Budget Tips AT the Rental Car Counter

You’re at the rental car counter…reservation in hand. What do you do now to insure you’re not taken advantage of?  Well, I’m assuming you read reviews and chose a company with high marks.  Everything should be fine.  However, it never hurts to be informed to better protect yourself.

What Do You Need To Know?

Insurance: Insurance is a requirement – but your regular auto insurance policy may cover rental cars. Check with them and if so, bring proof (insurance card or letter from company).

Some credit cards will insure the car when the transaction is processed on their card. Call your credit card company to inquire and of course, bring proof of that as well.  There’s no need to buy a policy from the rental car company if you’re already covered elsewhere (savings of $8-$15/day).  The rental company MAY pressure you (high pressure) to buy their policy….it’s a HUGE money maker for them.  But know that you CAN politely refuse with proper proof.

WORD OF CAUTION:  DON’T attempt to drive without insurance coverage…  The price/consequence for that is MUCH higher than just purchasing coverage from the rental company.

Re-Fueling Options:  

  • Return the car without refueling.  They refuel at THEIR price.  This is the worst option as their price is VERY high!!
  • Refuel before returning the car –   You may be required to present a receipt for gas purchase – especially if you drove the car less than 75 miles.  Confirm their policies when you pick up the car.
  • Many companies are now offering a 3rd option:  You PRE-PURCHASE a FULL tank of gas – at a less-than-market price. The catch? You are charged for the full tank regardless of the fuel level upon return. To get the best value, you need to return the car as close to “empty” as possible. That CAN be hard to gauge.  Now, the savings can be as much as .25/gal. On a recent rental we were offered this option….and told that if we didn’t drive the car to “E”, we could just  refuel it ourselves. The deal would then be ‘void’. When they put that in writing, I decided to give it a try.  We ended up refueling as our tank was only down to 1/3 on the last day.  If those policies become the ‘norm’ over time, it MIGHT be something to consider…

KNOW the Total Cost:  Before leaving the lot, make sure you’ve been given the TOTAL charges – upfront..  Some (less than reputable) companies may try to assess extra charges when you return the car. You’ll have no recourse then.

Online Horror Stories:  I’ve read horror stories of people returning a car only to have the employee walk around the vehicle and “find” every scratch, dent, & door ding and access charges for them.  I’ve never experienced that myself, however, when we first get a car, I ask the employee to walk around the car with me THEN  making notes on the form AND TAKING PICTURES of any major dents or scratches/dings.  I don’t get overly “picky” here, but do make note of things that are “moderately significant”. (including wheel rims and the interior.) and make sure the employee knows that I’ve gone over the car carefully MYSELF.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/mag3737/10665688545/sizes/l

Photo Credit: Tom Magliery on Flickr CC Lic.

Maybe just doing this keeps them from being dishonest with me later… or maybe those horror stories aren’t true…. I do this nonetheless.

Extra Note: I have read quite a few online articles that advise taking pictures of EVERYTHING when renting in Hawaii.  I don’t know why they isolate Hawaii, but I found the sheer number of articles interesting. We rented cars on 3 islands and didn’t have any problems.  Of course, I followed the advice.

Rental Car Rates:  Rates are based on a 24 hour clock (not pro-rated) OR weekly rates. (cheaper than per day)  Returning a car early can cause your rate to go up if it drops you out of the category you’ve been priced with. In an emergency you have no other choice; just don’t be surprised if that happens.

  1. Unlimited mileage on rental cars is pretty standard these days, but confirm this if you plan to drive long distances.
  2. Out of State:  If your travel plans will take you out of the state where you rented the car, make sure this is within their policy.  In Alaska, we rented a car in Skagway to drive the Klondike Highway…Into Canada.  They DO allow renters to take the car ‘into another country’ AS LONG AS YOU TELL THEM.  Had I not read the fine print, then had any kind of problem/car trouble, accident, etc… we could have been in a LOT of hot water.  Again…and I’ve said this many many times  READ THE FINE PRINT!!

May be of interest:  Finding Bargains on Rental Cars

Can You Get Rid of a Timeshare?

We have asked this question more times than I can count.  The answer ALWAYS came back a resounding “No”!

Until this year!  🙂

We bought our timeshare 11 years ago. We knew within 2 yrs that it was NOT a good decision; however, at that point, we owned it.  We were paying the annual maintenance fees.  If we didn’t use it, that money would go to waste. We had to just make the best of it.

Now, before this goes to the depth of negativity, I will say that we DID take some very nice vacations and stayed in luxurious accommodations. However, the planning of those vacations was often quite a challenge.  More times than not, timeshare availability determined our destination rather than our family’s preference. We chose to be excited about any vacation destination, but we rarely chose them ourselves. When we couldn’t use the timeshare, our points expired. Money paid in maintenance fees went to waste.  When we discovered that renting from VRBO, HomeAway or purchasing a Groupon was less than those maintenance fees, we REALLY regretted owning.

Every time we attended an “owner update” (another word for sales presentation) they would try to entice (another word for pressure) us to buy more points. We typically 20150429_150304responded with  “How do we get rid of this?”  (a question they usually didn’t appreciate…haha)  The answer always came as  “That’s not possible.”  Once in Las Vegas (company headquarters) the answer was “There’s NO WAY (expletive expletive) you can relinquish ownership”.

We gave up…we were strapped in this –  as would be our children when we died as it was ‘deeded’ and would be part of their inheritance – a burden!  ugh!!!

THEN….things changed this year.  During our annual call to the company asking about relinquishment… they GAVE US AN OPTION!  I was completely shocked – thrilled…but shocked!!!  Perhaps they just got tired of us asking???  ha!   At any rate, if we met their criteria, we could relinquish..

The Criteria:  (Note:  This may not translate to all companies; this was just our experience)

  • Paperwork (for relinquishment) signed and notarized
  • Payment of the current year’s maintenance fees WITHOUT using any of the point allotment.  UGH!!!
  • Payment of a processing fee equal to 25% of our annual maintenance fees.

It was irritating to pay maintenance fees and not be allowed to use the points…and even more irritating to pay the processing fee for someone to spend 5 min. clicking on a computer.  But it got us what we’d wanted for a LONG time!!  We immediately started jumping through their hoops!!!

After the paperwork was completed and payment submitted per the instructions, it took another 3 months for our online account to be deleted (I checked regularly to see if we were still in their system)   However, almost immediately, they cashed our check – and that qualifies as acceptance of the ‘contract’/paperwork.  Finally, THREE MONTHS after submitting that paperwork/money, we were NO LONGER OWNERS!!!   IT WORKED!!!!

FINAL THOUGHTS:

It would be wonderful if all Timeshare companies made this option available to their customers. I do not know if that’s the case.

A Word of Advice to Those Considering Purchasing:

  • Do NOT buy a timeshare on a ‘Let’s try this out” basis. Scammers Beware Timeshare talk is here Yes, we were able to relinquish…but not before paying THOUSANDS of dollars in maintenance fees (and that irritating relinquishment fee). And realize, that just because we were able to relinquish doesn’t mean other companies will allow their owners to.
  • Only purchase if you KNOW you’ll want it forever…and your kids will want it forever…and your grandkids will want…etc…..  If you purchase a ‘deeded’ property, it and it’s (ever-increasing) maintenance fees will be passed down to your heirs and become their financial responsibility…or burden….

How can YOU relinquish?

  • First, Go into this process prepared for an uphill climb. Don’t expect it to be easy.  (We’ve been trying to relinquish for 8-9 years)
  • Read over your original paperwork carefully. That’s where we found the loophole that got us out.  It involved a buy out and the fact that we’d never ‘converted’…
  • Ask about relinquishment over and over and over…..and over and over. Be firm and consistent without being rude or hateful  (Rude or hateful rarely ever works!!!)
  • Send lots of emails asking about relinquishment.  (again, business-like and firm, but not rude)
  • Go to the “Owner Updates” (i.e. sales presentations) every chance you get (our company allowed us to go every 6 mos.)  and within the first 5 min. ask how you can get rid of it.  Drive them crazy with your (polite but persistent) inquiries!!!
  • NEVER under any circumstances sign anything or purchase MORE points or ‘time’.  Never ‘convert’ if there’s a buy out of your company.
  • There are companies that advertise that they will sell your timeshare….if you pay them…sometimes as much as $2000. I’ve always wondered if they were scams –  They MAY be legitimate, but honestly, I can’t imagine that they could sell it.  Think about it….have you ever heard of anyone buying from those places?  If they were selling, someone would need to be buying, right?
  • Some people hire lawyers to try to get out of these. We never did that as we saw that as another way to SPEND money on the timeshare.  I can’t speak to how successful (or unsuccessful) that would be.

Bottom Line:  Try to do this on your own without getting another party involved….certainly a party who will charge you MORE money.  Look for loopholes. Then, just be repetitive.  Drive them crazy with your inquiries.

Will that tactic work?  I don’t know. It did for us. It’s certainly worth a try.

I wish you the best of luck in getting rid of your timeshare if that is your choice.  Hopefully what worked for us will work for you too.

Cruises Part 1: Finding Bargains and Booking

Cruises CAN be a very economical vacation…it depends on several factors.  The claim from the cruise line is that because they are all-inclusive (accommodations, food, and transportation obviously!!  🙂 ), they cost less than other vacations.  This is (partially) true!  🙂

However, there are some factors that affect the cost of your cruise.  These decisions are what determines the final cost you will pay.

  • Transportation TO the port: Driving, even if it takes 2 days and requires a hotel stay en route, will almost always be more economical.  Airfare is typically more expensive.  Of course, IF your drive is 3+ days and 2+ hotel stays….or if you find that ‘once in a lifetime’ bargain airfare, by all means, FLY!!! 🙂  NOTE:  If cruising out of FL, check Allegiant Airlines.  They service the tourist areas and offer some great fares. Be sure to add into your budget all the extra charges (carryon bag fees, pillow, blanket, etc…) they add in when you board to get an accurate idea of the cost.
  • Cabin Type and Location:  Cabins are priced from interior (least expensive) up to Luxury Suites (most expensive). They are also priced according to location – from forward (cheapest) to Aft (mid-price) to mid-ship (most expensive).  The lower decks are sometimes cheaper than higher decks.  Each of these factors affects the price of your cruise.   
  • Activities in Port:  Cruise sponsored excursions are more expensive than excursions purchased on your own.
  • What you Spend On Board:  This of course, is just like anything else.  YOU determine what you spend

If you’ve decided that a cruise is for you, then consider these questions/decisions:

SHOULD I GO THROUGH A TRAVEL AGENT?

Though I don’t advocate going through a travel agent for any other type of vacation, with a cruise it really doesn’t make any difference in the price you pay (Find a travel agent who doesn’t charge for his/her services).  Their commission is paid by the cruise line – NOT by you.  They can sometimes offer perks that make purchasing through them a bargain.  In doing this though, it’s important to find a GOOD agent – but get  recommendations from friends. I DON’T recommend finding one through an advertisement.

Advantages To A Travel Agent:

  • If you’re a first time cruiser unfamiliar with the differences in the cruise lines (what they offer, who they cater to, what ‘experience’ they offer)  a professional can direct you to the cruise line that can best meet your wants/needs.  Finding this information on your own can be challenging as the company websites don’t typically advertise this information. ha!
  • They will take care of all communication between you and the cruise line – if you need a price adjustment or want to change your dining arrangements, cabin location, or anything associated with your reservation.  In fact, if you book through a travel agent, all communications MUST go through them.  You won’t be able to call the cruise line yourself and make any changes to your reservation.  That can be an advantage or disadvantage depending on how you look at it.
  • “Full service agents” MAY print cruise documents and luggage tags for you.  You pick them up a few days before you leave.
  • Cruise lines sometimes offer incentives (shipboard credits)  to agents.  The agent decides if he/she wants to keep that for him/herself….or share it with you….   As you’re ‘shopping’ for an agent, ask if there are any special ‘incentives’ or ‘perks’ available for booking through them?
  • AAA members can secure some bargains when booking through AAA.

NOTE:  Before choosing an agent, make sure he/she does NOT charge a booking fee or ‘change’ fee to make any adjustments to your reservation (cabin changes, upgrades, etc…)  There are plenty of agents who don’t charge for these services.  Go with one of those.  🙂   

Advantages to Booking Yourself:

  • You are able to contact the cruise line directly to get any price adjustments or make changes/upgrades to your reservation. You don’t have to ‘wait’ on anyone else to do it.
  • The last time we booked though a travel agent, we qualified for 2 price adjustments.  Our travel agent got those for us, but it was SOOO apparent that she didn’t really want to do it. I’m sure she lost commission every time our fare went down…  😦  and even though I found the reductions in fare, I couldn’t call the cruise line to get those credits to our account…I HAD to go through her.  End result was that I was made to feel guilty every time I contacted her for a price adjustment.  (I asked anyway because it was a family cruise – price adjustment X 4).

NOTE:  Travelocity, Kayak, Expedia etc… ARE travel agents.  If you book through them, you will have to go through them for any changes to your reservation.  This can be an advantage or a disadvantage depending on your perspective.  They are HUGE companies so carry clout and offer good bargains and perks…but when you call them, you will never talk to the same person twice. On the ‘up side’, their call centers now takes messages and call you back eliminating the ‘forever on hold’ phenomenon…   Again…it’s all a matter of preference.

MY THOUGHTS:  I have determined that for our needs, I prefer to book directly through the cruiseline myself – waiting for bargains or perks that they offer.  Unless the incentives from the travel agent or broker are just SOOO wonderful that I simply can’t pass them up, I find it more of a hassle to communicate only through a 3rd party.  I prefer to just do it myself.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/jamesgood/122007935/in/photolist-8ZvcDg-9B7iSC-iXx6p-5BLiYj-hLnY1Y-4gKS7g-dL7Cv3-7MmpUC-7sTMJk-9Bic2z-bMjH6-dcnSXe-bNpk3z-gmpJ63-bymgHn-ebCuwp-bG3cQM-8R7b2y-4HPfXX-4FRAbJ-4DwFhG-3e7jb5-iuZJCa-dtRGcZ-ch6aA7-ch6HQ3-d4tSj5-qycks-eG8ejF-ch6awS-e92145-e8Vm1Z-jg3LoW-9NGKrb-dbdGGh-ch6arq-ch6b7u-ch6aUw-ch6b3j-ch6aRs-ch6aWE-ch6b5m-75d52f-gu4dD-4HPg48-3yentU-77bpMD-7RgoVy-5Qfmdi-4B4Zpk

Photo Credit; James Good on Flickr CC Lic.

CHOOSING THE CRUISE LINE

Because the cruise lines are each different in their own way, it’s a good idea to find the one that ‘fits’ you.  Each company caters to a different type of traveler.  For example, Carnival ‘seems’ to cater to the younger crowd while Holland America ‘seems’ more for the older crowd.  Regent is for the ‘discriminating traveler” (as they put it, ha!) looking for 5 star accommodations and  dining.  They also give FREE airfare and unlimited FREE shore excursions (though in reality, their prices cover those costs….and then some….  haha)    Having said that, I must say that all the lines are making attempts to cross these generational (and income) boundaries so Stay Tuned!!

If I had to put them in order and categories based on level of luxury (and price), I would do it like this:

  • Carnival
  • Royal Caribbean;  Norwegian;
  • Princess
  • Holland America;    Celebrity;
  • Cunard;   Crystal;   Regent

Disney is a category all its own because it is so different from any of the others.  Do not think that ‘The Mouse’ is only for the kids, though.  Disney Cruises are just as nice for adults, honeymooners, grandparents.  They, too, are trying to NOT be put into a box.  You will pay for all the perks of a Disney cruise though.  They are typically twice the price of the same identical cruise on Carnival.

Obviously, the more you pay, the higher level of luxury and pampering you will receive.  You get what you pay for on this as with anything else.

Best Cruise line for Kids and Families: Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, Princess, Disney
Best Cruise line for the ‘Over-50’ Crowd: Holland America, Celebrity or Royal Caribbean
Best Cruise line for singles: Carnival, Norwegian, Cunard, and Royal Caribbean

NOTE:  Most cruise lines have a policy about pregnant women sailing….typically, they will not allow a woman who is more than 24 wks. pregnant to board.  BE AWARE that this policy MAY not be ‘advertised’ on the website.  IF this pertains to you, search for this information or call the cruise line and inquire.  They WILL refuse boarding at the terminal to any pregnant woman determined to have passed the 24 wk. mark….possibly with no refund.  This probably should be in a more prominent place on websites, but so far I haven’t seen it there…

FINDING THE BEST PRICE ON A CRUISE

  • First of all….DISCOUNTS:
    • Resident Rate: Ask about discounts for your state – Many cruise lines offer a discount to those who live in states with ports.  It never hurts to ask.
    • A military discount is pretty standard.  If you’ve served in the military  🙂 🙂 be sure to ask about that.
    • Discounts for various jobs:  Teachers, Fire/Public safety personnel
    • Senior discounts – this is not as common, but still worth asking about
  • Timing plays a big role in pricing.  The BEST PRICES are usually found the day the cruise is put on the market.  If you can’t book that far in advance (18 mo??) then the next ‘best price’  and cabin choices will typically be found 90-120 days before the sailing date.
  • Cabin Type and Location determines pricing too:  Prioritize!
    • Is ‘less motion’ important to you?  Book mid-ship.
    • Is ‘quiet’ important to you?  Check what is directly above and below your cabin – and book a cabin away from elevators, atriums or doors….and possibly “white areas” on the deck maps.
    • What are you willing to compromise on?  interior cabin?  lower deck?  perhaps forward or aft (rear) of the ship if you aren’t bothered by motion. (Mid-ship is most expensive)

Every decision you make in this area either increases or decreases your price.

  • You can save money if your vacation timing is flexible. It all goes back to the Law of Supply and Demand and prices vary by week.  Cruising ‘off-season’ or when everyone else is NOT cruising is always less expensive. A little comparison shopping will quickly show the most economical times to cruise. Holidays such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years and Valentines  as well as summer when kids are out of school are usually pricier.
  • Weather Patterns – hurricanes, et al.:  Hurricane season in the Caribbean is June-Sept….especially Sept.  Traveling during those times is a risk…but it is also usually a bargain.  You have to decide if you’re willing to take the risk to get the bargain.  I recommend travel insurance for all cruises….but ABSOLUTELY for cruises during hurricane season.  I will say, my family has traveled during this time and it worked out fine for us….but we bought the insurance….and we understood the risks we were taking.  🙂  We also USED that insurance!!!  🙂
  • Photo Credit: K Sawyer Photography on Flickr CC Lic.

    Families or groups who can stay 3 or 4 (or even 5) in a room will pay less per person than those in cabins for 2.  Rooms are crowded with 4 in them,  but there ARE ways to make it work.  If you only plan to sleep in the room, it isn’t that important to have ‘lots of space’.  🙂   This pic is of a room set up for 4 – The upper beds are folded into the wall during the day and the steward pulls them down at night.  Beds are configured any way you request them – i.e. queen or 2 (or 4) twins.   NOTE:  Carnival has the largest cabins in the industry when comparing equal rooms (interior to interior;  oceanview to oceanview, etc…)

  • Cruises are not priced with “adult” or “child” rates.  They are based on a “passenger” rate.  Every person, regardless of age, is a “passenger” so is charged as such.
  • Some cruise lines offer special perks for getting their credit card (discounts, points, onboard credit, etc…).  After you’ve chosen your cruise line (but BEFORE booking) apply for the credit card.  (Using the card to pay for the cruise often secures extra benefits!  🙂   NOTE:  Keep in mind that applying for a credit card ‘dings’ your credit.

 

CHOOSING YOUR CABIN:

  • CHECK AT THE DECK PLAN of your ship paying special attention to what is above and below the cabin.  Cabins directly below the galley, pool deck, casinos or bars can be noisy until 3 am each night.  “White” areas on the deck plan are ‘unknown’s’    Sometimes these are perfectly fine…no noise.  Other times they may be crew closets, crew laundry rooms, etc…. that CAN be noisy.  You can always call the cruise line and ask those questions, but don’t expect good answers.  If they know, they usually DON’T tell….sorry… :/
  • A “Guarantee” cabin means you pay for a category and the cruise line assigns your cabin location with their remaining inventory – typically a few days before the cruise.  Guarantee cabins are less expensive, but might put you in an undesirable location  (next to elevators, noise from galley, pool, lounges etc… or directly above the anchors that are lowered EARLY when you arrive in port, or at the very front of the ship where there’s more movement).  If any of these things are important to you, you might prefer paying the extra to choose your cabin location. It’s a matter of personal preference, but just know what you’re getting when you book ‘guarantee’.
  • Deck Plan Genius  http://deckplangenius.com/Home.aspx is a good resource for advantages/disadvantages to your cabin. This is ‘generic’ information based on the deck plans rather than anyone’s personal experience, nevertheless, it IS a good site to check before choosing your cabin.  For more ‘personalized’ information, google your ship name and room number.  You MAY find personal reviews by other cruises who have stayed in that exact cabin …..  🙂
  • Cabins are small, but plenty spacious for 2 people.  They are laid out in a ‘space efficient’ way.  If you are putting 3-4-5 in a cabin, however, you will need a few things to maximize your space….I’ve listed some things we found valuable here: Part 5:  Cruises: Clothes and Personal Items to Pack.
  • The center of the ship has less movement….  The front and back will be less expensive.  If you think  you might be susceptible to sea sickness,splurge on the mid-ship cabins.   Sea sickness can really ruin a cruise!!!

13 Prom. Deck 7 115

THE MOST IMPORTANT THING TO KNOW ABOUT CRUISE PRICING:

To really understand how cruise pricing works, you need to understand something.  The basic fares are often very inexpensive…It may even appear as if the company is losing money.  This is all part of their financial ‘plan’.

Here’s how it works.  These mega ships are HUGE….with a LOT of cabins to fill.  They don’t mind filling them at a loss because their profits don’t come from the cruise fare. Their profits come from the money passengers spend AFTER they’re on board –all those little ‘extras’ like drinks, shopping,  photos, gambling, specialty restaurants, spa treatments, excursions, and on and on and on.  Knowing this going IN to the cruise will help you make wise decisions with your ‘cruise dollar’.  Beyond the initial purchase of the fare, YOU are in control of what your cruise REALLY costs based on how many of these ‘extras’ you buy and how many you ‘pass up’.   🙂

 Best Advice:  Know the advantages and disadvantages of your choices so you can make the most informed decisions.  🙂

Other Posts on Cruising:

Finding Frugal Accommodations Part 2

 

Part 1:  Finding Frugal Accommodations Part 1.

  1. Hotelcoupons.com   This brochure can be picked up at Travelor Information Centers at state borders on Interstates. They advertise hotels – both chains and mom-n-pop businesses at (significant) discounted rates. The “catch” is that these rates are for THAT NIGHT only. To take advantage of this, I will make calls while we’re driving down the road, then make a reservation right before we arrive in town. This works well for impromptu trips or the last night of a road trip when we really don’t know WHERE we’ll end up stopping for the night. The website has good rates, but not as low as those in the booklets (probably because they’re ‘last minute’ reservations).
  2. Call hotels at various times of day:   In  Finding Frugal Accommodations Part 1,  I suggested calling hotels directly (rather than at the 1-800 Call center #)  however, in addition to that, make that call during different shifts (daytime vs. nighttime) to speak to different managers. The “financial” manager’s goal is to increase the bottom line, and he/she best does that by filling rooms! Don’t expect to get a room for a “steal”, but you can sometimes get a small discount.  Begin the conversation by asking “What is the BEST rate you can offer me?”
  3. Check out Vrbo.com or it’s sister company Home AwayThese are Vacation Rentals By Owner….They are privately owned condos/vacation homes rented by their owners…These used to rent without the added processing fee of an over-seeing rental agency however, recently they have started assessing a fee.  It’s still a better deal than resort pricing, but that fee IS assessed.  😦
    Kitchen in condo

    VRBO Property. This is a basic kitchen. VRBO Properties are all different – with varying levels of luxury or simplicity – all priced accordingly

    Traveling off-season as we do, we have gotten some excellent rates at VRBO properties over the years.  Several years ago, we rented a 2 bdrm condo in the FL Keys from a couple living in Minnesota who purchased it for retirement income (when they retired to Florida). While they were still in Minnesota, renters were making their mortgage payments every month.  Ingenious!!  🙂   We thoroughly enjoyed their condo with its balcony overlooking the water. With these rentals, you deal directly with the owner, often having a long conversation with them as they ascertain if you are trustworthy, honest, “clean” ha! before handing over the keys to their property. Lately, I’ve found a few properties that allow you to ‘self-clean’ the unit and save the cleaning fee.  This is a nice savings if you have time to clean on your last morning.  Of course, the biggest bargain of a condo is the abiltiy to prepare meals.  Great savings!!

  4. A room with a microwave can also save money on snacks and meals. Microwave everything from popcorn to easy meals that can be heated. 🙂
    20140808_105744

    Basic hotel room, but with a fridge and microwave

     

  5. Groupon  and Living Social :have accommodation certificates for hotel/resort stays.  My experience is that these can be challenging to use…there are lots of restrictions, but  I still check them out.  Someday, if I find one that fits our needs, I won’t have a problem purchasing it  Check out Vacation By Groupon  for more tips/details on purchasing Groupons for many areas of vacation planning but ALWAYS read the fine print on these before buying.  🙂 .
  6. Hotels such as Extended Stay America are a great bargain.  These hotels are  “no frills”, but are usually clean and standardized in their amenities and rooms. Sign up for their loyalty program for discounts on stays as short as 2 nights.  There are even deeper discounts for stays of 7 nts or longer. They will send emails (FREQUENTLY) when you sign up so I usually to that before we’re traveling, then unsubscribe afterwards. However, the savings is worth the time that takes. Of course, the REAL savings is the ability to prepare meals as they have a full kitchenette (stove top, fridge, microwave, coffee pot AND dishes/cookware)  Recently, they’ve begun offering a VERY BASIC continental breakfast (packaged items and coffee) too.

Other Topics of Interest:

Reading Between the Lines on Hotel Reviews

Hotels

Trip Advisor, Travelocity, Expedia, Kayak…  They all have customer reviews of hotels.  Like me, you’ve probably read them as you made travel plans.  Perhaps you’ve even written a few online reviews or learned the value of reviews or social media in resolving issues with a company.

However, have you ever wondered HOW LEGITIMATE these online reviews are?  We need to answer that question…HOW to read them….how to read between the lines to get the most value from these reviews. They can’t always be taken at face value. 🙂

Let’s face it…there are some disgruntled people out there.  There are people who expect employees to move mountains…expect perfection around every turn…. If they have gotten upset or angry over anything during their stay, they may attempt to hurt the business by writing a negative review.

How do we sift through these and separate  the legitimate from the disgruntled?

  1. Look for majorities.  One bad review does not a bad hotel make.  Ten bad reviews and it’s wise to take note.  Are the majority ‘good’ or ‘bad’?
  2. Look at the date on the review. Managers have a LOT to do with how a hotel is run…it’s cleanliness, attitudes and professionalism of staff, et al.  If the reviews are several years old, you want to find out if there’s been a managerial change since then. You can call the hotel and “fish” for information by mentioning the negative reviews.  If there’s been a recent managerial change, the person on the other end of the line will almost ALWAYS volunteer that information.

    Photo Credit: Christopher Thomas on Flickr CC Lic.

  3. Look on multiple reviewing sites before you ‘write off’ a property….   Remember, “One bad review (or site) does not a bad hotel make.”
  4. Does the website ‘verify’?  Some websites verify that the reviewer actually stayed at the location (only accept reviews from people who reserved THROUGH their website so they can safely assume that person stayed there.  Other sites do not…(In other words, anyone can write a review)   Find out the policy of your reviewing website.  Obviously, only sites that verify should influence your decisions, right?  Sites that I KNOW verify:  Booking.com.  As of this writing, there were no others I could confirm.  If others come up in time, please leave comments in the comment section and I’ll edit this info.  🙂

GOOD REVIEWS:  By the same token, just as you can’t base a decision on just negative reviews, be very careful about basing decisions on “flowery” review as well.  Some managers/staff will actually post {raving} reviews of their own hotels.  Once you are aware of that, you’ll be able to spot them.  They just SOUND like advertisements. They’ll mention things no ‘reviewer’ ever mentions.  Here’s a review I copy/pasted from a site about a vacation home rental….See what you think about it….

“This gated, private estate is beautifully maintained and manicured. The suites are well-appointed and decorated with Europeanesque/old- Hawaiian charm. Most importantly, the hostess is the most gracious and hospitable kama’aina (native). She is a wealth of information and genuinely concerned for her guests’ well-being. Before you start your daily island adventures, stop by Cinnamon’s Cafe & Restaurant, located right in Kailua town. Since 1985, they have been nurturing locals and visitors alike with their scrumptious delectables. Don’t forget to take home a bag of their Hawaiian blend coffee beans. If you forget to pack your ‘tropical’ wardrobe, no worries. Just visit Kailua Verde Boutique for an assortment of consigned designer clothing, accessories and jewelry.”

Note:  This review went on in this same style…my gag reflex just wouldn’t allow me to copy/paste any more.  As I read it, I couldn’t help but laugh…  🙂 It couldn’t have been more obvious if they had just SAID “Hey…read my raving review of this business…then go to my business page and read the raving review they wrote for me.”   That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a bad location.  Just be aware.  As a disclaimer, I reserved this location (on Oahu)  and we stayed there 4 nights.  Obviously our decision was based on more than just this review.  It was a pleasant stay and everything the OWNER claimed it would be on her website…..no surprises.  I just thought it was funny how the review ‘read’.

Final Words:  Don’t take anything at face value….Read between the lines…look for majorities….and be on the lookout for “fake” reviews or disgruntled customers (or employees).  With these tools in hand, you can read reviews and make good decisions.

Happy Reading!

Finding Frugal Accommodations Part 1

 

hotel room- doubleSelecting accommodations can be challenging as I try to find a place that’s clean, safe and comfortable while still staying within budget.  Of course, hotel websites make many claims about their quality but the claims   may or may not be accurate. 🙂 .

My signature worst experience (and my incentive to NEVER let that happen again) was when we attended a funeral in a small town. There were very few options available and money was particularly tight for us at the time.  I based our decision SOLELY on price and it was NOT a good experience.  :/   After that, I vowed that would never happen to us again.

Please Note: There is a BIG difference between “frugal” and “cheap”.  “Frugal” is using the blessings you’ve been given with wisdom….getting the most value for your money.  “Cheap” means lowest cost no matter what –with decisions/choices based ONLY on price. After our experience that night, I concluded that I don’t much care for “cheap”….I prefer “frugal”.

Finding Frugal Accommodations:

  • Make a Chart: To simplify and clarify the process of ‘hotel shopping’ I’ve created a basic gridform in Excel (easy to create grid lines).  It took about 2 minutes to create.  🙂  Because I’m ‘visual’, once I can see all the info about the hotels/amenities on the chart, I have clarity in the decision making process. I begin by deciding what’s important for that night – pool? laundry facility? ease of access? microwave?  Breakfast?  Those things become the column headings and I’m ready to begin gathering information.  Of course, this could be written on a blank sheet of paper…or opened on 12 windows on the computer, but that isn’t ‘organized’ or easy to assimilate. A grid form is. The generic form is saved on the computer so I can change headings as necessary and use over and over.
  • Call the Hotel Directly:  When checking rates, always call the hotel directly. The employees at the 1-800 call center are not authorized to reduce rates.  The only person who can do that is management AT the hotel. Before making that call, find the best rate on a consolidator website (Kayak, Trivago, etc…)  Ask the person at the hotel to beat that rate.  They are actually VERY interested in reclaiming the business they’ve lost of late to these consolidators. They (Kayak, Expedia, etc…)  have become the ‘necessary evil’.  Hotels HAVE to use them to get the business, and yet, they lose money every time someone books through them….necessary evil.  Give them the chance to ‘win you back’.   
  • Hotel Breakfasts are a bargain:  These have become almost standard in mid-range hotel chains though you won’t find them in the upscale downtown hotels.  These save alot of money over the course of a vacation…especially if you have hungry boys in the family.  🙂

    More and more you can find hotels offering a HOT breakfast. Even though the cost MAY be higher for that hotel, the savings can be significant if you have hungry boys to feed. One more note while we’re on the subject of breakfast: In an effort to reclaim business from the consolidators, some hotels are ONLY offering the breakfast to those who book through them.  Read the fine print

  • Check out Budget Traveling 101   for more tips and a list of questions to ask when calling the hotel directly.

What about Bidding Sites such as Priceline or Hotwire:  These sites seem to have lost popularity in recent years, though they ARE still around. The thing I found was that the rates weren’t that much better than you could get with a reservation and avoid the gamble of a ‘blind’ and non-refundable bid. I’ve actually only used Priceline twice in all my travels.  On one of those experiences, I ended up standing in line behind a couple checking in who got the same room that we did –for $4 less. I had risked ‘blind’ bidding on a random hotel…and they got the exact same room for less money!!  While we were happy with our night, I realized it wasn’t worth the gamble.  I preferred to be able to shop for and purchase a hotel with the amenities I wanted.

So, that’s my ‘take’ on Hotel and Travel Bidding sites…just not enough savings to justify the ‘gamble’.

Accommodations are a huge part of any vacation budget, but with research and a little work, it is also where you can find some of the greatest savings.

Happy Traveling!

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