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Browse privately to ensure airlines don't hike fares on flights they know you want.

I just spent the last week or two planning vacations. We have twins in their senior year of high school, so we are planning as much together time as possible before they leave the nest. And since most of us have become our own travel agents with the ease of booking online, there are some tips we all need to know to get a great travel experience while saving money.

Be Incognito

There is some debate on whether airlines show higher fares when you check for a certain route more than once. Travelocity’s website says airlines will show progressively higher fares when they know you are interested in traveling to a specific city. But the flight booking company Skyscanner’s website says, “There is no strong evidence confirming that airlines look at cookie data to increase flight prices.” Skyscanner also admits there is no harm in trying to search in private mode to be extra sure.

Even though there may not be any hard evidence to suggest prices change depending on search history, there is also not yet any evidence to the contrary. I recommend any search for airfare, car rentals or hotels should be done using a private browser and all the major web browsers give users this option. It limits the amount of information companies collect on you while online and then deletes the browsing history when you’re finished. If nothing else, it will prevent targeted ads from popping up the moment your search is complete. To open a private browsing window, go to the File menu.

Be creative

Find hidden-city flights that save money using Skiplagged.

When booking airfare, sometimes it is possible to save money by booking a flight that includes a stop in the city you really want as your destination. Of course there is a website and app to help you do this. Skiplagged calls these hidden-city flights and they are only available on certain routes. It works because some cities are major hubs where a lot of flights have layovers. Say flights from Chicago to Seattle are coming up around $300. Skiplagged may show you a $200 option from Chicago to San Francisco, but includes a layover in Seattle. You take the flight, simply get off the plane in Seattle, and save some money in the process.

Skiplagged offers a few cautions including an obvious one not to check bags since they’ll end up at the final destination. It also recommends not using your frequent flier numbers because some airlines will invalidate any miles you’ve accrued with them. Using this trick is not illegal, but Skiplagged admits using this option too often, especially on the same route with the same carrier, may upset the airline.

Go to the source

I have been using vacation rental homes instead of hotels for more than 15 years. I’ve always found it a better and more affordable option for my family since there is more space to spread out and kitchens where we can prepare our own meals. But over the years, the service fees have continually climbed. A California beach house I rented for three nights through Homeaway costs $900, but added a $100.50 service fee. Homeaway says the fee helps them provide a safer and more secure booking experience and customer support.

1 comment on this story

Mashable found Airbnb typically charges renters between five and 15 percent of the reservation subtotal and VRBO charging between six and 12 percent. The companies often charge the homeowners too. After requesting a booking, I’ve had a homeowner contact me on more than one occasion to see if we could handle the deal off the website to avoid the fees. Depending on who is listing the home for rent, doing an offline agreement could be risky. But what I have found is that oftentimes, it is a property management company that has the listing on one of the major websites.

When that is the case, you should definitely contact the property management company directly. Every time I have done this, the service fee (if there was one at all) was much less than on a major vacation rental website. I recently booked a Park City condo that had a $120 service fee on one of the major rental websites. When I contacted the property management company directly for the booking, there was no service fee at all.