Saturday, December 15, 2007

No room at the inn? Part 2

More tips and tricks to finding available hotel rooms:

* Get referred to a competitor

As the sold-out hotels for alternatives. Call the direct hotel number for the hotel and simply ask if they could recommend another nearby hotel that might have vacancies.

Chances are good that they will suggest a comparable hotel, and might even know which of those hotels have rooms. After all, if there's a convention or something in town, you can probably bet that your call is not the first of its kind that they've received.

It makes sense for them to help you. They can't make money off of you on this trip anyway, so why not invest in a little no-cost goodwill that could leave a positive
impression for the next time you blow through town?

* Call the local experts

Sometimes, calling the local chamber of commerce or tourist bureau ends up being your salvation. They have an overview of the local situation, and it's in their interest to make sure all visitors have a pleasant stay, spend lots of money, and come back again.

Other times, the call is useless. It all really depends on the quality of the local business organizations. I would definitely say it's worth a shot.

* Look past words that end with "otel"

If all the hotels and motels on the booking engines seem to be sold out, but you may want to try finding a room in a bed & breakfast, a hostel, a campground or a small, independent hotel that isn't found on the big sites.

* Language matters

When looking for rooms in tight markets, don't let desperation blind you to red flags.

Look and listen for key phrases that could tip you off to a clone of the Bates Motel or, more likely, a place that is waaay to far from where you want to be.

Hewitt, the Independent Traveler columnist describes them as phrases that "Sound a lot like a pilot on a delayed plane soft-peddling your time on the tarmac."

Tip-off phrases include: "Just a few minutes from", "A short drive to", "A quick ride by car or train". Watch also for "slash" locations. You know, like the Orlando/Miami area.

If they are using vague language to describe proximity to attractions, there's a good chance it is farther than you'd like. ALWAYS use Mapquest before you book.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

No room at the inn?

Have you tried calling around only to find everything booked solid? Try these travel tips:

* Call direct

Calling a hotel directly, rather than using the chain's main number, might get you a room at the last minute or during peak travel times.

National reservations desks often have a cap on the number of rooms they can fill at any given hotel, with the rest left to the specific hotel staff. Those working at the front desk have a better sense of the hotel's capacity and will be more likely to check for cancellations or no-shows.

They can also often offer you better rates than you'll find online, and you can make specific requests such as a nice view, a cot or crib.

* Check the consolidators

Third-party consolidators such as, or are basically wholesalers often commit far in advance to buying a block of hotel rooms at a set price that they mark-up and re-sell later. Because of that, they are not only a good place to find discounted rooms, but a great place to look when you're having trouble finding a hotel room during a busy period.

Even if a hotel in Orlando has a "no vacancy" sign on it, a consolidator may well have a room available.

* Ask the attraction

If you are traveling for a meeting, or to go to a local attraction, one of the best calls you can make is to the organization or attraction itself.

It's probably not the first time their preferred or partner hotels have been sold out, and they may be able to tell you "unpublished" alternatives. I find that sob stories often work, especially if they're genuine, filled with detail, and presented with desperation - not anger - in your voice.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Find out the driving conditions in a city you're visiting

Here are a couple of other user-generated Websites that could be of
interest to travelers. Check them out:


This site lets people tattle on potentially dangerous drivers by posting the offenders’ license plates along with a detailed description of his or her offensive behavior.

Somebody cut you off? Were you tailgated by a tractor trailer? Stuck behind a 100-year-old Buick driver going 25 mph on a 55 mph, one-lane road?

Don’t give in to road rage. Get even.

Since its founding last year, Platewire has posted more than 37,000 license plates attached to vehicles that somehow ticked off other drivers. The postings list the date, time and location of the various outrages, which occurred on roads, streets and highways across the country.

Mark Buckman, a software developer, launched the site last year after a 17-mile commute from his job in Arlington, Va. to his home in Fairfax, during which he was almost involved in five separate collisions caused by other drivers. The hazards included a guy who was driving with his knee while rummaging in the back seat of the car and an elderly man who made a right hand turn from the far left lane of the

"PlateWire intends to grow large enough to become a real deterrent to unsafe driving habits," Buckman writes on his site. "My goal is to bring awareness to bad drivers so they become aware of the dangers associated with the aggressive driving they have become accustomed to. So join in, vent your rage, and let us all do our part to make the roads safer."


It's raining. The parking lot is nearly empty. You're only dashing in for a minute.

If you, an able-bodied driver, park in a handicapped space - just for a few minutes - who's going to know?

Maybe everyone. posts photos (Usually cell phone shots ), license plate numbers and other information about vehicles parking in spots legally reserved for people with

One of the featured entries this week was a police car parked in front of a handicapped parking sign in Coolidge, Arizona. Another shows a blue Pontiac Sunbird parked diagonally across a disabled parking space in front of a Borders bookstore in Crystal Lake, Ill.

The site also includes windshield notices that you can print out and stick under the wiper of cars illegally parked in handicapped spaces.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Car rental tips Part 3

Here is the last of a series on car rental tips:


* Consider waiting a day

If the only use you plan to make of a car on your first day
at a location is to drive to the hotel and sleep, why not
take a shuttle or a cab to the hotel, and rent a car the
next morning? It could save you the cost of a full-day's

Also, car rental prices tend to drop the further you get
from an airport and the agencies' captive customer base.

* Explore cyberspace

Shopping the Internet can be the quickest and best way to
compare many rental car rates.

Hit the websites of all the major agencies. You should also
check out a couple of the brand-name consolidators like
Orbitz ( or Expedia
( They may have special deals not
available to solitary keyboard punchers or clue you in to
companies that you hadn't thought of.

Remember, rental rates can vary between agencies serving
the same market. There can even be striking differences
between different locations of the same rental agency in
the same city, especially if one of its sites is at an

While you're at it, if you are planning to buy extra items
such as a damage waiver or insurance, you should also
comparison shop those rates.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Car rental tips Part 2

Here are some more car rental tips:


* Exploit your memberships

OK, if you're the grand wizard of the Pittsburgh chapter of
the Loyal Order of Raccoons, it may not mean much at the
rental desk.

But if you've got a AAA membership, you'll get a discount.
So will folks embraced by the AARP.

Many organizations, companies, credit unions, etc., have
arrangements with car rental agencies to offer special
discounts to their members. You may be eligible for a 5 to
15 percent discount and not be aware of it.

The same holds true for the holders of some credit cards.

You also want to look into joining one of the preferred
customer programs offered by the big rental agencies.
Membership, usually doesn't cost much, and it can often give
you deals on out-of-budget upgrades. The head-of-the-line
express treatment alone may be worth it for frequent

* Clip coupons

I long ago stopped feeling embarrassed about handing desk
clerks coupons. Hey, a buck's a buck.

Just make sure that you read any coupon you plan to use
carefully for conditions and exceptions. And do it ahead of
time. If you think it's a little embarrassing to pull out a
coupon at the rental desk, imagine how you'll feel if you
find out that coupon isn't valid and you've got to drop down
a model.

Most upgrade coupons are "based on availability", so if you
plan to use an upgrade coupon and also have a coupon that
saves on the rental price, bring them both. If they can’t
honor the upgrade, they may still give you the price

Also, if you're going to use a coupon or any other kind of
discount, remember to mention it at the time you book your

* Beware hidden charges

Taxes, airport charges, drop fees and insurance are just a
few of the things that can drastically increase the price of
your rental car. Surcharges can to tack on as much as 30
percent to the base price.

Make sure you grill the company on hidden costs so you know
what your paying for before you hit the road.

Many companies now post a copy of their rental agreement
online. That gives you a chance to comb through the fine
print without a long line of increasingly agitated travelers
tapping their toes behind you.

Be especially aware of taxes. They are a great target for
revenue-hungry local politicians because most renters don't
vote where they pay to borrow a car.

Sometimes these taxes manifest themselves under the heading
of 'airport fees'. In some cities, this cost can be so high
that it may be beneficial to take a bus or a cab into town
to rent from a local agency that local politicians aren't so
quick to tax. Once again, it comes down to spending some
time in front of your computer screen, doing research.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Car rental tips


There's a lot to think about when you rent a car.

Typically, this decision gets a lot less attention from
travelers than the airborne legs of their journey. But it
can get complicated - and expensive; especially with
gasoline selling for more than $3 a gallon at the pump.

Here are some tips:

* Fuel efficiency

It used to be that the first thing on most car renter's
lists - especially folks traveling for business on the
company's dime - was comfort. You figure out how many people
you'll have, add luggage, and look for something that would
fit everything comfortably.

Now, more travelers are willing to skimp a bit on comfort to
get more miles to the gallon. Many businesses are
scrutinizing this element of their expense accounts more
carefully, and an employee may be able to score some points
by saving his or her company some money.

Pay attention to the miles-per-gallon numbers of the rental
cars. Some rental companies don't post this info, so you
should do your research in advance. If you're going to be
driving a lot, this could save you quite a bit of money.

* Fill it yourself

Never buy gas from the car rental company. It is almost
always a bad deal.

Yes, there are drivers out there who will e-mail me to say
this option worked out for them, but successes stories are
the exception to the rule. They depend on pump prices
dropping before the rental agency bureaucracy can respond.
Lately, we haven’t had many dramatic downward shifts here.

The flip side of this is making sure you fill the car -
yourself - back to where the gauge was when you drove off
the lot. If the agency fills it, they will do so with their
more expensive gasoline, and you’re credit card charge will
be bigger than you expected.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Cruise travel tips Part 3

Book Airfare Through The Cruise Line
A big benefit of booking airfare through the cruise line is you'll be on the ship's radar if your flight is delayed or canceled. It's the cruise line's responsibility to get you on the ship one way or another. If you book your own airfare and miss the boat (and didn't purchase cancellation insurance), meeting up with the ship at the next.

Go a Day Early
"I always book clients in a hotel the night before the cruise no matter where they are sailing from, it takes the stress out of missed connections, bad weather and lost luggage," says Mary Jean Tully, chairman and CEO of Ontario-based Cruise Professionals. "Who wants to fly all the way to Barcelona and get right on the ship? It's nice to wake up in the city where the ship is sailing from, have a leisurely breakfast, relax or do a city tour."

Cruise Off-Season
You'll save a ton of money on the cruise. Up to 60% off of the cruise lines posted rate. You might have to take your chances with inclement weather. I went in August which is typically hurricane season. We were lucky, a hurricane struck the Western Caribbean the week after we left. You can plan around that by going 2 weeks before or 2 weeks after the hurricane season has started and ended.

Have Fun!
It's your vacation. Kick back, relax, and enjoy yourself. And have a umbrella drink for me!