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Big mistake people make booking rooms online

With the holidays just around the corner, your travel schedule is probably looking pretty packed with family events coming up. Or maybe you're staying home and other people are coming to you. Either way, knowing how to save on travel and accommodations is good for everyone in your life, so be sure to share this tip.

Of course, one of the biggest travel expenses is airline tickets. We've already told you three secrets to get the lowest airfare for your next trip. However, the next big expense is your accommodations. Even a moderately priced hotel or motel can cost hundreds of dollars. In a more exotic location, it can run into the thousands.

One way to save is to find a dirt-cheap motel, but they're often in sketchy parts of town and aren't a nice place to spend a vacation. Plus, what about amenities? Will you have to pay for internet? Sometimes, that's almost $20 per day. What a rip-off!

You need another strategy that works. Fortunately, we know two options that many people don't even realize are available.

1. Book directly with hotels

There are plenty of sites online that promise deals on hotels, such as Kayak. There are also sites like BackBid that let hotels bid for your business to keep their rooms full, and apps like Roomer that help you take over someone else's room reservation on short notice. However, one approach many people don't think of is calling up the hotel directly and seeing what's available.

If you do, you'll find that most offer price matching plus discounts, rooms that aren't available to deal sites, special accommodation packages you wouldn't get otherwise, and loyalty perks for returning guests. You might not always save money, but you'll get more for your dollar. Click here for more details on the benefits of booking with hotels directly.

That's nice for a regular hotel or motel, but another option people don't consider is skipping the hotel or motel entirely. No, we're not talking about sleeping in your car.

2. Skip the hotel

Instead, see what's available on Airbnb. If you aren't familiar with this site, it allows people to rent out houses, apartments or even single rooms to travelers. We've mentioned it, and other sites like it, as a way to make some extra money by renting out your place when you're away from home.

However, it can also save you money when traveling to some locations. You might find a nice apartment that's much less than the price of a hotel. In other cities, you might pay the same amount as a good hotel, but get a larger space in a better location and with amenities like a kitchen, or washer and dryer. It's more for your money, in other words.

Finding a place is easy, and in major cities, the site even helps by giving you an overview of the neighborhoods available. You can choose one that's laid back or has quick access to more exciting venues.

Before you think that this is a niche travel idea or a passing fad, Airbnb is valued at $25.5 billion according to Yahoo Finance. That puts it in first place just above hospitality giant Marriott.

Airbnb features more than 1.5 million listings worldwide and has had more than 40 million users. That makes it one of the largest "hotel" operations in the world. So, it is a serious option to consider when you travel.

It isn't without its faults, though. For example, there was the case of someone who rented out their apartment to a man who hosted a "Manhattan XXX Freak Fest." The apartment ended up with $86,000 in damages.

Fortunately, Airbnb stepped in quickly to resolve the situation, including covering the repairs. In fairness, given the number of listings it has, this kind of situation seems to happen very rarely.

If you're traveling using Airbnb, of course, you don't have to worry about someone trashing your home. You just have to make sure you don't trash the place in which you're staying, which you wouldn't.

There are other worries, though. How do you know a renter is on the up and up and isn't a serial killer or something? Airbnb has a verification system for anyone who hosts. It makes sure that they are who they say they are.

You can also look up online profiles and see feedback from people who have rented with them before. There's a messaging system that you can use to meet them virtually. This is also a great way to find interesting sights and hot spots that are near the apartment that only locals know.

If Airbnb doesn't have what you need, you can also check out competitors HomeAway and FlipKey. They might have better deals in the area you're going.

Before you travel anywhere this holiday season, make sure you're prepared. Load up your smartphone with these 10 essential travel apps that will help you find the best price on travel, navigate unfamiliar cities, help you speak the language and more.

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