More vacation sellers are offering layaway, but you don't need to go there

We're all learning how to use layaway again. Once a staple at your local Sears, the concept of buying products on monthly installments before you take them home, which was common in the days before credit cards enabled us to take home things we hadn't actually paid for yet, has made a comeback of sorts recently.

The resuscitation of layaway plans has trickled into the vacation industry. Hurtigruten, which runs ships up and down the fjord-filled Norwegian Coast (including to the Northern Lights) is offering the chance to book its cruises with monthly, no-interest installments. The website eLayaway, which facilitates installment payments, has signed up Hyatt hotels as a merchant and sells gift cards that can be used for stays in its properties. And the website Layaway-travel.com is devoted to the concept of paying for a trip over a year, albeit with cancellation fees that begin at $50.

Layaway isn't the same as buying on credit, nor the same as the "Bill Me Later" option that airlines such as JetBlue, Continental, AirTran, and U.S. Airways are using to get customers back on the hook. Those options let you claim a product or a trip before you've actually paid for it, and they come with fees.

Layaway, traditionally applied, is merely a matter of paying on installment. But unless a layaway comes with strings attached, such as added fees for the privilege (eLayaway levies a 1.9% service fee), when it comes to travel, you'd be better off just saving money yourself and booking your trip when you have enough.