Sunday, October 5, 2008

Being A Smart Travel Shopper

I had to come up with an idea for my blog. Energy was taken so that was off the table as was everything you wanted to know about Adam. Plus I don’t have the technical skills that blogger has. I could get into obscure town political issues like MB but I’ll end up falling asleep as I key. So I decided to do something in an area that I do have a degree of experience with - being a cheapskate.

Coupon codes. Where do you get those silly little codes that you see embedded in online sites? Try this place http://www.retailmenot.com/ That one is my favorite and in just the last week I had $50 knocked off a three night stay on a booking via Expedia and another $20 a night booking at Red Roof Inns. The material can be dated at times but new additions are constantly being added. What really makes this site great is the comments section that tells you what success or lack of others have had, clues to use and any other complaints or suggestions. A second site is http://currentcodes.com/ that is OK but not quite as friendly as the previous one. Another site that is usable is http://www.dealcatcher.com/ that can find you “stuff” before you buy. A final suggestion is http://www.shopzilla.com/ for comparison shopping.

Hotels can be a pain to book since rates can vary drastically for the same room. One place I occasionally use is http://www.yogoyo.com/ that is a consolidator. A consolidator is like a ticket scalper in that they purchase blocks of rooms to resell and sometimes they have rooms to dump. Three nights at The Allegro in Chicago last year for $159 a night or one third the rack rate. A second one is http://www.hotelconxions.com/Default.aspx?tabid=127 that can catch the occasional bargain as will http://www.quikbook.com/ that specializes in NYC. http://airfare.travelzoo.com/north-american-airfare/ has always been a favorite of mine for just about anything to do with travel. TZOO usually pulls in info from several other sites and also some that seem rather obscure. Last year I got a $200 a night weekend rate at The Millennium in Times Square. This is a four star hotel and they tossed in breakfast for two and a $50 hotel coupon good for anything. I checked their rate online and it was $600 a night with NO goodies tossed in. Usually $200 a night in NYC will not even buy you a cot over a subway grate. TZOO will also have some Broadway theater tickets at steep discounts. With hotels it is always a good idea to call direct to see if there are any special promotions available that are rarely included on internet searches. Some chains will also guarantee lowest rate.

http://www.kayak.com/ and http://www.bookingbuddy.com/?departure_city=boston&source=kayak_boston_airfare will patrol every site for you. This is essential the same site but I have noticed differences when I do a search. The problem I have had with both at times is that when they connect me to the providers site the fare changes. Air Tran and Jet Blue really just suck at doing that to you. Kayak will also give you the total price rather than when you connect and find another 50% in fees. http://insideflyer.com/ is a subscription site as is http://www.bestfares.com/ but they do have some “stuff” that can help. On both I have often found the offered fares restrictive or hard to book.

I always recommend that you cross check any potential bookings. Go to various sites and, of course, the providers site. Airlines have sign ups for specials and last minute deals that are sometimes not available at the traditional sites. You will also find that virtually all travel sites have very similar rates but their fees may be different. It’s a generality but I’ve found Expedia. Com to be the most reasonable and Hotels.com the most expensive. As far as response when you “get screwed” I had exception customer survive from expedia and orbitz. Expedia called a Las Vegas hotel direct and got me in an upscale room and several coupons and it was the hotel screw up. Then they emailed me a $50 good faith coupon. This was for a $200 booking! So sometimes customer service is a plus.

A place I ALWAYS visit before I book a hotel is http://www.tripadvisor.com/ that gives reviews that are excellent. Reader submitted and a lot more in depth than the review links from travel sites. A few miscellaneous sites are http://www.friendlyplanet.com/ and http://www.cheapcaribbean.com/ that offer some interesting deals. Last year I was on Friendly Planet and saw a 18 day cruise in Australia and New Zealand including air fare from California for $1,800 TOTAL! I actually called them up and it was correct and was told if I booked in 24 hours it would be an outside cabin and a $100 ship coupon. We could not go but this is the type of stuff you can occasionally run into. Here is another I got for next week that I passed on since I’ll be in Texas. Outside cabin for a four day cruise at $199 PP and that is a 192 sq. foot cabin. I called and was told that an inside was #399! Go figure. Sometimes you will find something right out of nowhere.

A final suggestion is one I never used but others do it for peace of mind. http://www.insuremytrip.com/ As I said I’ve never used them but others have and claim they are top notch.

So far I have just scratched the surface and listed a few favorite places and there are many, many more. Again, double check everything.

Anyone feels this has any value feel free to copy it to your site, blog or tattoo it on your spouse.

13 comments:

Bluto said...

Excellent post which I will save. Only one point I have to disagree on. Flying Air Tran to Seattle was the worst flight experience of my life. Small, outdated, dirty plane where everyone was packed in like sardines. Trail mix and coke on a 6 1/2 cruise. Flight attendants cranky, post menopausal, and klutzy. No 1st class so I couldn't upgrade. Give me an AA airbus any day. Seattle's waterfront marketplace was fantastic, however, as was a trip to Mt. Rainier. Good deals on the Hilton.

Bluto said...

Oh....no movies or radio. Even Peter Pan bus lines to NYC have movies! OK, done bitchin'.

bogofree said...

Bluto I am no fan of Air Tramp and never will be. Remember they were once know as ValuJet and had that unexpected landing in the Everglades. In fact on my post I consider them guilty along with Jet Blue of bait and switch. Via Kayak I get a "cheap" fare and am connected to their site and poof....up it goes! They also charge for EVERY seat. $5 to $20 depending on what you want.

That said I am taking Air Tramp to Houston Hobby on Wednesday. Why? I found a bargain that was $40 cheaper than any other airline but I won't take them back. That's another way to find a bargain - a split fare. I have often flown in on one airline and taken another back. In this case my Air Tramp fare was $140 a ticket with all fees but we are coming back from San Antonio and the Air Tramp fare is about $200 each. However, Delta had a $99 fare that is an early AM flight with a three hour lay over in Chicago so I grabbed it. About $130 and Delta may upgrade me since I have a slew of miles with them.

My car rental is a real bargain as I get a mid size from Alamo with all fees for $200 for the six days. Had a one free day coupon but the real clincher is Alamo is the only car company in Texas that will not charge a premium from dropping off at a different location in state. That saves me $83.

A secret with car rentals is that an off airport location can be considerably cheaper. Two years ago in Portland, Oregon I rented at a downtown location and saved $15 a day. The LRV from the airport had a station one block from the downtown location. This is not a steady rule but it applies quite often and if you have quality transportation from the city you can do it. This summer in Rapid City, SD I rented off airport from the same company (Budget) because their downtown location picked me up! Six miles from the airport. Saved $60 on the rental and they let me return it to the airport.

One regional company I have had success with is Fox Rental. I go to San Diego a few times a year and they undersell everyone but they can be real slow. Also rented from them at the Phoenix Airport and saved quite a bit and they gave me a nice upgrade at no charge. Sometimes you can get a free upgrade if you are real nice and ask if there are any cars that need a few more miles on them? They tend to keep rentals under a certain mileage limit and at times some cars are short. On a family vacation about six years ago in New Mexico I was upgraded from a mid size to a fully loaded Caddy! Said they had little mileage on it since some markets just don’t rent them that well. Put on 2,600 miles in seven days.

bogofree said...

My wife and daughter usually take the bus to NYC when they go "on the town." Fares can be real cheap. I think they had a RT for about $20 each.

If you want the ultimate bargain there is always Fung Wa if you don't mind a driver who has been in America a week and live chickens running around the bus.

LMAO said...

Bozo. Let's find a nice one way fare for JP and MT. Pakistan is real nice. LMAO!

anonymous said...

Bogo is the traveling man! Did you give any bike riding trip tips to BB? Like the sign says no trespassing you keep your ass out of there? I remember your credit card tips from nemasket and signed up with Citicard for American Airlines and got 25,000 airmiles. Free ticket. No fee, either, as you said. Also got another no fee first year one from US Bank for NorthWest Airlines.

bogofree said...

Just watching Beckett do his Dice-K pitch alike thing with a slew of walks. Thankfully Joe Saunders sucks just as much and is now gone. This will be a bullpen game so I'll spend a few minutes with this.

Bluto. I forgot to mention Seattle in my answer. Great city. Real cheap places to stay is at Sea-Tac the Airport but be careful as some can be dumps. I use tripadvisor on that. The Rainer thing is a great ride as we rode around it and up into the mountain. Had a nice lunch at a lodge within the park. Harbor cruise is nice as is a trip out to the islands where the Indians put on a fish fry.

The planes to stay away from are DC-9s and MD-80s. These tend to be very old aircraft. NWA runs DC-9s between KC and Detroit and these planes are 40+ years old. Airlines are scrapping them because of fuel usage issues and even some older 737s are getting moth balled.

Anon just remember when the year is up to close out those cards and go to another one. They will offer you another year free and maybe 5,000 miles to stay with them. Your choice. Some CC companies keep tabs since I cancel and then sign up in a few months with the same one. AMEX and Chace will lock you out a year but that is only for the same card. Both have several other promotional tie-ins.

chica said...

I went to the coupon code site and then to book a room. Orbitz had a 10% off but the best was FAN50 on Expedia that gave me $50 off on a three night stay for this weekend.Two other sites the coupons they had would not work. You were right about the fees as I checked four sites and it varies. Expedia was the cheapest. I checked with the hotel (Quality Suites) and they charged $10 more on a direct reservation and $20 more through their reservation center. Seems like they all have all sorts of rates.

bogofree said...

Fan50 was the one I used also. Interesting comments on the site.

Slach said...

Off topic, sort of. JP will be needing travel plans to the Bridge to Nowhere. CFO cut her loose by removing their link to her blog. LMAO. Anyone willing to chip in for a one way ticket out of Middleboro for her?

Bluto said...

Any suggestions on how to plan a family trip to Wally World? I doubt I can get any good deals through the official Disney reservation center, and I'd like to stay at one of the more modest resorts within the park. I'm told more of these have been built in recent years. Also, I'm told that most rooms are sold out a year in advance. If so, I doubt we could get airline or rental car reservations that far ahead. As you can tell, I'm not a real experienced traveler.

bogofree said...

Bluto. My wife and daughter go down about every other year and what I have done for them is rent a condo off site. There has never been a problem getting one and it is far less expensive than staying on site and in some cases you can get transportation for free or a small charge. Car rentals are cheap, also. About as cheap as anyplace in the country. There are several excellent travel books dedicated to saving at Disney. Grab a coffee at Borders and read one. Several sites have a pile of information and are dedicated to the do's and don't of Disney. Search will give you a long, long list of them.

Staying on site can fluctuate based on what you want. There are several "packages" that Disney promotes but price them out since I generally find packages more expensive due to that per person thing. With Disney there are certain "peak" times like school vacations and holidays where prices go up because of demand and the park visit is a version of the Bataan Death March. I'm not sure about availability on site but I really can't see a problem getting a room and off site there is a real glut of hotel space. With Disney it is always wise to do advance park purchase and planning since they have mutiple theme parks. Some you may have an interest in and others just blow through.

Airfare is a real adventure. Orlando is a busy destination and the fares are usually very cheap. When I go to Sox games in Tampa I will generally fly into Orlando to save money - usually $100 and the drive is only about 70 miles. Car rentals are also cheaper in Orlando than Tampa - St. Pete. Disney has promotional agreements with several airlines that can sometimes be translated into savings on packages but don't count on it. I usually end up on Jet Blue or Delta to that area.

Look beyond Disney in that area. I've been to Disney once and it is not my thing since I like amusement parks and not theme parks. But Univeral studios and Sea World are next door and so are several other good attractions.

Ask around to friends that have been through the torture for a trip with kids to Disney is certainly torture. I don't know the age of family members but if they are older you can sit at a beer garden and let them go on their own and wait for a police call. Friends can be valuable since they know you and your preferences and you their's so valuable information can be grabbed.

bogofree said...

Satch. I have no idea why CFO cut the link? I assume a heavy dose of reality finally came home to roost. The CFO bloggers (a few, anyways) have been a key issue with me and my disagreement with the organization. Time for CFO to change the kitty litter tray and that is a good start.

JP has also managed to stay away from the casino topic and is concentrating on areas of general and public interest. Agree or disagree with her blog points it is a wise choice for her to make. A wiser one would have been to defuse the whole Clark issue six months ago.