The Un-American Way
Booking a plane ticket or a rental car on U.S. companies' foreign websites can save you plenty of cash—but you have to get past a few obstacles first.
Since expanding their reach around the world in recent years, many U.S.-based booking engines and rental car agencies have set up foreign websites so they can deal directly with residents of other countries. What most people don't know is that the prices on these foreign sites, such as expedia.fr (Expedia's site in France), are sometimes lower than the prices on the companies' U.S. websites. The companies do this to be competitive in the local marketplace—in Europe, for instance, Hertz, Thrifty, and Avis go toe-to-toe with low-cost rental agencies like Europcar and Sixti. Some companies also negotiate arrangements with suppliers to offer deals only to residents of specific countries. For example, expedia.com.au lists Virgin Blue's Australia flights, while expedia.com doesn't.
"Most suppliers and agencies do not intend for Americans to book on the foreign sites," says Keith Melnick, Kayak's executive vice president of corporate development. But you can rent a car or buy a plane ticket on the sites—if you have patience or some assistance.
Buying a plane ticket
The biggest obstacle to booking a flight on the foreign Travelocity and Expedia sites is paying for the ticket. Many major airlines—such as British Airways and Lufthansa—offer fares on these sites that can be purchased only by using a credit card with a local mailing address. If you try to buy the ticket using a credit card with an American address, you may not be allowed to complete the transaction.
One way around this is to ask someone in the country—a friend you're visiting, a travel agent—to make the reservation on the foreign booking site and purchase the ticket with a local credit card. Travel agents often charge fees, so be sure the savings offset whatever their cost would be. You may also discover the fares on the airlines' websites. Qantas's website (qantas.com.au) and expedia.com.au, for instance, both offer a round-trip ticket between Sydney and Ayers Rock this month for under $550—nearly $200 less than what you'd pay on expedia.com. The ticket on qantas.com.au is actually the cheapest of the three because Expedia charges a $10 service fee. Most airlines' websites allow you to use a credit card with a U.S. address.
Renting a car
Insurance and taxes are sometimes included in the price on foreign rental car websites—a key difference from the U.S. sites. Renting a car in England for a week on alamo.co.uk, for instance, is more than $300 cheaper than renting on alamo.com because the collision damage waiver, theft protection, and taxes are all bundled into the price. On alamo.com, the coverages—considered optional—and taxes are added at the end. Check the insurance policies on the foreign sites carefully, though, as there's no universal rule for what's covered from country to country.
American rental car companies don't restrict reservations on their foreign sites to holders of local credit cards. But you could run into difficulty when you pick up the car, because the agency may not allow you to pay the local price when it finds out you live in the U.S. "It appears that a customer could get a better rate by pretending to be from a different country, but there's no guarantee that at the time of rental, that rate would be honored," says Hertz spokeswoman Paula Rivera.
Plane tickets In our test, the cheapest round-trip ticket between New Delhi and Goa on travelocity.com cost $322 on Kingfisher Airlines. However, Travelocity's Indian website, travelocity.co.in, turned up a ticket on the low-fare carrier JetLite for only $251.
Rental cars Renting an economy-size car for a week in Germany costs $384 after taxes on both hertz.com and hertz.de. But insurance is included in the price only on hertz.de. Adding the coverages brings hertz.com's total to $676.