Online travel deals not as sweet as you think

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," she said.

"Believe it or not, just using a different browser can get you a dramatically lower travel deal," Lisa Freeman from Consumer Reports said.

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. It turns out the flight was $718 lower using a Firefox browser.

"Travel sites can track your searches. 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," Freeman said.

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," Freeman said.

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 when travel comparison sites offer great convenience, shopping smart means double checking before you click to purchase.

Another travel-site pitfall is 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 you're getting.

Consumer Reports is published by Consumers Union. Both Consumer Reports and Consumers Union are not-for-profit organizations that accept no advertising. Neither has any commercial relationship with any advertiser or sponsor on this site.

(All Consumer Reports Material Copyright 2010. Consumers Union of U.S. Inc. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.)

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