On the Money Trail - Summer's Coming: Five Vacation Savings Tips
By Al Jacobs
With the thermometer heading upward, vacation time is just around the corner. There's no putting it off any longer. Let's pick that spot and make those arrangements. Time's a'wasting! But this year, before setting dates and confirming hotel reservations, give some thought to what you'll get for what you pay. Unless it's a repeat of your annual trek to Mosquitoland Bed 'n Board on the Susquehanna, or the obligatory two weeks with the in-laws in Tulip, Arkansas, you have choices to make. So, make them in a way that your credit card is not bent out of shape, with the dent still visible next Christmas. With that said, let me give you a few tips that will help keep your personal financial ledger in the black.
Pick the right location. Granted, you intend to enjoy ten days in the central California oceanside community Carmel-by-the-Sea. With the help of the AAA Tour Book—a valuable guide that more than warrants annual membership in the organization—you locate a list of Monterey Peninsula hotels, each with its assigned Lodging Diamond Rating. As an aside, I invariably aim for three diamonds as a price-accommodations compromise. It's quickly apparent that no double occupancy rooms will be found under $160 nightly. Are you therefore doomed to a hotel tab of $1,600—plus the 10 percent bed tax? Maybe not, if you're willing to compromise. Rather than slip to a lower diamond rating, consider lodgings in Salinas, just 19 miles away, where a three-diamond hotel is available for $83. Whether the daily savings of $77 is worth the 25-minute drive each way must be your decision.
Ask for the discount. The host of a radio financial talk show some years ago had a rule he expressed repeatedly: "If you don't ask, you don't get." And that's particularly true for the hotel patron. When inquiring about terms, ask if AAA membership offers a lower rate—or whether a senior citizen discount is available—or what other special financial inducements they provide. Not long ago I spent a night in a clean and comfortable Motel 6 room in Santa Barbara. Its quoted rate of $39 became $31.20 with AARP membership.
Fine-tune your season. Understand that not all seasons are created equal. A room for two at the three-diamond Princess Bayside Beach Hotel Golf Center in Ocean City, Maryland, from September 3rd to the 5th can set you back $219 per night. The daily rate for the same room from September 6th to the 8th runs $119. Many hotels throughout the nation establish specific seasonal cutoff dates where rates rise or fall abruptly. If you're able to adjust your timing somewhat, take advantage of these sharp rate changes.
The day of the week matters. Although after a few days away, you possibly can't distinguish Tuesday from Saturday, there's nonetheless a difference. So, to paraphrase Genesis, 2:2 – And on the seventh day the Tourist ended his presence; and they rested their rate on the seventh day. Thus, consider the impressive 303-unit Woody Gardens Hotel & Spa in Galveston, Texas, with daily rates from $149 to $250 in mid-June, and which arranges package plans. In response to greater demand on Fridays and Saturdays, the quoted price for a 9-day stay from Friday, June 18, through Saturday, June 26 (incorporating a pair of Fridays and Saturdays), is more costly than for the period Monday, June 21, through Tuesday, June 29. So, unless the particular sequence of days is important, you know the way to go.
Avoid room snacks like the plague. The modern hostelry has discovered the in-room minibar, where convenience foods and drink are not very subtly hustled. Evidently the industry regards a hotel guest as captured clientele and sets prices accordingly: Cokes $3, candy bars $3.50, and Moon Pies $4. I'll conclude with this testimonial. An unidentified Hilton Hotel room my wife and I recently occupied prominently displayed a selection of bottles: 24-oz water at $3.75 and 25.3-oz domestic wine at $14. We gave them a wide berth. I'd suggest you do the same.