Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Slash Travel Costs by Eating Healthier

In my classes, I regularly teach that it is easy to save money on overall travel budgets by staying in the right type of properties. Sometimes you will pay a little more money but sometimes not. What I advise you to do is look for lodging options with kitchenettes.

Properties with kitchenettes can save you money when you decide to dine out less and eat in more. Dining costs can easily exceed $100 per person per day. By using the kitchenette instead of eating in restaurants, you can slash more than 50% from your dining costs. You decide how much to save.

Kitchenette properties do not have to be fancy, or, like I said earlier, cost more than regular lodging. Many hotel rooms have a refrigerator and microwave; if not, you can request one or both. Hotel companies have entire suite properties, with full kitchens. Non-hotel rental properties include condos, apartments, and villas.

Think of just breakfast. Ballpark figure may be $10 per person per day. That would be $250 to $300 for 4 people for one week. By simply buying cereal, milk, orange juice, and fruit, you can save over $200.

Lunch and dinner costs (and savings) can be more dramatic.

Not only will you save money but it is more healthy. You can choose quality ingredients and create sensible portions. One meal can be on your balcony or watching TV, another can be in a park or on the waterfront.

What do you think? Do you have your money saving tactics? Send me e-mail or post a comment. Thanks!

© 2008, Charles McCool

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Myth #3: Lowest Hotel Rate Can Always be Found at {fill in the blank}

Many believe that, Expedia, Priceline, the company (Hilton, Hyatt, Marriott, etc.), or some other website either automatically gives the lowest rate or will guarantee to match it, if a lower rate is found elsewhere. Just like with Travel Myth #1, there is no single website that will always give the lowest price on a hotel room.

First of all, read the price-matching guarantee restrictions. Guarantees only apply to publicly available rates (see below) and exact matches (room type, dates, restrictions). If the rate cannot be cancelled, then the price match guarantee does not work. Guess what? The lowest rates on company websites, like, cannot be cancelled.

Second, the lowest price may not even be found on the internet.

{wait a few seconds for reality to hit...}

OK, I said it. Often, better deals can be found somewhere other than the web. This does not mean you have wasted your time on the computer (after all, you found this blog!). Lower hotel rates may be found be calling the property directly. Ask the hotel if they have any special rates; I use keywords like visitor, weekend, and promotion.

Even lower rates may be available from a wholesale source, like a city's visitor center. These rates, from the visitor center, often include free parking and/or meals. Many visitor centers offer their rates online but many only make reservations by telephone.

If you are driving, stop at the state welcome center and pick up a lodging discount booklet. If the welcome center is open, ask about lodging deals.

A wonderful website for researching hotel rates is Travelaxe is a great time saver as it searches, company websites, and dozens of other websites.

Upcoming posts will be about saving money, time, and stress on lodging. If you have a specific topic or issue you would like discussed, send me e-mail or post a comment on any blog entry.

© 2008, Charles McCool

Friday, November 14, 2008

Stealthy Rental Car Maneuvers

Some tactics to help you save money, time, and stress on car rentals:

One way rentals may cost LESS than standard rentals (pick up and return to same location).

For a trip to Germany, I planned to fly into Frankfurt and then visit Trier, Saar and Mosel valleys, and the area. When I compared rental car rates, it cost less to pick up in Trier and return to Frankfurt than to pick up and return to Frankfurt. Why? I don't know, but I took advantage of it. Bonus was being able to take the train from Frankfurt airport to Trier (very nice) and get some tips from the passengers.

Every year, during late spring, there is an exodus of cars from Florida. Car rental companies rent cars for as low as $1 a day. You can find great deals on one-way rentals. Book early (before March) for the best deals (rates and availability).

Car rental companies want their cars to be as close as possible to the home location (where the car is registered). Someone may pay a relatively high rate for a one-way rental but the return one-way rate will be relatively low. I had a RAV4 this summer, between Vancouver and Calgary, at a rate lower than other rental classes. The car was registered in Alberta and Avis was happy for me to drive it one way. I was happy to get a nice vehicle for a great rate.

Matching Rates or LESS

Different locations usually match rates. During trips, I often find an office that is more convenient than where I rented. There may be a downtown or suburb location that is better for me than going back to the airport. Even though my reservation is set up to pick up and return from the airport, I will return it to another location and get the same rate. Sometimes it is even LESS because of some promotion or fewer taxes and fees.

On one of these returns, I asked if I could get the same rate on a future rental. The agent said it was a fantastic rate, she did not think so, pushed some buttons and booked it. It never hurts to ask!

For that Vancouver to Calgary rental, I had a reservation at the downtown location but noticed a desk when I arrived at the train station. He had a low mileage (kilometerage?) RAV4 for the same rate as my reservation (midsize car).

Free (or Cheap) Upgrades

When an agent offers me an upgrade, I view that as an invitation to negotiate. For instance, I reserve an economy (i.e., cheapest rate) car and the agent offers a better car for "only $10 a day extra." Agents receive commissions or bonuses on their upgrades.

My first question is always, "do you have any economy cars?" If they do not have cars in the class I rented than I ask for one in whatever class they do have. I have ended up with luxury cars, jeeps, SUVs, even a monster Ford Expedition one time. So, free upgrades are certainly possible. The larger car might end up consuming much more gas and thus not be a good deal for you.

If I cannot convince them to give me a free upgrade, then I negotiate the price of the upgrade. When they offer something for only $10 more per day, I counter with $2 a day. I have not paid more than $4 extra per day but sometimes they are not willing to negotiate.

Ask for a Better Car

Another way to get a free upgrade is to ask for a different car. I have received (and rejected) cars that were dirty, smoky, or damaged. I have requested larger vehicles because I intended to visit family or friends (and wanted to eliminate the hassle of more than one car). I have requested vehicles with low mileage, better traction (in winter weather), or certain models. I do not always have my request honored but asking ensures that it may happen.

What do you think? Do you have your own stealthy car rental tactics? Send me e-mail or post a comment. Thanks!

© 2008, Charles McCool

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Luxury Does Not Always Cost More

With rental cars, the least expensive cars typically cost the least. The more expensive the car, the higher the rate. Makes sense, right?

This common-sense process, however, is not always true.

Car rental companies always have special deals. The special deals could be one free day, car class upgrades, dollars off the overall rate, free GPS/car seats, etc. Often, the special deal will be in certain car classes, because the car rental company has excess inventory (too many cars). A great example is car rental companies offering great daily and weekly rates on SUVs during the winter months in snowy destinations, such as Denver, Burlington VT, and Manchester NH. By the way, there are often too many convertibles in Florida during the winter months, so look for lower rates there and then.

To find these lower rates on higher class vehicles, intentionally show the rates for all vehicles (instead of just looking for the lowest rates). When the results are displayed for all car classes, I am often pleasantly surprised. A full sized car may be less than the economy class. A premium class may be less than the mid sized car. Another strategy is to look for these deals on information websites, like I have even rented from a company I usually would not because of a great deal. Two examples include a great daily rate on a jeep and a great weekly rate of a small pickup. Again, it all depends on the car company's inventory. If they predict that they will have too many cars in a certain class, then they will lower those rates.

© 2008, Charles McCool

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The Almighty Rental Car Discount Code

Here is the secret to getting lower car rental rates. Are you listening? Ready?


You can use a booking website, like
Kayak or Orbitz, to scan and compare rates from various car rental firms. These rates, unfortunately, do not include any discounts. They are public or non-discounted rates. I call these rates the "sucker prices." Hardly anyone pays them. They are like rack rates for hotels and full fares for airfares. In my last blog post, I mentioned that discount codes are the key to getting lower car rental rates. Discount codes, then, are the secret to getting lower car rental rates; but, it is not really a secret.

How do you find a discount code?

Look, first, at your memberships. Rates on Hertz are heavily discounted with
AAA discount codes; there is a different discount code (or CDP, in Hertz language) for each AAA club. Costco, Sam's Club, AARP, and many other organizations offer discount codes. ORganizations may have discounts for only one car rental firm (like AAA's discount for Hertz) or for many agencies (like Costco).

There are countless rental car discount codes and sources for discount codes. Your workplace, school or alumni association, or other group may have discount codes. In fact, if you have your own small business, contact car rental firms (and other travel suppliers) and negotiate your own discount code program. Discount codes may also appear in ads (internet, newspaper, magazines), be printed on inserts in your credit card bill or bank statement, or be presented by an airline's website after buying a ticket. The
Entertainment book is a fantastic source of car rental discounts.

You can even scour the internet for codes. Just type "discount codes" and the name of the car company] into Many of the results point to unhelpful websites. Two excellent sources are and

Can you use discount codes for programs you do not belong to? Many people do. I have used codes that I found online or other sources to save loads of money. There were discount codes from organizations I did not belong to, nor would ever qualify for membership. I did my homework and suggest you do the same. Never use a code that is identified as for employees only, for instance. If the code is unknown, search for it online (type the code + the car company in google, e.g., avis K199060); that should reveal the source.

Now that you are aware of the power of car rental discount codes, find them and use them. No more sucker rates.

© 2008, Charles McCool

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Myth #2: Hertz is Expensive

In my recent travel class, a well-travelled attendee was surprised that I frequently rent cars from Hertz. "After all," she said, "Hertz is the most expensive car rental company. Isn't it?"

Whenever I discuss rental cars in my classes, I specifically use Hertz as an example, because the general impression among travel consumers is that they charge more than other companies.

Is it true? Does Hertz charge more? Why do I use Hertz?

First, a crucial factor for getting lower car rental rates is the discount code. The next posting will focus on discount codes. My Hertz discount code gives me competitive rates.

True, Hertz' rates are usually higher, maybe even the highest, if you have no discount code. Hertz' rates are also higher for business rentals (during the week) than consumer rentals (weekend or weekly rentals).

Second, it is more convenient for me to use Hertz since I can usually get a car and leave the airport quicker than with other companies. Not always, but usually.

Combine competitive rates and convenience; it is a no-brainer. I often use Hertz.

© 2008, Charles McCool

Packages - Less Expensive Than Airfares

Buying more and paying less. Who doesn't like that concept?

It is fun to beat the airlines at their own game. After all, air travel is a game--the rules are always changing, players come and go (mergers, bankruptcy, dropped routes). Even when you think you have it all figured out, you don't!

Sometimes travel packages cost less than the airfare.

Take a moment to let that sink in...

Yes, travel packages can cost less than just the airfare.

A travel package is a combination of travel components--like airfare, hotel, rental car, and/or activities (meals, attractions). So, it would make sense that if the airfare is combined with lodging and rental car, then the price would go up. Not so fast, my friend! The airline world is not the real world.

The other day I looked for a flight between the East coast and Honolulu. The lowest airfare was $1,660, because the departure was the next day. A travel package (with the same airline) was $1,374. By ADDING hotel and rental car (7 nights, in this case), you save almost $300. Note that $300 savings is from the airfare. The savings are much more if you factor in the costs of lodging and rental car.

Travel packages include various components (like air, hotel, and car) BUT you do not have to use them all. People will buy travel packages simply to get lower airfares (as above). I have heard of people using their hotel only a couple of days during their trip, and even not at all. Same with the car.

Even more fascinating is that travel packages are offered by the airlines (through their vacation desks). It is not a sneaky tactic; just simply click the "Vacation" tab on the airline's website. So, while the airline offers a $1,660 fare, the airline's vacation desk offers a $1,374 vacation (including air, hotel, and car). Classic!

This is just one recent example. I have seen much more dramatic differences, like $799 packages and $1,800 flights. Packages generally have less restrictions than airfares, such as no Saturday night and advanced purchase requirements.

Please share your experiences with travel packages or any of the other concepts, by adding a comment or sending e-mail.

© 2008, Charles McCool