Monday 26 August 2013

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10 Promos We Used This Summer to Keep Travel Costs Down

People think we're rich. Not One Direction rich, but the general consensus is that for the amount of travel that we do, money must not be a real issue for us. I promise you nothing could be further from the truth. We do our traveling on a shoestring budget (a little too shoestring sometimes) and it's only by endlessly chasing deals and promotions that we can afford to travel further than the grocery store down the street, and truth be told with the price of gas up here that grocery store had better be running a promotion as well.

If you've been following along with us on Facebook, you know that our summer has been full of fun and travel, but it's also been full of promotions. Here's 10 of the deals that we took advantage of this summer to help keep our costs to a minimum.

Free Night at the Fairmont Empress in Victoria

This is the only one of these tips that wouldn't necessarily be available to everyone, but it's the outcome of taking advantage of another promo a couple of years ago and being quick on the draw when the Fairmont Lifetime Platinum deal was available. We get one free night per year, so this year we used it at the Fairmont Empress. One of the nice parts about Fairmont is that they let you use a suite upgrade coupon at the same time as your free night coupon, so we paid for one night in a base room and got two nights in a one bedroom suite. Sure my family nearly killed me when they found out there was no air conditioning, but it was still a fantastic deal!

In front of the Fairmont Empress in Victoria

Using Points at the Hyatt Regency Valencia

I don't know what was going on, but on the days that we wanted to visit Six Flags the rates were through the roof at all the Valencia area hotels. I'm talking well over $200 a night in an area that usually costs around $100. Fortunately the Hyatt Regency Valencia is way under priced on points, coming in at only 8,000 Gold Passport points per night. We had that many points available in our account, but even if we hadn't we could have purchased 8,000 points for $192 directly from Hyatt and saved some money that way, even cheaper if we'd taken advantage of one of their frequent 50% bonuses when buying points.

Free Night at the Sheraton Universal in Los Angeles

About a year ago Starwood sent Lori an offer to stay one night with them at any of their properties and get a free night sometime in the next year. We spent a night at the Kamloops Four Points a short distance away from our home, and then held on to our free night until we used it this summer at the Sheraton Universal. Paying just over $100 in Kamloops to earn a free $200 night in Los Angeles was a great money saver for us (and it actually got us interested in the Starwood properties as well, so win/win).

Hollywood sign at Sheraton Universal

Free Nights at the Radisson in Buena Park

Disneyland hotels seem to be raising their rates this year. I used to be able to count on staying a few blocks away from the park for under $100 a night, but this year everything was closer to $200. That's too rich for my blood, so we decided to use some of our points that we earned in Florida last year during the Club Carlson 50,000 points per night giveaway. The entire week at the Radisson Buena Park only cost a little over 100,000 points, so the two nights we spent at the Radisson in Melbourne last summer covered our week in Disney this year. 

Disneyland Passes via Airmiles

I'm constantly in envy of my American friends and their ability to rack up huge points by applying and cancelling credit cards. Our options in Canada are pretty bad (unless you really want enough points for five free movies) and while I've all but given up on the Airmiles program, they still make Disneyland passes relatively affordable. We managed to get four of our passes from Airmiles, meaning we only had to shell out $300 for one five day pass. Of course this was our first time back sine our annual passes expired almost two years ago. That $300 seemed like a million when I had to pay it out.

Fireworks in the shape of Mickey Mouse at Disneyland

Obtaining Hilton Gold in Edmonton

I like having hotel status. It's not the self-important feeling of being able to say "But I'm a diamond guest!" It's the actual perks and benefits that appeal to me as a way to save money. Free breakfasts and free internet have a definite value to our family, but staying 16 nights at one chain doesn't seem like a cost effective route to obtaining that savings. Fortunately, there's often a shortcut. This year Carson Wagonlit Travel offered a promotion to it's customers that would provide Gold status in the Hilton program after only four stays. We decided to bounce back and forth between two different Hilton properties in Edmonton for the four nights we were there, and now we have Gold Status in Hilton until March of 2015. This didn't necessarily save us any money this summer (although it didn't cost us any either...both hotels were running about $100 a night) but the first time we use our status for free breakfast it'll start paying off big time. 

United Airlines Fare Sale

Do you know what the hardest part of booking a vacation is? It's waiting. I know that if I wait long enough there will be a sale, but sometimes I don't realize which price was the sale until it's too late. My target price for Seattle to Anaheim is around $75 base fare. The airlines were sitting at about $85 this year, and I was wondering if maybe prices had just gone up and $85 was as good as it was going to get. I held on until three weeks before we were planning on going, but just as I was about to throw in the towel and pay the $85, United had a sale for $59. Sure we had to route through San Francisco (a few days after the plane crash there), but at least the price was right.

United Airlines Plane in San Francisco

Jonas Brothers Tickets

No, you're not the first to suggest that the easiest way to save money here would be to just not go to the show, but this was the catalyst for the entire run to Vegas. There was no trip until Travelzoo put the Jonas Brothers tickets on for $15. That 75% markdown led to us spending a week in Vegas and visiting the Grand Canyon for the first time. It meant my kids got to see their second Cirque show, and it introduced us to the magic that is the Krispy Kreme milkshake. It meant we got to play KISS mini-golf and meet up with both old and new friends while spending time in the desert. Truth be told, the Jonas Brothers probably cost me a lot more money than I saved, but it was a really good deal on the tickets. 

Posing with Jonas Brothers poster in Las Vegas

Mandalay Bay / Royal Caribbean Promotion

Vegas promotions are a little different than everywhere else. It's almost unheard of to book a room in Vegas that doesn't come with some kind of room credit or free drinks. On occasion however, they overdo it. We were looking for a couple of nights at the beginning of the week when somebody pointed out a cross promotion between Royal Caribbean and MGM. Essentially what they were doing was attaching ridiculous amounts of food credit to the rooms. For example, we booked two nights at Mandalay Bay for $62 a night and it came with $150 food credit. Even factoring in a crazy $25 per night resort fee, the net cost for one of the nicer hotels in Vegas was only $12 per night. At that price we decided that it would be nice to have some extra space so we booked another room under Lori's name and got a total of $300 worth of food credit. Ever told your kids to go crazy in Starbucks then signed a $115 bill without even the slightest cringe? It's fun. I highly recommend it. 

ISIC Car Rental Rate

Car rentals aren't as cheap as they once were. I used to be able to get a mini-van in Vegas for $15 a day. Now it's closer to $75, and that's if they're available at all. Alamo has a deal with a company called the International Student Identity Card which provides a crazy low rate, all the insurances, and a prepaid tank of gas. The only catch is that you must be a member of ISIC to get this rate. You know what it costs to become a member of ISIC? $20. That's money you'll easily earn back on your very first rental, even if you only factor in the tank of gas you don't have to replace before returning your car. 

Written by Steve Pratt