5 Steps to Smart Bidding

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What to know before bidding in an online vacation auction.

1. Don't trust the auction site's listed retail price, which may be an unrealistic rack rate. Get a sense of the true market rate by getting in touch with the hotel, resort, or cruise line directly.

2. Come up with your top bid and don't go over it. You're probably getting a good deal if you pay roughly half of the listed retail price.

3. Read the fine print carefully. Blackout dates, cruise port charges, hotel taxes, resort fees, and booking charges all need to be factored in when deciding whether the listing is worth your bid.

4. Forget the "buy now" price. Most listings offer the option of buying a package immediately, no bidding required. The set price is rarely low enough to warrant doing so. Often, you can pay less by going straight to the hotel or resort.

5. Contact the resort or travel company directly and check availability. Even if you don't have set dates, inquire about some random dates just to get a sense of how easy it will be to book.

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