By Magazine Editors June 25, 2010 As executive editor of SmarterTravel.com and author of its "Escapes Under $500" column, Anne Banas combines her passion for travel with practical advice. Her top tips:Choose a contrarian destination. Travel during a hot spot's shoulder season and be spared the high costs and big crowds of peak season. Or go off the beaten path to accessible places that offer affordable lodging and food. Banas suggests Portugal's Azores or Mexico's Isla Mujeres. Find airfares at Bing.com/travel or Kayak.com, where you can search hundreds of sources at once and sign up to get e-mail or text-message alerts to catch falling fares. Sponsored Content Speak up to get the best value in lodging. On a recent trip to Santa Fe, N.M., for example, Banas called ahead to ask for a free fourth night -- and got it. When you check in, ask for an upgrade. Advertisement Bundle airfares with hotel or rental-car costs. Use online travel agencies, such as Expedia or Travelocity, for the best bargains. Also check with airlines or specialty sites for better destination-specific deals. Banas likes Virgin-Vacations.com for trips to London and PleasantHolidays.com for Hawaiian packages. Book blind for the best bargain on a rental car. Hotwire.com generally offers the lowest listed prices around. You won't know which company you're booking with until after you pay, but, when you've seen one rental . . .