Opaque sites are ones where you don't see the name of the supplying hotel or airline until after you've booked. At least, that's what they used to be. Today, the two sites offering "opaque" booking -
- also offer the choice of seeing the supplier up front. Bookings are nonrefundable, though some can be changed for a fee.
One tip: Experts say that both sites offer great deals on rental cars - one travel commodity for which one major supplier is much like the next.
Note that deals booked through these sites usually don't allow you to earn frequent flier miles or rewards points.
Now owned by Expedia, Hotwire offers only opaque hotels and car rentals, though prices are disclosed before you book, with no bidding. When it comes to flights, cruises and vacation packages, you see all details up front.
When you book a flight, a new tool allows you to stick with the original flight plan or see how much you would save by changing to a nearby airport or alternative dates. TripStarter (reached from the home page), allows you see a graph of prices throughout the year on trips to specified destinations. The Local Trips feature on the home page helps you find hotels within a specified distance from your zip code.
Yes, by subscription. Deals on "travel ticker" are paid placement, but should match certain objective savings standards to be included.
Yes, 24/7 - though you may have trouble finding the phone number on the Web site. (1-866-468-9473). During U.S. business hours, you get U.S.-based agents; agents are offshore during other times.
The best deals still come from "name your own price" specials - up to 50 percent off regular rates, says Brett Keller, chief marketing officer.
And yes, they all come from major suppliers - including American Airlines - and major hotel chains, though not Ritz-Carlton or Four Seasons. Air rules mean you have a maximum of one connection and a layover no longer than three hours.
Bidding rules mean that if your bid has been turned down, you can bid again only by changing one of your parameters - star level, neighborhood or date - or you must wait 24 hours.
And there's help: The independent Web site
posts the amount of recent winning bids, so you're not completely in the dark.
Group hotel bookings also are offered.
If you don't like guessing games, Priceline offers options that allow you to see the price and often the supplier, too.
Hotel searches deliver two types of results: those with price and neighborhood but no name, and those with the hotel name and address. Zagat hotel reviews are integrated throughout the site, so they're easy to check as you're surfing.
Flight searches show the airline and all flight details.
Car searches show prices and brand. This is one area where you may be better off with the "name your own price" option - because all cars are offered at the airport and come from one of five major brands. (Bid about 30 percent less than the disclosed price.)
On vacation packages, tours and cruises, all details are shown in advance of booking.
The more you book, the more you receive - but there's no set dollar-for-dollar or point-for-dollar system.
Yes, by subscription. A mix of deals chosen by staff and those purchased by advertisers.
Yes, 24/7, for confirmed bookings (1-800-774-2354) - though you're supposed to e-mail them first. Agents are U.S.-based.