MISSION: MONEY AND TIME-SAVERS
Get the best
travel deals this season!
traveling by plane, train, bus or car, if you know these
insider tips and experts-only secrets, you can virtually
guarantee you and your family a comfortable, money and
time-saving trip this holiday!
We’ve asked the
experts to reveal the secrets they use to get the most
for their time and money anywhere your family might go this
GETTING THERE .
season, however you choose to travel, there are deep
discounts to be had, says Los Angeles-based travel
expert Peter Greenberg, author of
Travel Detective. “Usually, prices
soar during the holiday season, but with fewer bookings
this year because of the current situation, the travel
industry is offering some great deals to attract
customers.” Here’s the best way to take advantage of
them—and ensure a comfortable trip, as well….
ON A TRAIN
1. Skip the travel agency.
Why? “Because most travel agents are geared toward
airplanes, not trains, and many don’t have easy computer
connections to schedules,” says Greenberg. Instead, he
suggests, book your travel itinerary directly with
Amtrak either on-line (Amtrak.com)
or using their toll-free number (800-USA-RAIL).
2. Get them to ‘fess up about special
fares. Unlike airlines,
“Amtrak almost always has some kind of sale or special
discount going on,” reveals Carol Kaminski of
BestFares.com. There are lower fares for seniors,
students, teenagers, children, even veterans, as well as
ongoing promotions and special packages that can save
you as much as 70%. The catch: you have to either know
about them, or know enough to ask, she says—otherwise,
you won’t be offered them. Your best bet: log onto
Amtrak.com to find special deals, then call
800-USA-RAIL and ask the operator about any others, she
3. Use the train to snap up discounts on
hotels and rental cars. How?
By taking advantage of frequent “train miles” programs!
Just like with frequent flier miles, you can quickly
rack up points every time you and your family travel by
rail. The best part? Unlike with restrictive airline
miles, “you can use your points to get cheaper rates on
hotel rooms, rental cars, to buy gift certificates at
popular restaurants and stores—they can even be
transferred to airline miles,” reveals Amtrak
spokesperson Karen Dunn. Just ask the operator when you
call about guest rewards or log onto
4. Factor in an extra hour to your
trip—no matter what the train itinerary says.
It’s a little-known secret that “passenger train
companies like Amtrak don't own the rails they ride
on—freight train companies do,” reveals Greenberg. “As a
result, when a freight train comes down the track—which
happens more often than not—your train may be forced to
sit on a side track and wait for it to pass.” But if you
plan for this delay ahead of time, it won’t make you
ON A BUS
1. Avoid the crowds.
Most people don’t realize it, but you can purchase your
bus tickets in advance, either online or by calling the
bus company directly, says Peter Pantuso, president and
CEO of the American Bus Association. “That way, you can
skip the crowds at the ticket counter, arrive right
before your bus leaves, and hop right on!” Won’t the
good seats all be gone by then? No! “Unlike airlines and
trains, which have a limited number of seats,
buses can take a virtually unlimited number of
passengers, he reveals. “When one bus fills up,
officials simply call in a second one to carry the
2. Travel at the best time of day.
Surveys show that the majority of bus trips last about
six hours. “So if you purchase tickets for a bus that
boards around 10am, you’ll miss rush hour on both ends
of your trip and stand a much better chance of arriving
on time,” says Greenberg.
3. Take advantage of bus “passes”.
If you and your family are making several visits this
season—first to Grandma’s, then your in-laws, and then
to your best friend—a special bus pass that offers
unlimited destinations could be just the ticket. This
discount pass, offered by most major bus companies, is
available year round and allows you to take as many
buses to as many destinations as you like for the
duration of the ticket, says
a spokeswoman for Greyhound Bus. It can save you a
bundle over buying each ticket individually. Passes
range from 4 to 60 days, and start at just $135.
4. Virtually guarantee an empty seat next
to you. How? By choosing a
seat near the front of the bus because experts say
that’s where the most seats stay empty. “Sit toward the
front and the people getting on after you will most
likely pass you by as they search for empty seat pairs
further back,” says Parsley.
ON AN AIRPLANE
1. Book your flight during the magic
hour: between midnight and 1
am every Wednesday night. “That's when airlines make
thousands of cheap seats available—seats that had been
reserved by other customers who haven’t paid for them,”
reveals travel expert Valerie D'Elia. “Simply call your
airline or go online during this time, and you’ll
automatically be offered bargains you might not get at
any other time.” But don’t forget: midnight
means midnight in the city where the airline is based.
For instance, since Delta is based in Atlanta, its
unsold seats go back into inventory at midnight Eastern
standard time. (To find out where the airline you want
is based, call their 800 number ahead of time to ask.)
2. Pack the right carry-on items.
“First and foremost, bring a sack lunch or dinner and
plenty of snacks, especially if you’re traveling with
kids,” says Greenberg—because most airlines have
discontinued food service to save money. But avoid the
newest security no-no: liquids. Pack juicy fruit or
veggies—like apples, pears, watermelon squares or
cucumbers—whose high water content will help quench
thirst and keep you and your family hydrated.
ONCE YOU ARRIVE
. . .
Surveys show the
average hotel stay and car rental lasts more than four
days. “That can add up to a lot of money—or a lot of
discomfort—if you’re not happy,” says Greenberg.
AT THE CAR
1. Virtually guarantee a free upgrade.
The secret: book the smallest, cheapest car possible,
reveals D'Elia. “On weekends and during the holidays,
car rental agencies always take more bookings than they
can fill for small cars. So more often than not, once
you actually get there, most of the small cars have been
sold out. As a result, you’ll likely be given an
upgrade for no additional fee.”
2. Don’t get taken for a ride.
Guess what: that super-low rate you relied on when you
booked your car rental probably won’t be the rate you
actually pay. In a startling study from the National
Association of Attorneys General, investigators found
that many car rental agencies sock consumers with so
many hidden surcharges and fees, the final cost often
exceeds the advertised rate by as much 75%. Even worse,
the bill isn’t totaled up until you’re done using the
car—so you’re forced to pay instead of being given the
option to say, “No thanks!” How can you make sure you’re
not surprised by a sneaky price hike? “Simply ask for a
list of all the extra charges, taxes and fees when you
call to book the car,” advises Greenberg. “If they add
up to more than you want to pay, go elsewhere.”
IN A HOTEL
1. Get the lowest price there is.
“Even though today’s hotel rooms are cheaper, don’t take
the first rate you’re offered, thinking it’s
automatically a great deal,” cautions Greenberg—because
there are still even-better bargains to be had. These
tips show you how to get them:
Ask the magic question:
“Is there a lower price available?” That’s right, says
Greenberg. Often, a better price can be had just for the
asking. That’s because, when the hotel isn’t full, the
advertised rate dips significantly. The catch: Unless
you ask, you won’t be told about the drop!
Book your room at the cheapest time: 4
p.m. on a Sunday. “That's when
the ‘revenue management’ department—the people who set
the sliding rates for hotel rooms—are off, so you stand
a much better chance of speaking with a front-desk clerk
who would prefer to simply sell a room at a much cheaper
rate than keep it empty and not make any money,”
2. Don’t give the desk clerk your primary
credit or debit card. It’s a
little-known fact: When the desk clerk swipes your card
as you check in, he doesn't punch in the price of your
room. Instead, the law allows him to charge you an
arbitrary amount (anywhere from $200 to $3000!) to cover
expenses you might incur while you’re there. Sure, you
get most of the money back when you check out—but if you
need it during your trip for souvenirs or dinners out,
it might not be there. The simple way to avoid this
trap: Be sure to give the hotel clerk either an American
Express card (which has no limit) or a card you’re using
only for the hotel bill, advises Greenberg.
3. Book a more comfortable room—for the
same price. When cardholders
were asked in a recent American Express survey what they
considered the most important factor for a comfortable
hotel stay, most gave a startling answer: not a firm
bed, crisp sheets or the perfect amount of heat—but
great water pressure in the bathroom. If that’s how you
feel, too, there’s an easy way to guarantee your
comfort. “When you book a room, simply ask the desk
clerk which floors have ‘booster pumps’,” advises
Greenberg. “These bring water from the ground up to the
higher floors—and when you’re on the same floor as one,
the shower pressure is like a fire hose.” (If the desk
clerk doesn’t know, ask him to check with the hotel’s
engineer to find out.)
4. Guarantee a childproof room.
New studies show that today, 85% of vacationers and 60%
of business travelers bring their children along on
their trip—which is why more and more hotels are
offering a little-known service: free child-proofing.
“Simply call ahead and ask to have housekeeping
kid-proof your room before you get there,” Greenberg
suggests. “You’ll automatically be provided with safety
measures like covers over electrical outlets and
life-saving screens on balcony bars.”