How do you find your ticket to paradise?
"You can go online and look for the best rates," says East Texan Starr Fulcher.
"These days travel web sites are almost an essential tool," says Ed Perkins, author of Online Travel.
Perkins says the sites can be invaluable, giving you hundreds of choices. But, he warns, if you're not careful, you may end up paying more than you should.
"Some travel web sites are biased," Perkins adds.
He says many sites give preferred placement to hotels or airlines that pay a fee or negotiate special deals. Some of your best choices may be way down the list.
"And an awful lot of people just simply won't go that far."
Many sites get their hands on blocks of hotel rooms to resell at a profit. Once that inventory is gone.
"Sometimes a site will list a given hotel as being sold out even when that hotel has some rooms."
The Intercontinental Hotel Group recently pulled its more than 3,500 hotels off Expedia and Hotels.com, saying quote: "The company is committed to only working with distributors and their affiliates that do not engage in confusing and potentially unclear marketing practices."
Northwest Airlines just yanked its inventory off CheapTickets.
"They actually were very prone to promoting their preferred airlines ahead of Northwest. We wanted to make sure that the customer got a fair shot at seeing our inventory and low prices," says Al Lenza with Northwest Airlines.
"It's unfortunate that Northwest has elected not to participate," says Michael Stacy with CheapTickets. "We have over 110 air carriers on our site."
Another travel tidbit you may not know: Orbitz.com is owned by the parent company of several large hotel chains. The industry giant insists that doesn't impact its integrity and consumers should not worry about bias.
"As long as they feel like they're finding a hotel that suits their need and their budget, it shouldn't be a concern," says Kendra Thornton with Orbitz.
Perkins says searching based on your needs is the key. If price rather than location or time is your priority, ask the site to sort cheapest to most expensive.
"Obviously, the bias of the preferential position no longer exists because you have told the site, this is the order in which I want to see these things, not the order you originally presented to me."
Use online web sites to get an idea what the rates are, then call the airline or hotel directly to compare what the price would be booking it over the phone. You can also directly log on to the web sites of the airlines and hotels directly to compare prices. If you book your reservations there you can avoid the $5.00 processing fee. Some people also use a travel agent as a source.