Top 10 Tips for Finding a Cheap Vacation Online

Click your way to savings and get the vacation of your dreams by learning the tips, tricks and websites that will help you find a cheap vacation online.

1 / 10

Don't Care Where? Go Last Minute!

If you're not stuck on a single destination and any place that fits a broad set of criteria will do-say, an island with decent food, a good beach and plenty of sunshine-then last minute is definitely the way to go. Tour operators begin by offering packages at more-or-less fair market value, but as time passes and the departure date grows close, they would rather slash those prices than let rooms sit empty. Start searching on sites like Redflagdeals.com and Selloffvacations.com a couple weeks before your desired departure date, and once a deal pops up that fits your budget and desires, book it right away-the best offers don't last long.

2 / 10

Something Specific? Book Well in Advance

While those indifferent to destination definitely benefit from last minute deals, if you have your heart set on a specific place in the world-if it must be Jamaica, and nothing else will do-you're best to book early. Prices actually go up as packages begin to sell and availability becomes scarce, and there's no telling in advance whether a tour operator will have vast blocks of rooms available, or just one or two left that they're offering at a premium. Better safe than sorry.

3 / 10

Book Off-Season

If you're not that concerned about the weather - and happy to hang out on a hot Cuban beach in July or fly to France in November- you will get a much better deal. Not surprisingly, peak season for Europe is in the summer (when most people take their warm-weather vacation time, and when the temperatures on the continent are the most pleasant), while for the Caribbean it's the winter (when thousands of Canadians flee the snow and flock south). You can make off like a bandit on seat sales and sell-off deals if you're willing to go against the trend.

4 / 10

Piece it Together

While all-inclusive is almost always the way to go in the Caribbean, that's generally not the way to save money in other parts of the world. Excepting only the lowest rung of bargain-basement operators, you will almost always save money by planning your own vacation in places like Europe and Asia. Check separately for flights, rental car and hotels, then compare that price with the package deal-the former will give you greater flexibility and choice, and almost always save you some bucks.

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Photo: Thinkstock

Dare to Compare

It's well known that websites like Kayak.com, Priceline.ca and Expedia.ca offer a nice cross-section of available options, doing much of the legwork of comparing prices for you. But don't let your search stop there - certain airlines (including cut-rate American carrier Southwest) and others only post prices on their own websites - so make sure you've explored all the options before making a final decision.

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Sharpen Your Search

You can save both your money and some valuable time by being specific about what you want. For example, while searching a site like Hotels.com or Agoda.ca (for Asia) is a good way to see all that's available, in a big city like Boston (or Bangkok), you might be overwhelmed with the options. Fortunately, these sites provide ways to narrow things down. If you're looking for a two-star (or better) hotel in a specific neighbourhood, with a satisfaction rating of 3/5 or higher, for $150 a night or less, plug all that information into the search tools (which can generally be found along the sides of the pages) and see what you get-if it's nothing, you can adjust your search (and your expectations) from there.

7 / 10

Use the Reviews

Although a rock-bottom price is always a nice thing to find, knowing exactly what you're getting - especially in a place that you've never visited - can be a difficult thing to determine. It's always a good idea to cross-reference an offer with the user-generated reviews on a site like Tripadvisor. Although they're not perfect (there have been rumours of phony positive reviews generated by staff, or, conversely, negative reviews generated by the competition), they should give a general idea of the pros and cons of a given hotel, restaurant or tour.

8 / 10

Pick a Reputable Site

While price is important, it's not the only thing you should be looking at - after all, getting a rock bottom price on a vacation isn't such a great deal if you get to the hotel and find out that the trip you booked is not the trip you've been sold. Choosing a site based in North America is generally a good rule, and look for official certifications like those issued by regulating bodies like TICO (the Travel Industry Council of Ontario), which give some assurance of reliability and responsibility.

9 / 10

Get the Fees Up Front

While getting a price from a website is generally pretty easy, getting the whole price can sometimes be a lot harder. A given site may not always tell the whole truth-for example, certain airline websites display only the fare but not the taxes, which can often be as much (or even more) than the base amount. In addition, some airlines charge extra for baggage and even levy hidden costs like a fuel surcharge-costs that are only revealed on the final page of the booking process. So before you decide, make sure you're comparing apples to apples, reading the fine print and, if necessary, doing a test booking (stopping just before the stage where you enter your credit card number) to make sure you have an idea of all the costs.

10 / 10

Try a Different Airport

If you have the option of flying out of two (or three) different airports - say, if you live halfway between Kamloops and Vancouver, or if you're based in Toronto but can integrate a visit to Grandma in Ottawa as part of your trip - you may find a better price. Toronto's Pearson International Airport, for example, has some of the highest airport taxes in the world (which obviously adds to the bottom-line cost of any vacation), and operators offer different prices for different points of departure (sometimes giving better deals from smaller airports where sales are slower).