03/10/2013 10:52 EDT | Updated 05/10/2013 05:12 EDT

Five Tips for Booking Online Vacations

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FORT LAUDERDALE, FL - SEPTEMBER 27: A Southwest airplane is seen taking off from the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport on September 27, 2010 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. In a trend of continuing airline consolidation Southwest Airlines, Co. will buy its rival AirTran Airways for an estimated $1.4 billion. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

With the chilly weather forcing Canadians into hibernation, there's nothing more tempting than the idea of getting away for a week of rest and relaxation. Sunshine. Umbrella drinks. Sandy beaches. They're calling your name. My recommendation? Stop thinking about it and make those warm weather dreams come true.

The recent launch of SHOP.CA Travel got me wondering about my own vacation plans and what my advice to others would be when booking online travel.

First steps are to start planning where you want to go, what you want to spend and what you want to get out of your getaway because everything you need for that perfect vacation is available at your fingertips.

Booking travel online is something that has been growing in popularity over the past decade. The convenience of browsing, researching and comparing flights or vacation packages online makes a tropical escape a reality. So, here are a handful of tips that can help with your online booking experience.

(1) Research

It doesn't matter if you're going overseas or keeping it Canadian, always research the details of your trip before confirming a booking to save yourself time, money and stress. After all, isn't that why you want to get away?

For example, vacation packages can seem incredible, but sometimes are too good to be true. A $600 all-inclusive trip to Mexico for seven nights? It's the deal of a lifetime! But look more closely -- what's the star rating of the resort? Make sure you do a background check.

Look it up on more than one site to be sure about the quality and read the user comments. How does your flight path look? If you're lucky, you're flying direct. If you're unlucky, you might be flying via two connecting flights that are hours apart, which could mean a whole day of valuable vacation time lost to travel.

Also, refer back to my other post for some general online shopping tips because the same rules apply here. Some common potholes to pay close attention to when booking a vacation package online include: hotel star ratings and reviews, flight path, flight times and time of year. If you're looking for sunshine, Monsoon season may not be for you.

There are good vacation packages out there and there are plenty of great deals. Just know what it is you're booking and be sure to make the choice that's right for you.

(2) Plan Ahead

There are a lot of people who like to book trips last minute; sometimes it's a spontaneous decision and other times it's to get a great deal. There is nothing wrong with booking later in a season to try and score that perfect price, but are you willing to take the gamble?

The general rule of thumb when it comes to booking flights or vacations online is to do it well in advance, especially if you plan on traveling with a group. Booking ahead means you could score a great price, get the best choice in flight times or vacation dates, or maybe even land on a seat sale.

(3) Travel Rewards

Everybody loves earning bonus rewards and if there's a way to do it while booking your travel plans, you may as well take advantage of the opportunity. For example, SHOP.CA recently launched a new travel-booking category - site members can take advantage of triple the rewards by earning SHOP.CA Rewards on top of other travel credit cards and travel reward programs. Travel credit cards and reward programs are a great way to earn free flights and hotel. Just remember that redeeming travel rewards often requires some early planning, so start thinking now about your future vacation to make sure you can redeem those points in time.

(4) Travel Insurance

This is always a good idea! Whether you have travel insurance already covered on your credit card or you buy it with your vacation booking, you want to make sure you're covered in case of emergency. There's nothing worse than finding out your flight has been cancelled two hours before take-off, arriving at your destination to find out that your hotel has been overbooked, or that your luggage was redirected to a different country. Travel insurance will take care of those little things so you can keep your Zen and focus on having a good time.

(5) Travel Agent vs. Online Booking

This is really a matter of personal preference. Some people prefer the in-person experience of booking with a travel agent because they're experts who can give you recommendations and make sure your trip is absolutely perfect. Often times, they have preferred access to the bookings, meaning better hotels or deals, but not always. Others, like myself, prefer booking trips online. I love the convenience of researching my family vacations at my own leisure, drafting out the most incredible travel itinerary based on our desired budget and timeline.

Booking vacations online is becoming the convenient way to travel; it is now safer and more reliable. So, don't hesitate and start filling the pages of your passport and dreaming of your next big adventure.

To all those seasoned travelers out there, what are some of your recommendations for booking online travel?

Celebrity airport style:

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