How can you be sure your online booking will be successful? We asked Travel Troubleshooter Christopher Elliott, author Peter Greenberg (

The Complete Travel Detective Bible

), and our in-house experts, and came up with these tips. Sure, some are quite basic - which is why we forget to do them:

Call a human being first, Greenberg says. Airline and travel agents may find routings and fares that aren't loaded into the computer. The front-desk clerk at a hotel may know about vacancies that aren't listed online or with the 800 reservations number.

Check dates against a calendar before you book.

Double-check names on your booking, including spellings. Names should match the passport.

Read fine print carefully. Print it out for easier reading.

Check policies even on items you think you understand - such as room-cancellation penalties at hotels and baggage allowances on airlines. Policies vary, and you may save money by paying a higher rate at the hotel that lets you cancel or an airline that gives you a larger baggage allotment.

When booking overseas, double- check what currency the price is in.

When you don't see a confirmation page or get an e-mail confirmation, call before you rebook. Your reservation may have been completed - and when you book a second time, you're stuck.

Read your confirmation - immediately. When there's a problem, you often can change it within the first 24 hours, but not later.

Don't expect a Four Seasons-style experience for a Super 8 price. Realize that the best hotel rooms usually go to travelers who are paying the hotel directly.

Consult user reviews - but take them with a grain of salt.

When you've booked a hotel through an online agency, follow up with a call or e-mail directly to the hotel to be sure they've got your reservation. They should have your booking within 72 hours.

With complex itineraries and expensive trips, even tours that seem straightforward, consider using a travel agent.

Consider travel insurance. Compare policies at

. And you can call the company for advice before you buy.


Jane Wooldridge