With Spring quickly approaching, the bug to get out there and do something is surely upon us all. Whether it is a night away without children or a week at Disney World, especially in a recession a vacation can bring severe anxiety or guilt due to finances. Whenever I am planning a getaway, regardless of our financial situation, I like to cut back where I can to make it easier to bounce back from the spending spree that a vacation can sometimes become. Especially when you are trying to have fun and relax, you don’t want to pinch pennies and balance the checkbook in the middle of your zen, so we do what we can to save in preparation for our trip and then you are able to enjoy the rare family, couple, or solo time without the extra hassle and weight on your shoulders. Here are a few of my favorite tips and secrets to ease the burden without sacrificing the quality of your vacation!
*PRICELINE is now your best friend. Don’t be scared. It is genius and once you have worked your magic with that Name Your Price bidding and score a four-star hotel at a 50%+ discount, you will be hooked. If you have never heard of Priceline, it is an incredibly popular travel booking site that provides slight to moderate discounts on certain hotels of your choice OR moderate to ridiculously cheap discounts on blind bidding (still within your specifications) for your hotel rooms, flights, and cars. Priceline is not a middle man, more like the Ross or TJ Maxx of hotel rooms. It buys the overstock straight from the hotels at wholesale prices, and because of the wholesale price they bought the room for, they can afford to pass a sizeable discount on to you. Can you imagine getting a room at the Anaheim Marriott, right next to Disneyland, for $45 a night? Believe it—I have done it! Most people, when they bid on a hotel on Priceline, they log on and throw out a number that works for them, crossing their fingers. For me, that just doesn’t cut it. I do research prior to bidding to ensure I am not overpaying for my room. First, I visit Bidding For Travel or Better Bidding. They are forum sites with huge amounts of feedback from Priceline and Hotwire customers. The sites have information organized by state/region/city and star level, and even have a running list of hotels in every city that partners with Priceline. This way you can check out the majority of hotels that partner with Priceline in each star level and visit their site for the “retail” cost of the room or read reviews on the hotels. The best feature of the site is that contributors report back with their winning bid price and the hotel name along with the dates, helping other readers use that info for their own bids. Once I have an idea of what others might be paying for a room similar to what I am looking for, then I hop on Priceline and try to keep my bid in that range to score the room I want. With blind bidding you can never be sure exactly what your results will be, but my rule is, stick with the 3-4 * in most regions and you rarely go wrong. Plus when you have a resource to see the selection that you will likely be bidding on, it takes a lot of the “unknown” away. The savings are too great to care that maybe I was secretly hoping for the hotel across the street. Nothing is foolproof when all the cards are not being shown, but I have used Priceline countless times and have never been disappointed. Bottom line: same class, same area, similar amenities, but huge price difference. Last summer, we went to Los Angeles for my dear friend’s wedding. We paid $70 a night for a hotel (Los Angeles Marriott Downtown) that was going for $169 a night, and that was during the Lakers Championship game series and E3, the giant annual video gaming conference. The $297 savings from using Priceline allowed for us to stop and spend an extra 2 nights in Pismo Beach on our way home. So worth it!
*It Never Hurts to Ask……My husband and I are stealing a night away in a couple weeks for my birthday, and we are going to one of our most favorite retreats, Napa. Do you have one of those places where every time you visit, you feel at home? Napa is one of those places for us. To have a treasure like that within two hours of us is a huge blessing, and we have vowed to take advantage of the convenience and all of the amazing gifts the Napa Valley provides whenever possible. One of our favorite hotels in Napa is The Meritage, a fabulous resort and spa just on the outskirts of Downtown Napa. Stepping through the doors is heaven for us with the rolling hillside vineyard in the background and Spa Terra, the on-site spa that is IN A WINE CAVE. You heard me right! When you have a particular attachment to a hotel like we do with The Meritage Resort, it is hard to settle for anything other than what you love for your rare getaway. So how do you save money on your hotel when you refuse to stay anywhere else? I can tell you what I just did. I direct messaged The Meritage VIA Twitter (@MeritageResort) and asked if there was any way for us to get a Twitter special. Within a day, I had a response from the director of sales and marketing, Sheri Thomas, and was granted a very sizeable (30% off rack rate) Twitter deal! Did I expect it: NO! Was I hopeful for it: YES!! That 30% will now go towards our couples massage at Spa Terra (rolling our savings to fund a non-discounted portion of the vacay). This is a great example of stretching your dollars without sacrificing quality or compromising your vision for your trip. I am tickled and will now blab to everyone I see about how wonderful I was treated for just asking for a deal. Never would I ever have thought that behaving like a Cheapskate would get me special treatment like this;) Bottom line: Facebook and Twitter are social networking platforms for not only regular people, but also for businesses. What are they for? Marketing and promotions. When you reach out to them through these channels, you are likely reaching the right person to ask. What could it hurt? It certainly did not hurt me.
*Get Your Groupon On! If you read my blog regularly, you know about my love of Groupon. If you don’t, Groupon is a fantastic deal-a-day city-specific and nationwide site that features deals on excursions, restaurant experiences, hotels, and much more. I regularly save loads on local and online deals through Groupon and I am never going to stop! What I do before a trip is subscribe to the city (or nearest area) I plan on visiting, and I watch daily for specials on things we might be interested in. I have seen tickets to Legoland for 1/2 price, wine tasting experiences at a discount or with special bonuses (like a free bottle), restaurant deals, and so much more! It cannot hurt to subscribe to your destination’s daily deal newsletter; you never know what may come up just in time for your trip!
*Splurge On What is Important to YOU, But Don‘t Splurge on Everything! My husband and I are huge foodies—I can spend weeks researching restaurants and menus. If there is a restaurant we need to try, we will try it without feeling bad for doing so. However, every meal of every day is not going to be a restaurant from the Michelin Guide. We can get just as excited over a great burger as we do when we are headed to an expensive steakhouse. That is how we balance it out. Not every meal breaks the bank, but you better believe it will be delicious. This is why I absolutely love Yelp and Trip Advisor. I seek out restaurants near our hotel or event, and I get real-life customer reviews, ratings, price points, and all the info I need to make my decision. We make a list of favorites (in a few different price categories), and take it with us when we travel. You can also get a Yelp or Trip Advisor application for your SmartPhone free in your app store. This means, wherever you go, you have an amazing resource in your hands at no cost to you. On our various recent adventures, we have grabbed amazing lunches at Whole Foods, Dean & Deluca or Bristol Farms, a roadside BBQ truck, a gourmet hamburger joint, and a cupcake on-the-go from a highly touted bakery. Everything was sensational in it’s own right, had fantastic customer reviews and professional reputations, and did not cost an arm and a leg. Sure, we had a fab steakhouse meal too. But where do I want to go immediately the next time I visit Napa? Kara’s Cupcakes! Who knew $3.25 could bring someone so much joy? Bottom line: balance it out by switching it up. If there is something you really want to do or see, absolutely go for it! Just know that you don’t have to drop a hundred every time you dine, sightsee, adventure or shop.
When we are blessed with the opportunity to steal a getaway from our crazy busy lives, it is natural to bring some of our habits and troubles along with us. However, if you make the choice to take a trip, do yourself a favor and just enjoy it! Worrying about saving money and stretching your dollar can easily overtake the reason for your experience: to unwind. If you take a few simple budget-conscious precautions prior to departure, you can rest easier and just let it go for a few days. Believe me, all the everyday worries will be waiting for you when you return…..so allow yourself to check out for a minute!
**Feature picture is my oldest, Hayden, standing in front of a Lego replica of Las Vegas while visiting his second home, Legoland, in Carlsbad, CA in Nov. 2009. Any trip planning questions or requests? Happy to help:) View more of my favorite travel on a budget sites here: Travelzoo, Trekaroo, Hotwire, Urbanspoon, and Orbitz!