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Thursday, May 9, 2013

A to Z Vacation Savings Kit

Tired of hum-drum (or no) vacations? Ready to get more by spending less? Here are a wealth of resources to create a dream vacation without emptying your pocketbook!
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A to Z Vacation Savings Kit

Ellen Elwell

I love to plan a vacation - maybe even more than I love to take it! The great part about planning is that I get to "see" all kinds of fabulous places every day - right on my computer screen. But finding steals and deals to actually go to one is the biggest part of the excitement. My objective is to put together a great family getaway that's as luxurious as possible - for absolute bottom dollar.
One of the biggest reasons for not taking a vacation is "money" - lack of it, unwillingness to spend it, or just not knowing how to find great travel bargains. Here are some of my favorite ways I get the most for my travel dollar. If you have a little bit of patience, you can too!

The "Ground Rules" - Make Very Specific Vacation Choices
The best way to keep costs under control is make up-front decisions:
  1. Pick a range of travel and return dates (e.g., travel July 10, 11 or 12; and return July 17, 18 or 19).
  2. Choose at least two destinations for cross-pricing.
  3. Drive, fly or sail?
  4. Start with a maximum total budget - and then track costs of transportation, lodgings, food, admission fees against it. Add contingency funds for spending money and unexpected needs.
Helpful Free Planning Tools
Take - and keep - notes and lists using these links:
  1. Fill-in Planning Calendar - print it here.
  2. Transportation Calculator - compare costs of flying vs. driving in seconds.
  3. Blank paper and forms for notes and diary - choose and print.
  4. Pinterest - as you find locations you love, be sure to open a Pinterest account and "pin" them once label your travel pinboard. All your photos - with your comments and notes - will always be at your fingertips.
Vacation Destinations: Ideas and Tips
Season affects cost. You'll always pay less for off-season destinations. For example, ski areas are super-expensive during ski season. However, these beautiful areas
are also gr
eat for summer hiking, fishing, swimming and golf - and they're generally priced to sell. Conversely, theme parks are priced higher when kids are out of school. So to stretch your dollar, consider a "low" season destination like the Carribean, Hawaii or Florida.
All-inclusive beach resorts rock! You'll usually find fabulous deals at all-inclusive resorts.You get food, snacks, drinks, kids' camps and other entertainment - included in your room cost. You're probably familiar with Sandals, Dreams and Club Med but here are some others: "Top 10 Best Affordable All-Inclusive Resorts."
"Flash" sale sites provide daily travel ideas with photos. Sign up for daily emails from a few luxury hotel "bargain" sites. They do offer lower prices on fabulous digs. More important, however, they can help you pick a general destination . . . and then find hotel bargains near it.

Some beautiful sites for daily browsing:
Getting Reasonable Air Fare
Don't forget to plan for two destinations (as mentioned above). Your flight can easily be the biggest - and most non-negotiable - cost of a trip. So as travel pros say, "Chase the fare, not the destination." Here are some great places - with links - to start your search:
Getting the lowest fare isn't a secret. You only have watch for and "catch" fares when they dip. For example, flights may be cheaper at midnight on Tuesday vs. daytime on Thursday. Saturday may be a better day to book than Monday. Or a flight may be under=booked and need to fill seats.
Since you probably don't want to watch the computer cost tables 24/7, there are sites that will watch them for you - free. Examples: Hotwire, Hipmunk and Flight Deal and my all-time favorite site in the world, Hotwire.
I'm not a cruise person - but lots of my friends are because it's extremely affordable - especially for a family. In general, fares are lower as you get very close to departure since they have tons of rooms to fill. If you do book late, however, make sure that you do it a week before departure. It takes a bit of time to solidify trip insurance and excursions.

Pros. It's easy to pick a budget and stay within it. "Extras" generally include room upgrades, excursions and trip insurance (essential). If you're not too picky about your room's location and configuration, you get a super-cheap trip to many interesting destinations.
Cons. The ships having the lowest costs can be crowded because they hold 1000's of people. The meals and entertainment may be "mediocre" since restaurants and theaters handle masses of people (think the hearty Vegas buffets).
Good bargain sites for cruises:

Hotel Bargains

I admit that I love wonderful hotels. Until a few years ago, I traveled 40-45 weeks a year on business. This means that I spent a lot of time in hotel rooms for sleeping, working and reading. Cleanliness is the world to me, but room service was high on my "must" list. So I learned how to get fabulous prices - one way or another. I used to use my IBM employee number to frequently book a Ritz-Carlton in a major city for 1/3 the normal price. I joined a dozen hotel loyalty clubs for their upgrades. I'd tip a front desk person at check-in to get a "fabulous room". And now, with the internet, I find coupons, specials and so much more.

#1 Booking Considerations: Cleanliness and Safety
On top of being a heavy traveler, I also had Intercontinental Hotel Group as my significant client for a period of time. From them, I learned so much (more than I can share now). They have a great operation and verified my lifelong feeling that it's worth paying a little more for hotel quality.

Life Magazine's 10 Worst Hotels and Motels in America
The term "Better safe than sorry" applies to accommodations - especially in this time of crime and bedbugs (seriously!). So before you book, do check out or Google a hotel's name and location to make sure it's reliable and clean.
The Thrill of Traveling "FREE" with Loyalty Points
Last year, we went to New York City for 4 days for free - except for entertainment and meals - on points. The airline points were saved the "normal" way, with travel and credit card purchases. But the hotel nights were free - ones I received when I signed up for a Hyatt Visa credit card. This hotel chain (like most others) offers 2-4 free nights just for signing up for their Visa credit card.

To find out more about how to vacation for free on points, allocate some time to reading the MommyPoints blog. It's amazing!

Another tip: check out Award You can enter all your loyalty programs into your free online "wallet." Then this free, uncomplicated website will keep all your account numbers, passwords and point balance on one screen. (It does keep data for American Airlines and Delta - the only key exceptions.) It's worth a bit of time to check out all your loyalty accounts - even places like Sephora and smoothie shops. In 2012, there were 18 Billion unclaimed miles in the U.S.!

Don't skip your vacation because of limited funds. With a little planning, you can find a wonderful, inexpensive getaway. Drive to a city and stay free at a Hilton or Holiday Inn (see the Loyalty Points material above). Or get amazing deal on travel sites like Hotwire, Jetsetter or Shermans Travel. Once you get the hang of bargain browsing, you'll be amazed at what you can find.

As for me, I'm on the hung for a super-fabulous, super-affordable (free?) vacation in Maui! Aloha until our next blog!

Results? Comments? Please email me at I'm looking forward to hearing from you!
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