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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Hodgepodge of Travel Tips! 6.15.11

I'm all about travel tips that can save you time, money and frustration, so this Wednesday, I decide to go way back and bring up some tips that we may have forgotten. They can help you with your summer travels and planning for fall vacations as well. Here are some "golden oldies" that still may be new to you! (Don't forget to read my new "what's new" items for TWO chances to win awesome prizes.)

Airfare Savings
Airfare can be a huge chunk of your vacation budget. You will want to save as much as possible, right? I mean, I sure do. Traveling on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Saturday is a tried and true way to save on plane tickets. Sometimes, you can save hundreds by just switching your travel dates to fly on these days. Of course there are plenty of other ways to save, too! Try some of these money saving tips:

  • Sign up for the free frequent flyer programs for airlines. You can sign up for just a few or any that fly out of your home airport, this way, you will be the first to know about exclusive deals and promotions via email. You may be eligible for other perks, too. The best part about frequent flyer programs is that when you fly, you accumulate the equivalent amount of miles flown in your account, which can then be redeemed for free airplane tickets. You have to pay a small fee to exchange them (around $25 and can vary with the airline), but it’s still much less than a full-price ticket. Most airlines offer round-trip coach tickets starting at 25,000 miles and many airlines are now allowing you to buy part of your ticket with miles and make up the purchase price with actual money. Usually, you trade in 12,500 miles and it pays for the first half of your ticket. So, say you are flying round trip fromBoston to Los Angeles, your Boston to LA ticket would be covered and you would pay for your trip back to Boston out of pocket.
  • The average “cost” of an airline mile is set at $.02, so 25,000 miles gets you a $500 ticket. Anything less than that is considered a waste of using your miles, so make sure you’re getting your money’s worth out of your free ticket by using it for rates of $500 or more, if you can afford to do so. You don’t want to use it on a ticket that’s on sale for only $325 R/T if you can help it. This is one of the only times that you can make your rewards points for anything worth more money, so take advantage of it as best you can.
  • Track airfare prices on www.yapta.com. You input your desired travel destination(s) and dates and Yapta will scour the internet to find the lowest prices for you and then send you an email with the information they found. Each week they will send you the best price they found. If there is a significant price drop in between, they will email it to you right away, so you can book it. THEN when you have your flight, use Yapta again to continue to track prices. If the price drops significantly before your trip, you may be eligible for a refund or travel voucher for the difference. Each airline is different, so check the rules on Yapta's website. You must register your flight on Yapta's airline refund program, so they can tell you when you are eligible.
  • Summer is the best time to buy airfare...for Fall. Prices for flights are always going to skyrocket for Summer travel, so if you can hold off until September, you are likely to get much better rates. Of course, you can see the competing fare deals for those travel times all through June, July and August.

Hotel Savings
There are a lot of things to consider when finding a place to stow your belongings and lay your  head at night. Price may be the biggest factor, but it doesn't mean the less you pay the crappier your stay. There are plenty of budget and moderate hotels that offer wonderful service and surroundings if you know where and how to look. I like to weigh all my options when deciding on where to sleep: does it have a restaurant? Is it close to what I want to do? Is it convenient to public transportation? Does it offer free breakfast? Free WiFi? Is it on a busy street? Do the rooms offer kitchenettes? All these questions are important, but here are some ways to save on hotels you want to stay in at your chosen destination:

  • The more inclusive extras you can get on a vacation, the further your money goes. Free breakfast saves you around $10 per person per day! Here’s an excellent example of a hotel with perks that save you money and brings up the value of your room rate:
  • Remember how I said that www.Yapta.com was great for tracking airline prices? Well, you can also use them to track hotel rates. The only difference is, you need to search for the hotel(s) you are interested in and then track those specific ones. Even if you have reservations with them already, keep them on your list and keep checking for prices to drop. If they do, get on the phone with them and see if you can change your reservation to reflect the lower rate.
  • Hotel rates are almost always cheaper on Sunday through Thursday nights. Most people travel on the weekend. They know this, just like the airlines, so they make prices for Friday and Saturday stays more expensive. In some cases, they can be twice as much as on weeknights.
  • Sign up for www.hotels.com Welcome Rewards and get free hotel nights. For every 10 nights you book through Hotels.com, you get one free night. You don't need to stay 10 nights in a row, in the same hotel or even in the same year. Your credits just accumulate until you've reached 10 nights and then you are eligible to receive your free night. The price will be based on the average of the price per night you stayed for each of your 10 paid nights. If you wish to stay at a hotel that costs more than that, you will just pay the difference.

Dining Savings
I don't know about you, but I am always excited about eating somewhere new and trying potentially delicious food. I mean, food can be one of the most memorable aspects of your vacation and a bad meal can stay with you for years. You don't want to look back on your week in Spain and remember nothing but all the bad meals you had, because you didn't research any restaurants or ask any locals for recommendations.

  • The first stop I always make in my travel plans is TripAdvisorYou can find candid reviews for almost any restaurant around the globe. Sort by price, cuisine and meal (i.e., breakfast, lunch, dinner or late night). I always look for sugestions by actual travelers before deciding to make a reservation. The best ones are super detailed and tell you what they ate, what the restaurant looked like, if it was crowded, if the staff was friendly/attentive and the price range. Usually, there will even be a website for you to check out. There are so many options on here that you probably wouldn't find them in all the guidebooks put together. 
  • Avoid ordering off the kids' menu by sharing adult entrees. Not only will you save money, but your children will have better dining options when they don't have just grilled cheese, chicken nuggets and pizza to choose from.
  • There are a lot of restaurants that have Kids Eat Free deals. Check out the website KidsEatFor to find them and save money on food on your trip. 
  • I love food. I can't help it. I plan out almost all of my vacation meals before I leave home, including where I'm going to eat at the airport(s). Maybe I'm weird, but I don't think I can be the only one. Sign up for your destination city's Groupon. They are available in selected cities in the U.S., Canada and over 15 other countries. It's one of the best daily deal sites I've come across and they offer many widely varied food deals, including percentage off and 2-for-1. 
  • So...uh...ask the locals for recommendations. It's probable that they won't point you towards Taco Bell or Applebees, but to their favorite local spots that have great regional food.

Cruising Savings
Cruising can be a great way to vacation in many places all on one trip without ever having to change rooms or drag your bags around. Your food and most drinks are included. You also get free entertainment, activities, and awesome scenery. If you think cruising is expensive, think again, because there are serious deals to be had.

  • Sail on big ships. The bigger the ship, the more cabins to fill and the more deals to be found. Think of it as Las Vegas on the ocean. Those huge hotels have so many rooms to fill that even with some of them going for half price the regular rate, they are still making a ton of money...at least much more than they would make if those rooms were empty.
  • Turn to Cruise Critic if you have ANY kind of questions about cruising or ships. They tell you everything from how to pick the right cabin for you to what kind of entertainment you'll look forward to on each ship. I love reading all the cruiser reviews of the ship I'll be sailing on and what they thought was good and not so good, plus what they thought of the excursions that were offered. Sadly, I also found more information on my ship here than I did on the actual cruiseline's website.
  • Get the most out of your cruise, by not spending the whole time laying around by the pool. Your rate is mostly-inclusive, so the more you do, the further your dollar goes. See the shows, play mini-golf, go to the clubs and use the workout room. If it's included, try it out. You need to work off your buffet meals somehow. Besides, you went on vacation to see and do new things...and you can sit at home for free!
  • Cruise in the off-season instead of peak times. There may be fewer choices of cruises to your desired destination, but there will also be fewer travelers, which means lower prices and less crowded ships. You might also be able to get some extra perks by booking when the cruise companies are not as busy and really want to fill cabins. Everyone likes freebies, like spa credits and drink coupons.

Transportation Savings
You aren't always lucky enough to be in a place where you can walk all over, or even want to if you could. There are many transportation options that are inexpensive, no matter where you are headed. Look at your options and weigh the pros and cons. I don't usually take taxis on vacation, because they cost a fortune, but some places they are really reasonable. In Quito, Ecuador we took a cab ride up to the Teleferiqo, which would have cost us at least $30-40 at home, but only cost us $10, including tip!

  • This is one of my favorite websites! Find all maps to public transportation across the globe on UrbanRail. From Boston to Shanghai, use it on your iPhone and laptop. Print out maps before you leave home! The maps are in color and complete...and FREE!
  • If you have car insurance at home, skip taking the insurance at the rental company, because you are already covered under your own policy. (This does not apply to rentals out of the country. Also, double-check with your auto insurance to make sure you are covered in any vehicle you drive.)
  • Do you plan on taking the train between cities? This can be fun, fast and a great way to take the scenic route quickly, but there are many extra costs on trains that can add up, just like on the airplane. Bring your own snacks on the train, as just a sandwich in the dining car could cost you $10. Imagine how much you'll spend with any sides and a drink, times however many people are in your party. Ouch.
  • Get a multi-day pass for public transportation. It is usually much cheaper than buying a ticket for each trip if you plan to do quite a bit of sightseeing. Look into cards at your particular destination and see if they offer anything like the London Travelcard or Oyster Card. Each has it's own advantages, but both are cheaper than paying for each trip individually.
  • Take a compass with you, especially if you plan to walk a lot. This has saved us at least one major time while trying to figure out a city map in the middle of a city park and needing to get somewhere on time.

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Help me make it to 1,500 Facebook fans and be a winner! I'm giving away travel games for your summer trips. They are fun and help pass the time. Here's what you need to do: "Like" Shereen Travels Cheap (if you haven't already) and enter to win the travel games giveaway. Then, suggest Shereen Travels Cheap to all your Facebook friends and tell them they can enter to win, too. When they enter, they enter your name as the one who referred them and you get another entry for each friend who names you! When we reach 1,500 fans, 2 lucky winners will be chosen via Random.org.

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Are you in the Portland area or planning on traveling here? Well, I've been chosen as a Budget Travel Examiner for Portland on Examiner.com, where I will be posting deals and cool stuff to do in the area on a budget several times a week. Make sure you subscribe to my articles. Not only will you get some great ideas on stuff to do in Portland and the surrounding areas (including day trips), but you'll also save money and help me out by expanding my readership - which will boost my income a bit, too. Thanks for your help and I hope you enjoy my articles.

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