I love to travel . . . I mean I really love to go places! I’ve always had this love of new places, new experiences and a different landscape. I live in a pretty cool place that lots of folks come to visit each year (Austin, TX) so it’s not like I am trying to escape. I love home, but I love the adventure and freedom that comes with travel.
Five years ago I married a man with a 4-year old boy and then we had a little girl together. Suddenly the travel picture changed, or did it? Sure, it’s tougher to get the whole crew ready for a trip and it does cost a bit more, but it’s not impossible and it can be pretty fun. I’ll be sharing some tips I’ve learned along the way in a series of travel blogs I will write. I hope they help you to have that fun family vacation and stay far away from the Griswald’s ill-fated version. This one is all about getting the best hotel and rental car deals.
1. Selecting the destination and timing. Just resign yourself right now that every vacation destination has an “on” season. STAY AWAY from that season. This used to be easy before kids, but now we are limited to summer break, spring break, and holidays which can be costly in many destinations. However, not always. We went to Disneyworld for Thanksgiving last year and did quite well. Also, my stepson has a winter break in February and we took a mini-trip then and found excellent prices because it was off-season.
2. Priceline, Hotwire or points. Don’t book a hotel or rental car unless you use one of these. If you don’t have loyalty points at a hotel chain or credit card points to use then your two best tools for booking hotels and cars are these two websites.
Start with Priceline to look up available hotels in the area. Get a good feeling for what is out there. Search by star rating and focus on the four stars and resorts – yes you can afford a resort once I tell you the secret. Once you know where all the four stars and resorts are located go to Hotwire and see if you can match them up.
Look for clues like similar amenities and such. Hotwire’s secret hotels will generally show about the same price that you will be able to get a successful bid on Priceline for, but not always. Now go to www.Hoteldealsrevealed.com. From this site you can see if any of the hotels on your Hotwire list match up to their lists and you may be able to figure out what hotel you are going to get before you make your purchase. If you can and you like the price book it!
If not, go back to Priceline and choose the “bid now” or “price chop” button. Select only 4 star or resort hotels and the location on the map you desire. Scroll down and check out the median price. I always start my bid with 60% less than the median price. You may not be approved at first, but I bid each day going up about $10 each time until they accept my bid. I also go back to Hotwire each day to see what the hotels are looking like over there too and if I see something interesting (resort or 4 star for really cheap) I may just book there.
3. For rental cars the process is the same, except easier, because you don’t have to deal with stars or areas. You just pick the grade of car you want and that’s it – go bid or purchase from Hotwire. The only thing that’s revealed after you purchase is the car rental company and for me it’s always been one of the main brands. Very easy!
4. Most purchases on Hotwire and Priceline are pay in advance and final. You can buy insurance, but this only covers you for illness and other unforeseen circumstances, not for just changing your mind. So be sure about your vacation plans before you book.
I hope you learned something from this and it works for you as it has for my family. I have many more budget travel secrets (including how to get the best airfare deals). I look forward to sharing all of this with you in upcoming blog posts so stay tuned!
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