1) Search solo
A quirk of travel-booking systems is that they will show the lowest fare available to seat your entire party, said Rick Seaney, chief executive of FareCompare.com. "Everyone's fare is the same price," he said. So if there are two of the very cheapest seats left, one that's a little more expensive and four that are pricier still, it's only that last option that will show up in your family of four's search. Start your search for a party of one, and then scale it up until prices change. So long as you don't mind booking the seats in several transactions, you could save by snaring cheaper fares for a few people in your party. (Doing so doesn't make it any harder to find seats together, Seaney said.)
- Sample savings: An Expedia search for round-trip fares between New York and Orlando, Fla., in mid-May for four people found seats for $370 per person. Searching for fewer people pulled up two seats at $348, and another two at $363—all on the same flights. Savings: $58.
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2) Stack rewards
There are often-missed opportunities here to double, triple or even quadruple dip. For starters, there are the free reward programs offered by the hotel, car rental company or airline. Then there are rewards from the travel booking site, which are increasingly robust. Hotels.com offers a free night for every 10 booked; Expedia awards two points per dollar spent. Some online malls operated by the airlines and other deal sites like Ebates.com, offer extra cash back when you link through them to book. At FatWallet.com, you'll get up to 5 percent cash for bookings on Priceline and 6.5 percent on Travelocity, among other deals. And finally, there are extra points, miles or cash back to be had booking with a rewards credit card.
- Sample savings: Orbitz offers 3 percent rewards on hotels for members of its Orbitz Rewards program. Use its brand-new Orbitz credit card, and that jumps to 8 percent. The site also offers a 2 percent bonus for hotel bookings made on a mobile device, for a maximum 10 percent rewards, which can be used to book future travel. Link through from FatWallet, and score 1- to 3- percent cash back, separately. Plus you'll get whatever your favorite hotel program awards.