I have no magic wand. I really don't.
Booking airfare: I check Orbitz , Expedia , Travelocity , AND some of the airline's sites directly. Site59 is a recent discovery for last-minute air and hotel packages. I almost always book my hotels through Priceline , but I do my research beforehand on BiddingForTravel.com . I get e-mails from Travelocity's FareWatcher to notify me of changing fares. For last-minute travel , SmarterLiving and BestFares are two places to find lists of pretty much all of that week's airline specials on Wednesdays (WN's specials come out on Tuesdays and are NOT good for the following weekend; you must plan 3 weeks ahead (I think)). Frommer's has a list of air consolidators; they can sometimes avoid advance-purchase requirements and quite possibly beat peak fares (e.g., summer to Europe). If you can leave any time of day, are not concerned with mileage or upgrades, and REALLY want a good fare, you can try a bid on Expedia or Priceline . They have similar services. Noteworthy difference: The price you bid on Expedia is the price you pay; Priceline adds fees (amount varies). Hotwire is a newcomer; you can see the exact price offered (again without itinerary details other than date of travel) and then buy it or not. JUN01: I just found that CheapTickets has a Hotwire-esque set-up but you know the schedule before you buy it! (Of course if you're smart (or at least resourceful), you can probably figure out the carrier based on the schedule.)
Booking hotels: I've had some GREAT deals via Priceline . Example: Two rooms for one night at the Westin SFO: $84.xx total with all fees! Refer to BiddingForTravel.com for bidding strategies and to see what others have paid for a comparable star-level and region as what you want. I've also used Quikbook and TravelWeb (which posts weekly specials (and sends an e-mail) each Monday for special rates for the following weekend for select chains (W Hotels, Wyndham, Sheraton, etc.)). BestFares has a larger list of hotel specials AND the airline specials on Wednesdays. (I think you can jump to it with this link: http://www.bestfares.com/newsdesk/internet_charts/hotel_internet.htm ). Holiday-Inn.com posts their specials on Tuesdays.
FlyerTalk is a fantastic resource. It's a message board for mileage-obsessed people, and you can also find tidbits like which seats are best on the NW 747-400 from JFK-NRT as opposed to the 747-200 which I think they fly from SFO-NRT.
US : Their Envoy Class on their A330s is FABULOUS (last time I took it anyway (FEB02)). Check FlyerTalk for more up-to-date input about the quality of their business class. Based on my limited experience of int'l business class, I can say US beat CO's BusinessFirst and UA's Connoisseur Class. Great seats (which took a while to figure out since there were so many control buttons), great attendants (except one chilly one on the LGW-CLT leg), good food (even the salmon was good - not terribly overdone like just about any other seafood I've had on flights), and, as Peter (LGA) pointed out, Courvoisier Imperial, which he said Air France's FIRST Class didn't even serve!
NW : They have bottled water on domestic flights now (the lack of it was part of why I started flying CO). I really like some of their ground crews at LGA and DCA :) , and it's usually less hassle to stand-by for a NW flight on the same-day as your original itinerary than on CO. (I have had CO give me a hassle because I wanted to connect through a different hub than the original itinerary; I've rarely been hassled about that on NW.) Suggestions: MSP is really spread out - the new DTW airport is a nicer option. And to help out the first class breakfast, try bringing some good condiments - maybe a pepper grinder; why they (or any airline for that matter) can't/won't manage to get some decent bagels on flights out of NYC, I don't know).
CO : I started flying Continental since they were willing to match my gold status on NW, but those awards they were given went to their heads. I prefer NW and US. I give up movies on transcontinental flights becauise I don't like a lot of the people with whom I've dealt at CO - in reservations, at EWR, and in their OnePass (frequent flyer) department.
Simply called Go , British Airways' low-fare carrier could be a good option for getting to other European destinations. I have yet to fly them.
Icelandair : Great source of bargain fares to Europe; I think they are partners with TW.
KL : I like KLM for service to Europe largely because of Schiphol, Amsterdam's airport. The duty-free shopping area is well-priced on some items, particularly Neuhaus (available in several locations of the airport labeled CHOCOLATE on the map of Schiphol) and Advokaat (a bizarre egg liqueur made by Bols) in the liquor store.
LO : I have yet to fly them, but I considered taking them to KRK nonstop from ORD.
Ryanair is starting a BRU hub. I'll add details on this carrier later.
TG: I think Thai Airways is your only option if you want to fly from BKK to CNX (Chiang Mai). Not bad at all except for a ludicrous baggae policy requiring the checking of any baggage over 5 kilos (or was it 7 kilos...). Anyway, it was ridiculous.
UA : They screwed travel agents, and I no longer fly them. (Or at least they and DL really started the worst of the cuts to travel agents.) And don't assume that flying 10,000 miles in coach on Singapore Airlines with your Mileage Plus number will get you 10,000 miles added to your account; I think you would get 70% of that. And for coach on TG? 50% of actual mileage. (These figures sometimes change; check with Mileage Plus.)
VS : Almost everyone seems to like them, but I will not fly then again because of their baggage policy that's similar to TG's.
WN: Southwest's site is particularly easy for booking travel. If you just fly 3 or 4 times per year in the WN market (particularly for short-haul), their Rapid Rewards plan is the one for you. Friendly employees and just generally low-B.S. (Peter's (LGA) comment). They seem to have very short layovers (e.g., ISP-BNA with a stop in BWI), which sometimes results in a little tardiness, but any other carrier would probably have taken at least as long (if not longer) to get you there by the same route. If you are not prepared to check in early enough to be in the first or second "boarding groups" (WN's famous (infamous?) "cattle car" boarding/seating process), be prepared to check your rollaboard (the rolling flight attendant-type suitcases) in case the bins get filled by the time you board.
I have never used STA Travel ; let me know any input y'all may have. Best Fares is a very good reference, from airport codes to airline links to a currency converter. Subway questions? Try this subway navigator . ATMs abroad: Visa or MasterCard . The Travelsite's Bargain page for "Last Minute Impulse" Fares on Virgin Atlantic, Las Vegas Packages, etc. For last-minute hotel prices, try Travelweb's weekly e-mail list or Holiday Inn's Holideals .
For a wide range of information on frequent flyer tips, airports, frequent flyer tips, restaurant options in various cities, and more frequent flyer tips, see FlyerTalk , one of my favorite sources of information.
Travel: Hotwire , Orbitz , Orbitz (g a yt r av e l section) , Expedia.com , Travelocity Dream Maps (one of the coolest features for the Desperate To Get out of Town Traveler), Travelocity Promotions , Priceline Air: priceline.com - Save up to 40% or more! , Priceline Hotels: Hotel BestDeals , Rental Car Itinerary Link , Priceline: , CheapTickets , USAHotelGuide , Site59 (one of my best recent travel finds!), Enterprise
Flags courtesy of ITA 's Flags of All Countries .