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For best bargains, go to the source

 
   

With all the hoopla surrounding Internet discounters, it's easy to forget who's actually making the product or providing the service that you want to buy.

But if you're buying an airline ticket, booking a hotel room, picking out a computer or even shopping for an unusual book, something small and obvious sounding may surprise you.

Try the manufacturer.

Before you search the virtual world over for a deal, just go to the maker's home page and see if they'll give you something good.

You may be in for a treat.

Airline tickets
"When I recently bought airline tickets to Atlanta, I bought directly from AirTran instead of using Orbitz," says Jynelle Gracia of Iowa City, Iowa. "I saved on the service charge from Orbitz and the shipping fee for a FedEx from Orbitz.

"Orbitz didn't offer e-tickets for AirTran," Gracia says, "but AirTran itself did."

Jeremy Knapp, a graduate student at University of Iowa, saved on a holiday flight by buying through the airline.

"The last time I went home for Thanksgiving, I checked Travelocity, Expedia and Orbitz, and I found tickets that were consistently $45 to $60 higher than what was on Delta.com," Knapp says.

"Plus Delta had a direct flight with no connections, just straight from Cedar Rapids to Cincinnati."

One way to find out about direct-from-the-airline deals is to register on their site. United and American both send out e-mails listing saver fares.

Some airlines occasionally woo customers by offering deals like "take three flights and get one free." You can find out about promotions like that, too, by registering online.

You'll also get a heads-up on last-minute bargains. Those procrastinator fares are often better than what the discounters peddle.

Hotels: Just call and ask
Though travel clubs, AARP and AAA will all get you discounts, using their discounts may not always be the cheapest way to stay.

Travelers -- especially at less-popular destinations -- can be rewarded just for calling the front desk.

The Quality Inn in Moline, Ill., for instance, has a Park-and-Fly rate that includes parking and a shuttle ride to the nearby airport. That rate, available to anyone who calls, is actually $5 lower than the travel-club rates.

Another interesting possibility with hotels are the little coupon books available at chain restaurants and rest stops along major highways.

In states like Indiana, you can find a clean place to sleep for $39.95 if you just call a local hotel. If you go through a national discount line, it will probably be at least $55.

Though a hotel-discount site may sound like the best deal, sometimes looking through the Yellow Pages will be the route to a true bargain.

Computer deals direct
If you do a little surfing, you'll find that plenty of manufacturers will be happy to sell you a computer directly -- with no middleman.

From Toshiba to Dell, you can avoid the electronics store entirely. If you have a strong understanding of computers, and you know exactly what you need and what you plan to pay, a manufacturer can yield a better deal than a retailer.

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