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Published: Sunday, May 5, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

3 things to ask before booking a vacation

It's May. Memorial Day and the end of the school year are in sight. Suddenly, you're thinking about a summer vacation. A little planning -- and some insider tips -- can save you a lot of money. Whether you're booking airfare, a car rental or a hotel room, there are questions you should ask first.
Air travel
Q: When is the best time to buy airfare?
A: There is no overarching rule, but generally the sweet spot for buying is four to six weeks before you travel. Prices are highest eight to 10 weeks and two to three weeks in advance. However, start your search earlier, if possible. Learn what fares tend to be on a route so you can jump on a deal when one appears. Timing it right can save a family hundreds of dollars. And remember, with most fares you now have 24 hours to cancel for any reason. Use that to your advantage.
Rental cars
Q: Do I need rental car insurance?
A: The rental firms sell collision damage waiver (CDW) insurance for up to $25 extra a day. It offers protection from theft, vandalism or other damage. It's a major source of revenue. Decide whether you need this insurance long before you get to the counter.
Your personal insurance policy likely covers rental cars. It probably also extends liability insurance to your rental, which you also need. But confirm this well ahead of time with your insurer.
Many credit cards offer rental car insurance. Some offer primary insurance. Most only cover what your personal insurance does not. And cards have plenty of exclusions. If you are renting for more than two weeks or traveling to Ireland, Israel, Jamaica, Australia, Italy or New Zealand, you might not be covered. Exotic and luxury cars, some vans, motorcycles and SUVs aren't covered.
Your card probably doesn't cover the rental company's "loss-of-use" fee -- a surcharge for the revenue lost while the vehicle is in the shop. Some personal insurance policies cover this, some don't.
Pay for the rental with the card that gives you the best protection. Debit cards typically don't offer the same coverage.
As for liability insurance, if you don't have a personal policy you should probably buy this extra coverage, which costs a few hundred dollars. Or if you rent frequently, insurance companies will sell you annual non-owner car insurance policies.
Hotels
Q: How can I save a few bucks on my stay?
A: Ask about extra charges. Parking at some hotels might be $10 a night, while big city hotels can charge in excess of $50. Internet access might cost $10 a day or more. Many big hotels also have a mandatory resort fee -- that includes Internet, phone calls and use of the pool -- that can run $25 a night or more.
Look for savings on food and drink. Hotel chains such as Embassy Suites, Hampton Inn and Holiday Inn Express offer free breakfasts. Others offer free bottled water in the room.
Join the frequent guest program. Omni, Fairmont and Kimpton all give program members free Wi-Fi -- even those who have yet to spend a night. Fairmont gives its members free access to its health clubs. Kimpton gives a $10 credit toward snacks in its minibars.
Big chains typically run summer promotions. They offer loyalty club members rewards like a $25 gas card or a free future night after just two stays.
Story tags » TravelPersonal Finance

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