Every once in a while, it pays not to be the first to market. Remember back in 1998, when Priceline came out with its "Name Your Own Price" style of haggling? You could log on and tell Priceline what you'd pay for, say, a flight to Las Vegas. As Priceline pitch man William Shatner (Star Trek's Captain Kirk) boasted in the early ads, you could save more than 50%.

But for those of us who tried it, there were drawbacks aplenty. You couldn't see the name of the hotel or airline. You couldn't see times. You had to put in your price, and then wait - sometimes for hours - for an e-mail to learn whether it had been accepted. It was like playing hide-and-seek with an elusive bargain. Bid low, and you'd be naming your own price all day. Bid high, and you'd feel like a sucker. Worst of all: You had to enter your credit-card number before you could search. Ouch!

After a few rough experiences, I vowed never to use Priceline again, and I've kept my promise. Especially because in 2000, Hotwire, a sister company to Expedia, came along with the same basic idea, only much improved. You didn't name a random price, but you got the benefit of lower prices because the site agreed not to display the brand name or times until after you bought. And you could search without a credit card.

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