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Make a bid for your trip

Travelers may want to begin their next trip with a few clicks of the mouse.

Online travel auction sites can offer everything from air fare to hotel stays, vacation packages and specials on car rentals. Proceed with caution and find out what you're actually paying for. Your winning bid may not necessarily be your final price; many of these packages can add exorbitant taxes, hidden fees and surcharges.

Remember that a good deal is a good deal only when you can pay less than or equal to what the package is worth. Don't fall for the listed retail price, which can be hugely inflated.

More travel auction sites are popping up all the time, but unless you know who the players are, it is not safe to risk hard-earned (and easily lost) dollars. Here are a few reliable sites to consider:

SkyAuction.com (http://www.skyauction.com) consistently sells below wholesale prices. Auctions are offered daily to locations worldwide. Opening bids begin at a dollar, but keep in mind that all items carry a tax and surcharge in addition to the winning bid. The best deals are for international airline tickets, and you can save hundreds or even thousands of dollars.

TheDailyAuction.com (http:// www.thedailyauction.com)features leading travel companies. The site holds auctions twice weekly but soon will expand to daily. In July, the site offered such low-cost round-trip fares as Dallas/Fort Worth to Frankfurt for $320 for summer travel. A ticket from Dallas to Rome went for $270. In August, Dallas to Paris sold for $290, and two tickets from Dallas to Stockholm went for $610.

Lufthansa, the highly regarded German airline, featured some incomparable deals earlier this year. The carrier will be returning with bimonthly auctions this fall.

As long as you are cautious, there are great bargains to be found. Major airlines and reputable companies such as Hilton and Hertz back some of these sites. Always use a credible source or a well-known property.

Tom Parsons is publisher of the BestFares.com Web site (http://www.bestfares.com).

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