Deal Me In…Please (Travel Edition)

Now that Spring is here, I’ve got travel on the brain. So I’ve been paying more attention to travel deals that I’m e-mailed or see online. What I’m finding is that many “deals” are no deal. And that there are “unadvertised” deals just for booking in advance or if you take time to sniff them out.

First on my itinerary is a trip in mid-April to Sarasota (Florida) for a reunion of the classes of the ‘70s from my Manila high school. April is “high season” in Florida but the reunion organizer was able to get a group rate at a “boutique” hotel somewhat away from the popular area for $125 a night.

After checking out the hotel’s website I noticed a “Florida resident” discount, called the hotel and was surprised to learn they will honor the discount even in high season. Using the discount, I was able to book a larger room for about the same price as a smaller room if I booked using the group rate. Which doesn’t seem to make sense to me…but I’ll take it. With a larger room, I can pack in more friends to disturb the adjacent rooms until early morning.. 😉

Sarasota is about 325 miles from where I live. I don’t like to drive my car more than about 150 miles one way if I can get a cheap rental car. Since I knew in January that I was going to the reunion, I checked rental rates for “early bird” rates. And hit the jackpot with Dollar.

I’ve got a mid-size car for a week with unlimited miles for….$91, including all taxes and fees. The math wizards have calculated that’s a daily rate of about $14. Using the lowest IRS mileage rate of 14 cents a mile (charity), for about 650 miles, and excluding the driving around I’m sure to do, I’m even for operating and maintenance cost, ahead at the 23 cents rate (medical and moving) and way ahead at the 57 cents rate (business).

So I’m getting two deals based on my own initiative. But I’ve not been successful with deals advertised to me.

On the way to Sarasota, I’m spending one night in Tampa to visit in the area with a friend who’s flying into that airport for the reunion. I was e-mailed an offer from a hotel chain for 25% off a two night stay. I thought we could spend two nights in Tampa rather than one night there and a night closer to Sarasota. (I split the nights to boost associated airline points but cash now is better than points.)

But when I checked the deal out at the website, I learned that the promotional rate was “not available” at three of the hotel’s four locations in Tampa. The fourth location suggested the rate might be available if I was “flexible” on my dates. So just for research, I checked their rate calendar. The promotional rate is “not available” for any date in April or May. I’m not that flexible!

Amsterdam has been on my bucket list for many years and I planned to visit after I retired and could spend three weeks in September after the summer season. With the dollar increasing in value against the Euro….

Last week, I saw a Facebook ad for tickets to Europe for about $200 each way from an airline I’d not heard of before – Norwegian Air Shuttle. Now $400 round trip to Europe is a good deal, so I checked it out.

I can fly from Fort Lauderdale to Amsterdam for $253 in early September. One small problem…there is no return from Amsterdam on any date in September or October. Kinda like the Hotel California…you can check in anytime you like but you can’t check out. 😉

So I looked into other options. I can fly into Oslo for about $215 each way on Mondays and Fridays. Then, I can fly Norwegian to and from Amsterdam for about $80 round trip. But, I’d have to spend a night in Oslo each way, adding about $200. So that $430 fare becomes almost $700 and is not as attractive.

I looked into Europe’s best known budget airline – Ryan Air. (When I was in Spain in 2006, I met a woman who had flown to Barcelona from Amsterdam on Ryan Air for…five Euros!) Unfortunately, Ryan Air does not fly into Amsterdam from Oslo; I’d have to go into London for about $110 round trip and then get to Amsterdam by taking the EuroStar train or a train and ferry combination. Either option is between $45 and $90 each way depending on how “rough” I want to get. With airfare, that’s $200 to $300.

Trains are a great deal in Europe and so I looked into that. But traveling by train from Oslo to the European mainland is not straightforward, so that’s out too. An Amsterdam “expert” on TripAdvisor remarked that this trip is “Theoretically possible, but a logistic nightmare.” So that’s out too. Maybe another year…

Finally, I’m off to San Diego in October for another high school reunion…this one to recognize my class’ 45th graduation anniversary. This reunion, at the Sheraton Hotel and Marina on the bay, will only be open to the classes of 1969 through 1972, the classes who were in the halls with us when we were juniors.

The Sheraton is a big convention hotel with over 1,000 rooms, which I think is too big. If I was organizing it, I’d look at a smaller hotel in the Gas Lamp quarter, which has lots of restaurants and bars. But the organizer has been there before and likes it.

The best rate I could find at the hotel website for our dates is $250 (senior / AARP rate). So I was surprised that for a block of just 20 rooms, they offered us $175 for rooms with either two doubles or a King. (Since typically only a third of alums come with their spouse, because most spouses aren’t interested in two to three days of nostalgia they cannot comprehend, most rooms are shared and the price is a more reasonable $90 each.)

Now that I’m retired and don’t have a job to be concerned about, I’m not flying to the west coast for just a few days. The San Diego reunion is not open to some folks from the mid-70’s classes I regularly party with so I’m looking at a “by invitation only” mini-reunion with them in Vegas the prior weekend, then renting a car to drive to San Diego. After the reunion, I’ll spend a few more days in Vegas and then possibly fly into San Francisco for a visit.

I’ve already scoped out a deal on a rental car in Vegas. This far out, Dollar is offering a standard size car for a week with unlimited mileage for $138. And if the rate drops later, I can rebook at the lower rate. Capt. Kirk (a/k/a William Shatner, who does the Priceline television commercials) isn’t the only one who “knows someone” who can give him a deal. (I’ve visited Vegas over 25 times and know a lot of “someones”… 😉

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One response to “Deal Me In…Please (Travel Edition)

  1. While in Sarasota you might enjoy visiting the Lipazzan Stallions in Mayaaka City. It’s only 25 miles inland and the cover is $5 a head. It’s a fun show. They have bleachers to sit on while the horses are performing. They are magnificent animals.

    http://www.hlipizzans.com/index.htm

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