Online travel auctions promise fabulous bargains on vacations, hotels and airfare to glamorous places, playing on travelers' desires to get a steal of a deal. Sometimes they work out wonderfully. Sometimes they don't.

Travel auction sites come in two flavors -- non-profit and for-profit. Some sites charge buyers commission. Some are actually travel agencies or consolidators. Others, like eBay's travel section, simply provide online auction space. Some sell last-minute unsold or even distressed products, while others specialize in high-end trips. A few are altruistic, donating your purchase price to charity.

But travel auctions, like other online auctions, are all about getting delivery of the exact product promised.

Your biggest risk in a travel auction is failing to read the fine print -- blackout dates, commissions, fees, surcharges, taxes or other catches that can boost the price or lower the value of your winning bid.

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