotel room on Travelocity jumped up $110. So while travel-comparison sites offer great convenience, shopping smart means double-checking before you click to purchase.

Another travel site pitfall Consumer Reports ShopSmart found: the car rental or hotel room offered in a package deal may end up costing you more than booking with a hotel or car rental site directly. That's another reason to double-check rates before you book your reservations.