Travel Tips

I have developed a bit of a reputation for getting good deals on my travel—especially hotels. People ask me how do I book cheap travel… so here goes.

Booking a Hotel:

Note: do these searches in separate tabs or windows so you can go back and forth to compare.

1) www.Kayak.com
This search will give you prices from a number of websites. You don’t actually book here, but this site will give you a good average for prices in the selected area. Good info to know to be able to see if you are getting a good deal.

2) Hotwire.com – Hotwire will give you a discounted hotel room. Not a bid. You select a hotel deal first and then pay before you find out the name of the hotel. No cancellations and no refunds. I seldom book here but it does give you a good target price to beat when you go to Priceline. (note… I find Hotwire’s star rating to be somewhat less reliable than priceline). Go ahead and click on the hotel that interest you to see the final price — the next screen will give you the price with taxes and fees.

3) Priceline.com – We are not bidding yet… still researching. Enter your search criteria. Priceline will give you results in 3 tabs. Click the Express Tab and you will see results that will allow you to book similar to how rooms are booked on Hotwire. This will give you yet another  “price to beat.” Now click the “Name Your Own Price Tab.”  All we want to know now is the geographical areas so we can narrow where in the city we want to stay. Narrow these by a first, second and third choice areas. (Consider airport location, venue location, and your schedule before you make decisions.) Click the areas ONE AT A TIME to then see the star levels of hotels available in that area. Don’t bid yet! Move on to step 4.

4) www.biddingfortravel.com— This is where you will research what others are getting and for what price in the areas you have selected in step 3 above. You can view a list of hotels that are known to participate with priceline.com and see what bids have won in those regions. They have some reviews of properties… but many of those are very outdated. (there is also a similar site to this called betterbidding.com that list both priceline and hotwire listings) If you want to see if the hotels you are considering are any good you should go to tripadvisor.com to read reviews of specific hotels. Be aware that 4 star hotels especially in downtown areas often have more fees attached beyond the room rate–parking can be as much as $25 a day, and often internet can be as much as $15 a day. So be wary of downtown locations.

5) After you have done your research it is now back to priceline to start your bidding. You already have a price ceiling. Don’t bid more than the price at Hotwire for the corresponding star level. You want to get as many “rebids” as possible so when you start only select one set if criteria at a time:

* select the highest star level first
* select only one geographic zone for the first bid
* bid… I usually start about $5 or $10 less than what the winning bids are on biddingfortravel.com
* wait to see if you got your bid

If you didn’t win your bid, then you can bid again, only change one thing at a time and bid again. If star level is more important than location then add a new zone and raise your bid 3 to 5 dollars. If location is more important the star level then drop down a star level and bid again. ONLY change one thing at a time and bid again. This keeps you bidding longer giving you more chances. Don’t get desperate and go to an area too far away or to a star level you don’t want. I generally never go below 2 and a half stars.

FREE BIDS! Remember we checked star levels for each area earlier. Any area that doesn’t have a star level as high as the one you want can be a free rebid.  So, for example if you want Downtown Seattle and no less than a 3 star, and you noticed that Tukwila only has 2 star hotels, you can bid Tukwila at 3 stars and know you will not succeed but at the same time you are raising your bid on the 3 star in Seattle in a second bid.

If you don’t succeed, you can try again in 24 hours. There is some who believe that you get better deals by waiting till the last minute and bidding the week before your trip. There is some truth to that… however if it is a popular weekend with some big event in the city then the sooner you book the better. If all else fails you can go back to Hotwire and grab the room there. (I seldom have to do this, however).

Now, if you are nervous about waiting too long and getting nothing here is your insurance policy: Book a hotel on one of the sites you found on kayak.com. Make sure it is a hotel you can cancel with no penalty. Now you are covered. Then do the priceline procedure. Once you get a good deal, cancel the other reservation. I have done this in areas that are higher priced or where there is a big event schedule (which raises the price of room rates).

Booking a rental car:

Much the same proceedure:

1. Kayak.com for the basic prices in the area
2. Southwest.com – I like Southwest for a couple reasons. They have a screen where you can enter coupon and club membership codes for several car companies all at once. (You get to this screen AFTER you do your first search–you will see it at the bottom “enter discount codes” or something similar. So if you have discounts, AAA, etc, you can see the results all in one screen.) Secondly they have a promotions page that gives you discount codes for several airlines so you can cut and paste those codes in the search engine.
3. This should be enough to give you the basic info for the major companies. Now try Hotwire.com and see what price they are offering. Remember to click on an actual car selection to see the final price with taxes and fees.
4. If this is a really good deal go ahead and book it and be done. But if you wanna go further, try priceline.com. You might be able to save a few more dollars, but I have found that the best deal on hotwire for cars and what I have gotten on priceline are pretty much the same. Biddingfortravel.com also gives winning bids on rental cars.
5. If you wanna wait till the week or so before the trip to book your car try Alamo.com and the link that says “hot deals” These are last minute deals are often much better than even hotwire or priceline
6. If you really are desperate to save on the dollars try Enterprise.com and rent from an off airport site. Enterprise advertises that they will come and pick you up. Off airport locations are often much cheaper as there are many hidden fees for airport locations. I don’t know if they would pick you up at an airport but they should honor that for a hotel location.

As with hotels, you will often get a better deal by waiting till the week of your trip to book. So again, you could book early for a standard rental and then cancel it if you find a better deal later.

Airfare:

I have never used priceline or hotwire for airfare, as I want to have more control over my schedule than those sites offer, but you can try it if you like.

1. Search for the basics on Kayak.com
2. Compare these prices with Southwest.com (Southwest doesn’t participate with any of the super search engine sites)
3. I usually book my flights most often on the actually airlines website. The exception is for those flights that use multiple airlines for your itinerary. You will probably have to use orbitz, travelocity or expedia for those. Most of the super sites ding you for an extra $5 fee for booking with them.
4. The main thing on airline tickets is WHEN to book. Usually months ahead is not good. 4 to 6 weeks ahead is much better.
5. Southwest has a service called “DING” which automatically alerts you to daily specials. If you are shopping you might want to subscribe to that service. I have often booked a flight and then canceled and rebooked a DING special. Southwest is also one of the most generous airlines for cancellation and changing schedules. No fees!!! They also don’t yet charge for checked bags!!!!!
6. I recently discovered Yapta.com. This sight monitors flights, even after you have booked your ticket (on most airlines) and will let you know if the price has dropped and then give you instructions on how to get a voucher for the difference. I have gotten a couple hundred dollars back on United flights by tracking my flights through them.

Do me and Master’s Image a favor. After you do your research and are actually ready to purchase, go to goodshop.com and select Master’s Image for the organization and then click on the link there for the site you are going to purchase from. MIP is doing well on the shopping end of things with donations from goodshop.com.

Hope this helps!!!!

Chuck

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