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Despite the dominance of a few giant online hotel booking and search systems, a few niche operators can sometimes steer you to deals you might miss if you rely only on the big guys.

If you've followed the recent developments, you know that Expedia and Priceline now dominate a huge share of the online hotel booking and search space. Expedia, which just acquired Orbitz, had previously founded or acquired online agencies Travelocity, CheapTickets, Hotels.com, Hotwire, Egencia, Venere, and dozens of other online agencies around the world, plus metasearch website Trivago. Meanwhile, Priceline owns Booking.com, Agoda, and RentalCars, plus metasearch Kayak. Although these subsidiaries appear to operate separately, they share much of the back-office software and databases that drive them. But they don't control the entire marketplace—yet. You might find some better results with the smaller players.

GoSeek.com is a metasearch engine that searches through the "usual suspects" of the big agencies, then identifies those hotels that are offering coupon, mobile, AAA, or senior specialized promotions. Although it displays many deals openly on your initial search, goSeek also operates on a membership basis, displaying "subscriber rate too low to show" for some hotels. On a sample search for a Boston room in mid-March, it showed some sort of promotional deals for 83 out of the total of 194 hotels. The displays also post comparison "their rates" figures from the other search systems. Some of the coupon deals are trivial—like $1 off for a Doubletree Suites hotel—but others are substantial. ... read more»

(Photo: Dominic Arizona Bonuccelli)

Eastern Europe has experienced more change in the last generation than any other corner of Europe. With war-era grandpas now gone, across the former Warsaw Pact zone new museums and memorials deal candidly with the dark side of Communism—and Fascism before that. And now that the economy is perking up (with European Union help), impressive renovations and infrastructure improvements are springing up across the region. Here's the latest.

In Prague, the National Museum on Wenceslas Square is slated to wrap up a years-long renovation. By mid-2015, visitors should be able to see its interior, richly decorated in the Czech Revival style that heralded the 19th-century rebirth of the Czech nation. The city's Vysehrad river embankment is a fun place to hang out, having been recently spiffed up with cafes, restaurant barges, and a lively farmers market on Saturdays. ... read more»

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You can obsess so much about finding the "cheapest" air ticket that you may overlook cases when you'd be better off spending a little more.

Checked Bag: You pay $25 to check a bag for most domestic trips these days, and sometimes that's a good idea. Sure, you can schlep a big bag to the gate and onto the plane—then fight with everyone else for a spot in an overhead bin that's already full—without paying extra. But avoiding those long schleps and the fight for space is often worth $25, especially when you're on an itinerary that requires connecting at a mega-hub such as Atlanta or O'Hare. These days, I always check when I have to connect so I don't have to race from one remote gate to another hauling my large suitcase and laptop. And, at least in my recent experience, airlines have become really good at getting baggage to the claim area quickly.

Nonstop Flight: On many routes, you pay more for a nonstop flight than for a connecting itinerary. But connecting at a hub airport almost always adds at least two hours to your total time, increases the chances of encountering weather or another problem, and adds yet another level of hassle and stress. A nonstop flight is worth more than connections—that's why the airlines can charge more for a nonstop—but the nonstop is often worth the money. ... read more»

(Photo: EcoFox)

Welcome to Smarter Travel's Pick of the Day, a new feature in which we highlight must-have travel products that we have evaluated and found worthy. We'll tell you the important details and leave the buying decision up to you. Sometimes, the products will be furnished to us free of charge, but advertisers can't pay to have their item included, so you can always trust our unbiased opinion.

What Is It: A safe made from a real Arizona Green Tea can—the top comes off to reveal a place to store your valuables. ... read more»

Woman: Arms up Toward Clouds (Photo: Thinkstock/iStockphoto)

Enter the SkyMiles Cruises "Fly Free" sweepstakes by March 31, 2015, for a chance to win the grand prize: 24 Delta flight certificates, each good for one roundtrip flight within the 48 continental United States and Canada, plus one $3,000 credit towards any cruise booked through SkyMiles Cruises. There are also five runner-up prizes: four domestic Delta flight certificates each.

To enter, provide the requested information (name, email, zip code) on the sweepstakes landing page and press "Submit." Done! Time required to participate: less than 30 seconds. ... read more»

Disney characters at the Magic Kingdom (Photo: Walt Disney World Resort)

Just how magical is Disney's Magic Kingdom in Orlando? As of Sunday, February 22, it'll cost you a Mickey-mortifying $105 to find out. That's for one person, for one day.

Disney raised one-day admission prices at its other parks as well: to $99 at Disneyland and Disney California; and to $97 at Epcot, Animal Kingdom, and Hollywood Studios.

In most cases, the increases are $3.00 over previous prices. Although that might not seem like much, the new prices' approaching and exceeding $100—an important psychological benchmarkmdash;is seen as significant. On the other hand, visitor numbers at the Disney parks are robust. And even if the price increases do slightly dampen demand for single-day tickets, there's at least one scenario in which Disney comes out ahead.

Compared to the price of a one-day ticket, multi-day tickets remain a bargain. At Disneyland, for example, a three-day ticket works out to $78.34 per day rather than the $99 single-day tab. That could drive up sales of multi-day visitsmdash;a boon to Disney's park-adjacent hotel operations, which generate higher profits than ticket sales. In other words, there may be some method to the Goofiness. ... read more»

Welcome to Smarter Travel's Pick of the Day, a new feature in which we highlight must-have travel products that we have evaluated and found worthy. We'll tell you the important details and leave the buying decision up to you. Sometimes, the products will be furnished to us free of charge, but advertisers can't pay to have their item included, so you can always trust our unbiased opinion.

What Is It: An app for using the New York City subway system. ... read more»

(Photo: Tide)

Welcome to Smarter Travel's Pick of the Day, a new feature in which we highlight must-have travel products that we have evaluated and found worthy. We'll tell you the important details and leave the buying decision up to you. Sometimes, the products will be furnished to us free of charge, but advertisers can't pay to have their item included, so you can always trust our unbiased opinion.

What Is It: A three-pack of travel-sized Tide laundry detergent. ... read more»

(Photo: Goods and Gadgets)

Welcome to Smarter Travel's Pick of the Day, a new feature in which we highlight must-have travel products that we have evaluated and found worthy. We'll tell you the important details and leave the buying decision up to you. Sometimes, the products will be furnished to us free of charge, but advertisers can't pay to have their item included, so you can always trust our unbiased opinion.

What Is It: A poster featuring a map that lets you scratch off the individual countries you've visited. ... read more»

(Photo: Bureau of Land Management)

Exciting things are afoot at America's national parks. Here's the scoop on brand new parks, an upcoming big birthday, and a new initiative that aims to get more kids enjoying nature.

New Parks

This week, the National Park Service inducted three new national parks into the system. Pullman National Monument is Chicago's first national park. The park preserves the historic district that was an industrial town for the Pullman Company in the 1880s. Honouliuli National Monument in Hawaii is the site of a World War II Japanese internment camp. And Browns Canyon National Monument in Colorado protects an area of outstanding natural beauty and world-class recreational activities. 

Every Kid in a Park

What a year to be a fourth grader. The new Every Kid in a Park initiative gives kids who will be in fourth grade during the 2014-2015 school year, plus their lucky families, free access to national parks and public lands. ... read more»

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