For dream swaps, check out 3RD Home. Pay a two-year, $495 membership fee, register your luxe second (or third) property, and then collect enough “keys” online to stay at someone else’s hideaway. Imagine a four-bedroom home on the Côte d’Azur just outside of Nice or an oceanside retreat in Encinitas, California.
To find more attainable swaps, visit HomeExchange.com, where you can flip your Washington, D.C., townhouse for a home on the Oregon coast. Yearly membership is approximately $120. At Vacation Rentals by Owner, you can score beautiful beach houses or simple chalets. There is a $299 fee for listing.
Using an umbrella site first also saves precious moments when you don’t want to hunt through several sites to find one going your way. Be aware that some airlines, such as JetBlue and Southwest, aren’t always listed on suitcase sites, so you may need to head to their Web sites at the start.
Check Yapta.com to track fares and hotels. If a price drops significantly, Yapta will e-mail or Tweet at you so you know to request a refund or credit. And Priceline.com is still a favorite for hotel discounts and car rental deals.
But buyer beware: As with all bids, make sure to check the seller’s record and reputation and choose those with recognizable names, like the Westin. That way, you can call the resort directly or check its Web site to vet actual prices and be sure you’re getting a bargain.
“I need to fill beds. If I’m empty, I’ll make deals at the last minute,” says Tammy Jo Long, founder and president of Luxury Living Properties in Savannah and Tybee Island, Georgia. “But call—if you book online, the system isn’t set up for that.”
Hire a car service or pay someone to drive you. For a family of four, the ticket savings could be enough to pay for a couple of extra nights in a beachside hotel.
To find an agent, visit the American Society of Travel Agents at www.asta.org. Enter your city and state to find an agent nearby, or do a detailed search based on the type of vacation you want.