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Travel planning complaints: Sometimes it really is your fault

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Third-party travel sites are a lot like the end shelves in retail stores. Shoppers walk in with a grocery list but end up browsing those clearance racks and side shelf items that aren't any more of a deal than what's on the regular store shelves. It's easy to complain about the third-party vacation company, but sometimes travelers must admit that they bring the financial drama on themselves.

Mistake #1 Don't research third-party travel arrangement companies: Anytime a vacation is booked through a third-party site instead of directly through the car rental company, the hotels or the airlines, there are terms and conditions. They're boring to read and usually wordy. And the worst ones have entire sections full of text that is in all caps. Who wants to read a screaming document? No one. And that is the best way to not know what a traveler is in for. Even if reading those terms and conditions take small segments of a day, read them in full.

Mistake #2 Ignore the email payment confirmation rules: Some travel companies are a little trickier. Travelers may find out things they were unaware of when they purchased tickets but show up after the fact. For example, TicketsatWork.com is a third-party travel vendor with pretty decent deals for various hotels. However, when purchasing hotel reservations -- and like many other travel sites -- there's the usual info about having an ID in order to confirm the room reservation, being over 21, not using its pricing as a challenge to hotels' Best Rate Guarantee and even info about prepayment.

But travelers don't find out this pretty important piece of confirmation until after the room is paid for:

Please note that each room is part of an allocation that we have at the hotel under various agreements through our partners. This means that your name(s) may not be in the reservation system until seven days prior to your arrival, so if they have any questions please contact us and we can assist you.

So for the travelers who want to verify whether a hotel really has their rooms booked, there's a possibility that even the hotel won't know they're coming until a week before arrival. And if that hotel never got the reservation information from a third-party vendor, that leaves the traveler with a week to find another hotel at much higher rates. Always know ahead of time what the third-party vendor will do in a worst-case scenario. Keep tabs on when the hotel gets the reservation. Don't be stuck in a new city with no place to stay.

Mistake #3 Choose a room based on price instead of amenities: The traveler who is surprised to find out that the great deal online was a smoking, one bedroom with no refrigerator may find that the "Services" drop-down box already stated that. Before booking a hotel room, keep a list of preferences versus requirements. For those who are completely opposed to cigarettes, a non-smoking room is a requirement. For travelers who tend to keep leftovers or buy food from grocery stores instead of spending money nonstop at restaurants should always require a refrigerator. If the idea of sleeping next to a travel partner leads to a case of the heebie-jeebies, the cheaper room with one king-sized bed may not do the trick. Maybe some rooms are less if they're facing a wall rather than a skyline. For travelers who plan to spend very little time in the room, who cares about the view of the ocean? Don't pay for what will go unused.

Mistake #4 Ignore what's paid for. If a patron goes into a restaurant and buys a meal with a bunch of sides, shouldn't those side items be tasted? Same deal for travel fees. If a traveler is already paying for the cost of the health club, valet cleaning service, Wi-Fi or high-speed Internet, laundry service and/or continental/buffet breakfast, use it.

Mistake #5 Pay no attention to how far the hotel is from tourist spots. Is learning how to ride Chicago's Red Line to get to the Willis Tower a huge pain? Some travelers may have no choice considering their hotels are nowhere near the Magnificent Mile. In places like the Windy City, paying for parking meters or hourly parking lots may cost just as much as daily car rental rates. These are factors that need to be considered when traveling in bigger cities. The same rules apply for the distance between tourist spots. If a traveler finds a ritzy hotel in D.C. but wants to take a tour of the White House that's 20 miles away, that same traveler will spend the difference on cab, car rental gas or public transportation fees. If travel planners already know exactly what they want to see, make a list. Then verify each of those hotel location's distance from these tourist spots. The hotel that costs more to lodge in may be much closer to hot spots, in a safer neighborhood and easier to walk around in. Of course there are hotels that charge exorbitant rates specifically because they're so easy to mingle around near. Compare rates with all of them. And Smartphone users should always make use of their GPS systems. Don't let cab drivers take the scenic route thinking tourists don't know the difference.

Follow Shamontiel on Pinterest for all her latest Chicago finance, employment and savings tips, or subscribe to her Chicago Personal Finance channel at the top of this page.

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