(MONEY Magazine) – TIP 1 Cold today, tan tomorrow
Four steps to becoming one of those lucky people who always seem to stumble on last-minute vacation deals
• REMEMBER MEXICO The Yucatan has bounced back from Hurricane Wilma--some 90% of hotels are now open. Inexpensive, resort-rich areas like the Riviera Maya remain classic last-minute values. Check out rivieramaya.com.
• SHARPEN YOUR SEARCH Use sites that specialize in travel plans for people who forgot to make travel plans: Site59.com, LastMinute.com and 11thhourvacations.com.
• PACKAGE IT Hotel-and-air-fare packages are often the best way to save. Pleasantholidays.com (where we saw a six-day five-star trip to Puerto Vallarta for $118 a day) and Go-Today.com are two sites that offer lots of all-in-one deals.
• STAY AT A NEW RESORT Grand openings often mean low rates. Rooms at Coco Palm (coco-resorts.com), the first boutique hotel in St. Lucia, start at $145 a night this winter. Ask a travel agent about recently opened spots. --DONNA ROSATO
TIP 2 Check your nanny's background Allowing a nanny, housekeeper or contractor into your home--and the life of your family--takes trust. But less than it used to, thanks to the growing online background check industry. One player, ChoiceTrust (choicetrust.com), charges $100 to check identity, criminal records, driving record, credentials and licensing.
• LIMITATIONS Access is confined to the public record, which could cause gaps--not every state's sex-offender registry is online, for example. But even an incomplete check is better than none, provided you don't skip the reference checks and good judgment. --JANET PASKIN
TIP 3 Store medical records online Several new online services let you safely store and manage your medical records, headache-free:
• MyMedicalRecords.com Type in data via the Web and fax in images (like X-rays). $60 to $80 a year.
• FollowMe.com Enter info and upload scanned images. $25 to $66 a year.
• iHealthRecord.com You can't upload files yet; that's coming in 2006. Free.
• Medic Alert e-Healthkey Actually a key fob/USB flash drive you carry. It's linked to an online database, so E.R. docs can access critical info (the rest is password-protected). $85 for drive and first year; $20 a year after that.
• ALL OF THESE make clear who can see your info (doctors) and who can't (Publisher's Clearing House). Still, read privacy policies closely. --KATE ASHFORD