Asheville, N.C., offers a terrific escape from the late summer heat, and it's particularly appealing when you can get a three-star hotel for $55 a night and discounts at top restaurants.

During a modest four-night getaway there a few weeks ago, I found deals that cut my vacation expenses nearly in half.

My thrifty brother-in-law, Matt, deserves the credit. He urged me to use some of his favorite websites to plan my trip, and about 10 minutes online saved me at least $250.

Here's what we did, and how you can slash expenses when you travel.

My wife and I had already booked a hotel in Asheville when Matt let me know he landed a downtown hotel room there for $55 a night through Priceline, less than half what we had expected to pay.

We had used Priceline before, and mostly with good results, so we decided to give it a shot.

Sure enough, our bid for four nights in a three-star hotel for $55 a night was accepted, in our case by a Doubletree Hotel near the Biltmore Estate with an advertised rate of $144 a night.

If you've never used Priceline, the way it works is that you can offer a specific amount of money to stay in a certain class of hotel within a defined area of the city or region where you want to stay. If any hotel meeting your criteria accepts your offer, the deal is nonrefundable.

To improve your chances of getting what you want, here's a tip: Before bidding for a hotel, find out what's available. You can search for hotels on Priceline just like on most travel sites and see the hotels' rates and where they are located.

That way, if you "name your own price" and bid for a hotel, you'll already know which hotels could accept, based on where they are and the star rating assigned to them.

We knew Priceline listed five three-star hotels in "downtown" Asheville, all listing prices of $99 or more, when we bid $55.

So after slicing our hotel expense, how did we get discounts on restaurant meals?

Matt encouraged me to visit, which sells discounted vouchers for participating restaurants.

You might pay $10 to get a $25-off certificate, or the price can be as little as $2.

This can be a big money-saver not only on vacation, but right in your hometown. regularly has sales you can learn about if they have your e-mail address.

We bought two $25-off certificates for $2 each, saving us $46 on dining in Asheville.

Having saved more than $200 on our hotel and $46 more on meals, we wrung out a few more dollars by using

By starting at Ebates and then clicking through to Priceline and, we received small cash-back rebates for our purchases.

The 2 percent back on Priceline and 15 percent on amounted to about $5, which is not much, but it's free money.

Finally, we used credit cards we had registered with Skymiles Dining to get Delta frequent flier miles for some restaurant purchases in Asheville. That's an easy way to get miles and reset the expiration dates on frequent flier accounts.

I found that vacationing is much more relaxing when it costs less than expected.

Reach David Slade at 937-5552 or