Shop Smart: Save big on your next trip

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Consumer Reports Money Adviser has compiled some expert-tested travel tips for when time and money are tight:

• Go offseason. Rome in November and London in April made those trips much easier for one of Consumer Reports' Web editors. Airfares and hotel rates were lower, and restaurants in Rome were hungry for customers.

• Check international tour companies. If you're taking a tour overseas, don't rely on U.S.-based operators. Instead, shop local -- overseas. One copy editor paid 50 percent less with an Irish third-party provider and would have paid even less if she had bought from the Czech company that actually conducted the tour.

• Consider a trip closer to home.

Transportation

• Use frequent flyer miles.

• Sign up for fare alerts. Most airlines and travel booking websites offer email notices, which let you know about new discounts and special offers.

• Break long trips into separate legs. Forget official connecting flights or stopovers; shop for various possible legs of one long-distance voyage as though they were separate and unconnected flights, even using different airlines and connecting cities.

• Consider alternative airports.

Lodging

• Try HotelTonight. Every day at noon in the city you're visiting, this iPhone and Android app sends you deep-discount, last-minute deals for a selection of hotels. See one you like? Book it and pay using your stored credit card with a single tap.

• Book a condo, house, or apartment. People all over the world own vacation homes that they rent to other travelers. Be sure to research the neighborhood and user ratings. Flipkey.com, HomeAway.com and vrbo.com are worthwhile general home-rental sites.

• Sign up for a loyalty program. Even if you didn't do so before booking, join the hotel's preferred guest loyalty program when you check in.

Rental car

• Shop on Hotwire.com and Priceline.com. Submit low-ball bids, ignore warnings that they're unlikely to be accepted and keep bidding but change the deal parameters each time.

• Don't rent extras. Opting for a child safety seat from a car rental agency can cost $10 to $13 a day, so brings your own; many airlines let you check it free.

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Consumer Reports: (www.consumerreports.org).


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