Times have changed and so has the vacation planning process. In the Digital Age, with just a few clicks, more and more people are becoming their own travel agents through ever-popular travel booking sites. 
Hundreds of online travel booking sites exist, such as Expedia, Travelocity, Priceline and Kayak, just to name a few. A joint study by Oxford Economics and Expedia found that 21 percent of travelers use a third-party site to book their trips. The sites make it easy to research hotel prices, airfare, cruises and car rentals. But will taking the time to compare rates on these sites really help you keep more green in your pocket? The answer is, well, a little complicated. 

Cost-comparison at its best
Let’s face it – travel booking sites are great research tools. Enter your origin, destination, travel dates and number of travelers, and within moments you have access to hotels, airlines, cruise lines and vacation packages. These robust search engines can gather pricing from nearby airports, mix and match flights offered by competing airlines and will even let you know if adjusting your travel dates by a few days will save money. If you’d like to sort hotel options to ensure you’re in walking distance to a venue or view only those that offer free airport transfers and complimentary breakfast, let these comprehensive platforms sort the options and crunch the numbers. 
After finding the right mix of accommodations, will you see savings? Sometimes. The ability to bundle can create significant cost savings. And, if you’re loyal to a travel booking site, its member rewards can lead to discounted travel on future bookings.  

Direct booking perks
While booking direct limits your ability to bundle and comparison shop, many in the travel industry would love to avoid the “middle man” and its associated costs. Some hotel chains have even launched campaigns with extra incentives to encourage customers to book directly through their sites, including Hilton’s “Stop Clicking Around” campaign. The hotel chain surprises guests who book direct with upgrades. Each week, the challenge moves to a different city in a different country. Marriott followed suit with a campaign called “It Pays to Book Direct.”
The good news: There’s no rule stating that you can’t compare costs and features on a booking site before booking direct. Just remember to factor in things like reward points, miles accrued and other perks as they, too, hold value. 

The fine print
Life happens and so do last-minute trip cancellations. Your wallet can take a hit as result. Review the cancellation policies and trip insurance options. Sometimes the extra money and peace of mind are worth it. Also take a close look at the fee breakdown before clicking “purchase” in case things like booking fees, taxes or other charges were omitted from the quoted price. 
A little research can go a long way when booking a vacation. Saving a little cash during the booking process just might keep that sought-after restaurant or popular excursion within budget.