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A few weeks ago, one of my clients asked me to attend a meeting on short notice. I contacted my travel agent in an attempt to book a last-minute round-trip flight from New York to California, and was shocked to learn the airfare would cost more than $1,800.

Perhaps the agent's larger clients could handle this hefty price tag, but as a home-business owner, I needed to find a less expensive option.

One of my staff members offered to take a look on the Internet for a better deal. Twenty minutes later, she walked into my office with a $370 ticket. The itinerary she found was similar to the one my travel agent located, except that the airline was not as well known as the major carriers.

To find this bargain, my employee accessed a travel Web site that uses the same database technology travel agents tap into for flight information. This site let her put together multiple combinations of flights until she found the price she wanted.

Since most home-based businesses do not have the deep-pocket travel budgets of large corporations, going online is a great way to keep travel costs in check. You can use e-mail and the Internet to save a considerable amount on flights, hotels, rental cars and other travel expenses.

The prices found through cyberspace tend to be lower than those offered through newspapers and direct mail primarily because travel companies save money by selling electronically. In some cases, these online savings are accompanied by limitations on dates of travel or payment methods, so it's worth the effort to read an offer's terms of agreement before making a purchase.

Here are some online bargain resources that may help you keep your business travel budget in line:

? Airline e-mails. Many major airlines now send weekly e-mail messages to people interested in last-minute flight specials. The tickets offered usually have strict terms of purchase, but the savings can be substantial. For example, a recent special offered a round-trip ticket from Louisville, Ky. to New York City for $159. To find out if your preferred airline offers this weekly service, visit the airline's corporate Web site.

? Corporate Web sites. Many rental-car companies, airlines and hotel chains offer specials on their Web sites. Site visitors are often required to complete reservations online to take advantage of these bargains. By visiting the National Car Rental Web site, the Louisville-New York traveler could reserve a rental car at Newark airport a New Jersey airport just outside of Manhattan for $26 per day. Considering rental cars often cost more than $60 per day in the New York area, this cyber bargain offers considerable savings.

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