1. Be a deal-watcher “One of the best way to know what a deal is — or isn’t — is to monitor specials over a period of time,” says Matthew Cheng, the founder and president of eCoupons.com. For example, if you want to go to Jamaica, you might sign up for the Air Jamaica and Sandals electronic newsletter a few months before making your reservations. If you did, says Cheng, you would see that one-way fares from New York to Montego Bay have fallen from $164 in November to $119 in December to $92 in January. “Meanwhile,” he adds, “Sandals has offered promotions of up to 60 percent off and three nights free.” By getting an idea of what is — and what isn’t — a bargain, you can steer clear of the non-bargains.

2. If it looks too good to be true, it is This is the cardinal rule for deal-finders. Many fake bargains are literally incredible. When a travel agent offered Lee Houskeeper a “deal” of $100 a night at a bed-and-breakfast near the end of the Light Rail during the presidential inauguration, “I said, ‘Book it, Dano’ — without looking at a map,” he recalls. Housekeeper, an editor who lives in San Francisco, had scored last-minute tickets to the inauguration and was grateful to get any accommodations close to Washington. Big mistake. It turned out the inn was a little bit further out of town. He had to pay a $100 cab fare to take him to the train station. Lesson learned? If it looks too good to be true, chances are, it is.

3. Beware of the bait-and-switch It’s a favorite game of travel companies that are desperate for your business. “Look for phrases like ‘certain restrictions apply’ or ‘subject to booking fees’,” says Ellie Kay, author of “Living Rich for Less.” For example, one restaurant Web site offered a $25 gift certificate for only $2. Unbelievable? Yes. While some participating restaurants had only a few stipulations — like “dining in only, not good for carry out” — others were far more restrictive. In extreme cases, they limited the coupon to “one per party, per month, per restaurant” or “valid with a minimum food purchase of $40, excluding alcohol, 18 percent gratuity added to full bill,” according to Kay. That’s no deal. It’s an elaborate way to get you in the door and then hit you with a full-price meal.

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  • Elliott

    Christopher Elliott has been called one of the world’s leading travel experts. But his focus isn’t on the destination, or ev…

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