Tag Archives: vacation

Fill up at the rental car counter or at the gas pump?

hertzWhen you rent a car, you’re bombarded with questions from upgrades to insurance. I always say no to everything including the gas, but I recently thought twice about saying yes. The salesman told me the pre-pay gas price was cheaper than nearby gas stations. The price of gas seemed cheap on the sign behind the counter, but I wasn’t willing to take the risk. After all, I’ve always been told to say no to all the add-ons at the rental car counter. How did I know the gas at the counter really was cheaper?

As a consumer reporter, I have a natural skepticism toward the rental car salesman. I’ve done stories with drivers who dropped off their car flawless only to be billed later for damages they say they didn’t cause. Some companies are even requiring receipts for gas to make sure you fill up the tank close to the airport and don’t get a few extra miles out of that full tank of gas.

On my way back to the airport, I filled up at a nearby gas station. The price I paid was a few cents more than the one I saw previously posted at the airport rental car counter. It made me think. Maybe this was something to consider the next time I rent a car.

Before I do it, or suggest you do it, ask many questions. Make sure the price listed is the TOTAL price you will pay per gallon. Make sure there are not additional taxes or fees. Also, ask if that price is valid regardless of whether you need a full or half tank of gas. Finally, get the offer in writing to make sure you won’t be charged later.

I wasn’t ready to experiment with this during my last rental, but I might explore it next time around. I’ll at least ask a few questions to consider whether it’s really a good deal.

Airport parking that won’t break your travel budget

When most people book a flight, they search and search for the cheapest fare. With airfares skyrocketing, people are holding out longer. Some are even driving several hours to a different airport to save money. Once you book that flight, are you applying the same research tools to save money on parking? Spend ten minutes before you leave for the airport to save big bucks.

We drove to Pittsburgh for our wedding and honeymoon because Cleveland flights are simply astronomical. We saved $600 just on our return trip by flying out of Pittsburgh rather than Cleveland, but our return flight didn’t arrive until almost midnight. We didn’t want to drive home at that hour, and we were going to be gone for sixteen days. With a hotel and parking, it doesn’t take long for the expenses to eat away at your savings.

Sixteen days of parking at the airport would cost $128. I tried to find my normal $50 hotel, but had no luck. Once the Priceline price tag reached around $90, I began looking for other options.

Many airport hotels offer great discounts on parking and hotels. They’re called a Park, Sleep, Fly package and can save you big bucks. There’s an entire Park, Sleep, Fly website that helps you find the deals. We paid $128 with taxes for 16 days parking, a night’s stay, breakfast, and shuttle to/from the airport. You can’t beat that.

I highly suggest this option if you can’t find a good deal for a hotel room on Priceline. When I say good deal, I mean $50-75. I never pay more than that in a big city for any hotel room. Call around and you might be able to save even more by doing a price comparison of hotels.

If you don’t want to sleep, call some of these hotels that offer packages. They may charge you a reduced or flat fee to just park your car for the duration of your trip. At last check, there are some airport hotels in the Cleveland area that offer reduced parking rates. Plus, they’ll transport you to the airport. Just check, because sometimes these shuttles run only once an hour.

Just like you shop around for that airfare, do the same for parking whether you are travel for the holidays or a vacation any time of year.

Picture perfect honeymoon or vacation – best research sites

When you’re planning a wedding, there’s a lot of back and forth with the vendors. You visit the reception hall and go over every last detail. You know what to expect that day and know how everything will look. While your wedding day is a big moment, the reception you planned for months only lasts a few hours. The weeks that follow are just as important. Your honeymoon lasts more than just a few hours. It can last more than a week. Yet, you plan it without ever visiting and often without ever speaking to anyone. You’re at the mercy of others to make sure every detail is as perfect as you ever imagined. So, here’s my tips to a picture perfect honeymoon.

We planned our honeymoon entirely on the reviews of other honeymooners and travelers on TripAdvisor.  It’s my #1 travel site, and I check it all the time for hotels in the United States or resorts in another part of the world. You know the worst thing that may happen on your trip, and you know the best parts of the resort or hotel.

We originally booked our honeymoon to Antigua. It was a small resort, and got good reviews. When you’re planning a wedding, you want to get the big details planned as quickly as possible. We saw a sale for the resort we were considering, and booked it early on. We were very excited and even told people we were heading to Antigua.

A few months later, the excitement faded. As we researched what we would do during our time in Antigua, we realized there may not be enough activities to keep us busy. Funny, considering we did very little on our honeymoon. When you’re planning, you still have energy and can’t imagine sitting on a beach for a week even though that’s exactly what we needed after months of planning.

We explored other honeymoon options and saw a review of top honeymoon islands. St. Lucia topped it. We began looking at the island, and we were sold. There are volcanoes, nice beaches, snorkeling, scuba, and culture. It ranks as one of the most romantic islands.

Our haste to book our honeymoon cost us $50 to cancel our reservation to Antigua. Not a big deal considering the amazing time we had in St. Lucia. It was the best choice possible. My advice to you: don’t rush into a decision. Your honeymoon is a big detail, but it’s small enough that it can wait until you have time to truly explore and decide on the best option for you.

So many people are looking for something different on their honeymoon. Some people take short trips, others long. Some people want to explore, others sit on the beach. First, decide your wants and needs. Then, search for that perfect destination.

Sunset from our room at Jalousie Plantation

We settled on Jalousie Plantation in St. Lucia, and had an amazing time.  Beyond the accommodations, you need to consider the food. I’ve stayed at some budget resorts, and the food gets old real fast. At Jalousie, it was amazing night after night whether you ate at the high end restaurant or the budget one by the beach. All inclusive is the way to go. The last thing you want to worry about on your honeymoon is money. You should order the entree, or two like my husband did one night, that you want rather than the one that fits your budget.

Do your research. Don’t assume your resort has good beach access. Some have amazing views in St. Luica, but they don’t have a beach. At our resort, they bussed in other hotel guests. They were relegated to a small part of the beach without bad chairs. If they wanted a good one, they had to pay handsomely. They were on such a small part of the beach, we wouldn’t have known they were there if we didn’t see them all walking down the mountain from the drop off point at the resort every day.

Kendry – Guide for Real St. Lucia Tours

We saved a ton of money because we did our research before we left. We found an amazing tour company, Real St. Lucia Tours. Their tours are custom and half the price of our resort. We booked a custom tour to chocolate plantations, volcano, mud bath, nearby fishing village, etc. for six hours for $85. That’s so cheap considering it costs me $15 in a cab to drive less than ten minutes in the United States. The driver also showed other points of interest and made it a day we’ll always remember. Do your research and skip the tours at the hotel.

Boucan drinks – Hotel Chocolat – St. Lucia – $40 cab drive from our nearby hotel unless you hire a driver

If you don’t plan ahead, you’re stuck guessing which company to choose when you arrive. If you don’t want to go with the hotel, taxis are your other option. They are expensive. When we asked the hotel how much it would cost to go anywhere, the answer was $40. Even if it was 10 minutes down the road. They know you don’t know that it’s that close, so everything costs $40. A lot of tourist pay this price because they don’t have another option because they didn’t do their research before their trip. When we went out with Real St. Lucia Tours to some of the chocolate plantations, I couldn’t believe other tourists paid $40 to visit them because they were so close to our resort.

Boating near Pitons in St. Lucia

If you want to head out on the water, you need to look beyond Real St. Lucia Tours. They only offer land trips. You can take a water taxi, but they are expensive. We heard some travelers who used them and enjoyed their trip, but they are pricey adventures. You can wheel and deal with the water taxis that sit on the shore all day waiting for a customer, but they don’t discount their rides that significantly.

We only took one water tour and felt a bit ripped off. We hadn’t done our research, so we booked it through the hotel.

View from room at Jade Mountain

Through our research, we also knew where to spend all our money. We wanted to splurge one night, and did just that at Jade Mountain. Based on the reviews on TripAdvisor, we knew we would have amazing views and a night to remember.

If you’re headed to Europe, I would use TripAdvisor. We’re using it to book a trip to New Zealand. However, I’d also grab a travel guide book like Fodor’s. It will be your Bible for your entire trip as you’re traveling. Those books never left my hand when I traveled through Europe. You need a quick guidebook for last minute questions, accommodations, and sights to see when you are on the go in Europe.

You need to review traveler comments with a bit of skepticism. A traveler is more likely to leave a negative comment than a positive one. However, they offer insight we didn’t have ten years ago. Reviews should not be underestimated. They are priceless tools to help you book a trip. TripAdvisor happens to be my favorite. Which one is yours?

Jet Blue giving free flights out of the country if your Presidential candidate loses the election

The election is a month away and voting is already a circus in Ohio. Every morning as I was to work past the Board of Elections, there are a dozen or so people and their signs trying to sway voters. Early voting is strong in Ohio, and it’s top of mind for many with one interesting debate in the record books. JetBlue is jumping into the action and offering free flights to more than a thousand voters whose candidate doesn’t win. (It’s advertising 2012 seats, but it’s 1006 roundtrip flights).

The program is called Election Protection and allows you to enter to win a free trip out of the country if your candidate doesn’t win. To enter, you need to select  a candidate and an international destination. Your options include the following: Bermuda, St. Maarten; St. Lucia; Barbados; Dominican Republic (Samana, Santiago, Santo Domingo, La Romana, Punta Cana, or Puerto Plata); Nassau, Bahamas; Cancun, Mexico; Costa Rica (either Liberia or San Jose); Aruba; Colombia (either Cartagena or Bogota); Grand Cayman; Jamaica (either Kingston or Montego Bay); or Turks & Caicos.

To register, Facebook was the only available option when I played around with it. Just know you are giving up your Facebook profile information to enter the contest. I know a lot of companies do this, but it’s also a privacy issue. Just understand what you are doing when you sign up.

If your candidate loses you get one entry into the Sweepstakes. You can’t enter more than once. 1,006 winners will be randomly selected on or around November 7th. You’ll be notified by email.

The winners get a travel certificate for the base fare of a roundtrip JetBlue flight originating within the U.S. to one of the cities listed above.

Of course there is a slight catch. You don’t have long to travel. You have to take your vacation between January 8, 2013 and February 13. My guess for the small timeframe – the beginning of the new year is a slow travel time right before Spring Break.

Also, you’ll need to pay the taxes and fees which is customary with most of these awards. If you want a free vacation and don’t mind sharing your political affiliation and Facebook profile with the airline, this might be for you.

What do you think of this marketing gimmick? Click comment below.


Rental car companies will stop renting recalled cars

Renting a car just got a little safer thanks to an agreement with the top four rental car companies. Enterprise/National/Alamo, Hertz/Advantage, Avis/Budget, and Dollar/Thrift agreed to keep recalled cars off the road and agreed to support a bill to make this a law.

The Senate bill would require all recalled vehicles to be taken out of circulation as soon as possible, but no more than 24 hours after the rental car company gets the recall notice.  If the company has more than 5,000 vehicles in question in their fleet, the timeframe will expand to 48 hours.

Also, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will be able to investigate and police rental car companies for violations of the law.

“This breakthrough was years in the making. It will help take recalled rental cars off the road for good,” said Schumer. “Consumers will no longer have to worry about what they aren’t being told when they go to the rental car counter. With the industry’s full backing, we think we have a great shot to get this legislation passed before the end of the year.”

The law was pushed by Cally Houck of California after her two daughters were killed in a crash while driving a recalled vehicle.

Now that this law has support and is on its way through Congress, it’s time safety advocates work to implement a similar law for used cars. It’s legal to buy a used car with an open recall. I’ve reported for NewsChannel 5 on multiple people who bought a used car only to find it was sold to them with a serious safety defect like a rusted rear axle.

Car dealers say it would be difficult to keep tabs on this. Currently, you need to pay for a CarFax report, check the manufacturer’s website, or search NHTSA’s website by make and model. NHTSA bought software to create a centralized database so you can search in one place for all vehicles. You’d simply enter the VIN and find out if the car is recalled. Used car dealers told the GAO the database would be helpful. However, NHTSA told the Government Accountability Office it needs signficantly more resources to implement it.

I hope safety advocates push this now that we seem to be close to a law for rental cars.

It is illegal to sell a new car with a recall. Then again, who would buy a new car that’s already been recalled. It would make me wonder.

Saving on summer travel

Trying to book a summer vacation? You want to plan early, and look at every option possible. It’s like a perfect storm of fewer flights and high gas prices. The result — sky-high airfares. Just what I don’t need for my guests at my destination wedding this summer.

I’ve been checking the three major cities where our guests will be departing to alert them to good deals. Out of Kansas City, I’ve found some decent fares on Air Tran. These days, anything below $300 is a good fare even if it’s barely below $300.

That’s rule #1 – don’t expect to fly for less than $300 this year. If you get a flight cheaper, you’ll feel like you got a bargain. If you pay a little more, you won’t feel too ripped off.

Some airports are nearly impossible to find deals. For example, Hartford, CT is notoriously an expensive airport to fly through. For me, it’s a must because that’s where my family lives. It’s not worth the savings to fly to Boston or New York because those airports present entirely different travel headaches.

The average fare to my wedding out of Hartford is $400-500. What’s odd is that it doesn’t matter if you’re flying Memorial Day weekend, which is a busy travel weekend as it kicks off summer, or a random week in August. The flights are exactly the same, and they’re not budging.

Despite the high airfares to Florida out of Hartford, there are deals to other cities. Rule #2 – you might just have to be flexible with your travel cities. I found a random flight for just over $150 to fly to Cleveland, and Hopkins is an expensive airport to fly in and out of as well. Look beyond your normal travel destinations and you might find a summer deal.

Rule #3 – keep searching. The night before I found the $150 deal, the flight was $200 higher. It’s unreal how they fluctuate. The flight wasn’t full so clearly they were trying to sell seats, but are these constant swings really necessary? I don’t have time to check fares every day.

Airfare alerts are a great way to stay on top of the deals. I like Airfarewatchdog  and FareCompare. I also sign up for deal alerts from the airlines. They’ll take some of the guessing out of it for you.

If you’re really desperate to get somewhere and flexible, name your own price on Priceline. I like the site, but haven’t bid on an airfare in years. Too many times, I got burnt with long layovers and endless flights. There is a bit of a price if you want to save money. Remember, time is money.

Rule #4 – if you want to cash in on frequent flier miles expect to pay dearly. Ignore the mileage charts because they don’t even make sense. The days of 25,000 mile round trip frequent flier trips are gone.

I have to get down to Florida Memorial Day weekend for some wedding logistics, so I have to cash in miles for the trip. It’s that or pay $500+ for the trip. According to the mileage chart, it should cost me 12,000-30,000 miles for an airfare. The real cost is 40,000 miles. The chart shows 12,000 as a low and 30,000 as a high. So, what’s 40,000? Extremely overpriced!

According to the same chart, those 40,000 miles should get me to Central America. That would be on the high-end. The high-end for Hawaii is 45,000 miles. I ran a bunch of date combinations and it didn’t seem to matter when you were flying. Expect to pay 40,000 miles.

There are 12,000 mile flights, but they are few and far between. You might have to fly odd times, to odd airports, or different airlines.

It’s the new reality as airfares are sky-high, so the cost of getting one for free is sky-high. Just enjoy the free flight, and don’t think about how many flights you had to take to get that free one.


UPDATE: The American Airlines technical glitch on the first day of the new airfare disclosure rules is fixed. On Thursday, American Airlines was not able to make comparison shopping easier for travelers as required by law. Airlines must disclose upfront … Continue reading

You now have 24 hours to hold or cancel a flight

The airlines are all adjusting differently to the new requirement that taxes and fees be included in the advertised price of a flight. Regardless of the differences, the disclosures are easy to find and it’s much easier to comparison shop.

The price you see includes all the fees. Here’s a look at the ways companies are reacting told through pictures.

Expedia advertises that now it’s easier to find low fares. They’re spinning this as a positive thing, which it is for consumers, even though some airlines are less than pleased about these changes.

Continental Airlines lists a statement at the top that says “Fares listed are for the entire trip per person and include taxes and fees.”

It’s not just ticket prices that are changing, you’ll also see more disclosures about baggage fees and have the opportunity to hold a reservation or cancel it within 24 hours.

24 hold policy
You’ll now get 24 hours to make a decision about a fare. You no longer have to rush into booking something because you are afraid the price may change. You can hold a reservation without a payment or even cancel a fare without penalty for 24 hours after you make the reservation. If I were you, I wouldn’t book. I’d hold the fare and buy later because cancelling the fare may involve calling customer service which may take up a lot of time.  This rule only applies if you book or hold the trip one week or more prior to your flight’s departure.

Baggage fees
Ever wonder how much it’s going to cost to check a bag? Those fees will be disclosed with the fare quote. This disclosure is easy to miss as its worded differently on every site and doesn’t always make reference to baggage fees.

Also, if there is a delay of 30 minutes or more airlines will have to promptly notify passengers. What this actually means remains to be seen. What’s promptly?

The changes are a good step toward disclosure and give consumers more rights when they hit the friendly skies. Just make sure you know your rights and demand they are enforced (like with a delay situation) when you’re flying.

New airline rules make comparison shopping easier

Trying to figure out the real price of an airfare can be a frustrating process, but it’s about to get easier. This week, changes are taking places that will  require airlines be more upfront about the true cost of that ticket plus consumers will have 24 hours to make up their mind about a ticket. They are much needed changes that should make airline ticket shopping less of a game and a whole lot easier to truly comparison shop.

Here’s why disclosure is needed – a recent sale by one site said you could save $5 instantly. It listed the price as $248, but note the wording of the fine print. It says “total including fees excluding taxes.” Interesting. Why would the site include fees but exclude taxes other than to keep the price down?

I clicked through to see what the deal was all about as $5 is $5 in this economy. I’ll buy from a different site even to save that minimal amount. $248 was about the price I saw quoted on other sites. However, when I clicked through to the next page, I realized there really wasn’t a savings of $5. The price of the ticket was more than the other sites. Here’s what I saw on the next page.

The base price of $248 had an extra $66.20 attached to it for taxes and fees. I thought the fees were already included? Bottom line – it’s confusing and frustrates consumers. You shouldn’t have to click through and almost buy the ticket before you see the true price. That $5 discount really wasn’t much of a discount. I found the fare cheaper on other sites.

These new Department of Transportation rules should be the end of pricing issues like this.  Airlines won’t be able to publish ads that list government-imposed taxes and fees separately from the advertised fare. All those fees and taxes must be included in the advertised fare starting Thursday. However, it’s still unclear how the airlines will adjust. We’ll have to wait and see on Thursday.

24 hold policy
Starting today, you’re gaining other rights. You’ll now get 24 hours to make a decision about a fare. You no longer have to rush into booking something because you are afraid the price may change. You can hold a reservation without a payment or even cancel a fare without penalty for 24 hours after you make the reservation. If I were you, I wouldn’t book. I’d hold the fare and buy later because cancelling the fare may involve calling customer service which may take up a lot of time.  This rule only applies if you book or hold the trip one week or more prior to your flight’s departure.

Baggage fees
Ever wonder how much it’s going to cost to check a bag? Those fees will be disclosed with the fare quote. This disclosure is easy to miss as its worded differently on every site and doesn’t always make reference to baggage fees. The picture to the left shows you how one site displays the information. They included a hyperlink titled, “Additional airline fees may apply.” When you click on the link, you are told about the baggage fees. You get the screen below that includes a drop down box to choose your airline.

Another site displayed the information differently. See the photo below.

This airline site says “Additional bag charges may apply” which takes you to a screen about the baggage fees.

I don’t mind the differences in how baggage fees are disclosed as I think the bigger issue is the advertising of prices with taxes and fees. It will be interesting to see how the airlines follow that rule because it directly impacts your ability to quickly comparison shop. I think baggage fees are less of a factor.

Also, if there is a delay of 30 minutes or more airlines will have to promptly notify passengers. What this actually means remains to be seen. What’s promptly?

Some airlines are not happy about these changes, but it appears these changes will take effect for now.

What do you think of the changes? Click comment below.

Cancelling my plans for Irene’s visit

With Hurricane Irene taking aim for the east coast, we made the decision to skip my flight to Connecticut this weekend. We were supposed to leave Wed. night, and boy does it feel weird to be laying on your couch when you know you should be up in the air. We worried that we never would be able to make it back, because our return flight was scheduled for Sunday the same day Irene is scheduled to land in Connecticut.

We looked at every computer model, every forecast, and every website before making the decision. We spoke with Continental, and they told us we’d get a credit if a travel waiver was issued for our return flight. They said the two flights were tied together as one on the reservation so we’d get the credit. Of course, you never know if that will happen until it does.

For the last 24 hours, we waited for the advisory. I knew it was coming, because the forecast hasn’t changed much. The advisory was issued Thursday. I called Continental tonight expecting a credit. When I confirmed with the customer service rep that it was a credit that had to be used within a year, she said no I’m issuing you a refund. I was shocked. Supposedly, I’m getting an email confirmation. It hasn’t arrived yet, but I’ll be on the lookout and let you know.

It’s good to see an airline actually work with a customer for once. The policies of every other airline are not as loose. Some are very restrictive and require you travel quickly to take advantage of the travel waiver. I’ll let you know how our story ends. Here’s a look at the policies and what the airlines are doing.

Continental Airlines is offering travel waivers for Baltimore, Boston, Charleston, Hartford, Myrtle Beach, Newark, NY LGA, NY JFK, Norfolk, Philadelphia, Providence, Raleigh/Durham, Richmond, Washington, D.C. DCA and IAD, and White Plains. You have a year to use the credit without a change fee. However, you will pay the difference in the fare if you don’t begin your new trip by September 6th. Travel between now and then and the price difference in flights will be waived.

Delta issued an advisory for Coastal Carolinas, Caribbean, Baltimore, NY JFK / LGA / ISP, Newark, Newburgh, Newport News, Norfolk, Philadelphia, Richmond, Washington, D.C. DCA / IAD, and White Plains if you are travelling August 26th through the 29th.  You need to get your ticket reissued by September 2nd and travel by that date.

If you are travelling Aug. 27th – 29th on Air Tran Airways, you qualify if your flight takes you to, from, or through Allentown / Bethlehem, Atlantic City, BWI, Boston, NY LGA, Newport News, Philadelphia, Portland, Washington D.C. Reagan and Dulles, and White Plains. You have to restart your travel for 3 days prior or seven days after the scheduled departure.

American Airlines will allow you to change your flight if you’re travelling via Baltimore, Boston, Hartford, Newark, Norfolk, New York JFK /LGA, Philadelphia, Raleigh/Durham, Richmond, DC Dulles and Reagan, White Plains, and Wilmington. AA travel waivers are for Aug. 25-30th. You must begin travel again by September 4th.

Southwest Airlines is working with customers with flights booked August 27-29th for the following cities: Albany, DC BWI, Boston, Hartford,  Long Island, Manchester, Newark, NY LGA, Norfolk, Philadelphia, Providence, and DC Dulles. You must travel within 14 days of the original date of travel between the two cities to avoid additional charges.

US Airways is helping passengers in Savannah, Fayetteville, Greenville, Jacksonville, New Bern, Raleigh / Durham, Wilmington, Charleston, Hilton Head, Myrtle Beach, Newport News, Norfolk, and Richmond.  US is helping if your flight is Aug. 27-28, and you have to change your travel date by moving it up or back by a few days. Travel must start by Sept. 1.

Have your travel plans been interrupted? Share your story by clicking “comment.”