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Strategies for booking accommodations/air separately

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Hi, I was hoping others could offer some advice for a specific situation, basically a "which comes first, the chicken or the egg" situation. I am considering a trip where I purchase accommodations through a third party (Skyauction)through a bidding process, and if I make the winning bid, I then have to specify travel dates and wait for confirmation from the provider, which takes several business days. From the point I provide my travel dates, my full payment amount is non-refundable, as long as they can meet those dates.

But, with airfare going up and my preferred travel dates being just before the December holiday season, I am reluctant to wait until I have confirmation of the hotel, and then face having to pay an astronomical airfare.

I have thought about a couple of things I can do to lower my risk of either 1) getting the hotel first and finding airfare is too expensive, or 2)buying airfare when I request the hotel, and then finding the hotel is not available for those dates. But, I was wondering what other people do in similar situations.

My research indicates that for the airlines with the best prices and service to this destination, I would face an immediate non-refundable purchase with USAirways, and a one day refundable purchase period with Delta (which won't be long enough for the hotel arrangements to get finalized). I don't believe that either airline currently allows passengers to "hold" a reservation and lock-in a price without purchasing the ticket. I know that most non-refundable tickets do allow changes (i.e., application of the value of ticket after deducting a change fee of $100 or more to another ticket to be used for travel within a year).

My ideas are:

1) If I decide to book the airfare first, I will check hotel availability through its website and other third parties for the desired travel dates to get some indication about availability (this isn't foolproof, though, because I assume that the hotels have more stringent capacity control on rooms sold at lower cost through auction sites (like airlines do with FF tickets)).

2) I'm thinking about buying trip insurance with the "cancel for any reason" add-on for the cost of the hotel and airfare, but the last time I looked at those policies, I think they provide less than full coverage (I seem to remember one company was around 75%).

3) I have thought about making a back-up hotel reservation (that I can cancel without penalty once the hotel auction accommdations are confirmed) when I purchase airfare, but the prices for a comparable hotel are quite a bit higher than my limit for the auction.

Thanks in advance for any suggestions.

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