travel word scheme and computer keyboard

How I Book Really Cheap Travel

Recently, while packing up files and expense records, I came across a file for a  business trip that could have been very expensive but was so cheap, I am still amazed.

I traveled from Los Angeles to Denver as the Speaker for the Dept. of Interior Employee Book Forum. I had plenty of notice making it possible to book travel, hotel and car well in advance. Check out these details for how I cut the cost of airfare, hotel and rental care by more than half.

travel word scheme and computer keyboard

FLIGHT: I try to keep my travel with the same airline to build up my frequent flier miles and usually that works pretty well. I’ve found that in most cases, AA is very competitive. However, this time cheapest AA roundtrip fare for flights that fit my schedule for this particular trip was anything but reasonable—$755. Wow! At first I was sure I’d made a mistake. But no, that was indeed AA’s best price. I put the reservation on “hold” to give me time to shop around. Most airlines will do this for 24 hours.

I went straight to Kayak.com and input the very same information. Within 30 seconds the site returned many options for the same date, time and destination. The cheapest: $196 roundtrip including all fees and tax on United with one small twist. I would have to depart from LAX (Los Angeles) but return to SNA (Orange County). That’s perfect for me given that at the time I worked closer to LAX but lived closer to SNA. Realizing I was about to not spend $559, I booked it on the spot.

HOTEL: Here, I mostly rely on Priceline.com (the name-your-own-price option, not simply Priceline’s discounted hotel rooms). I find this to be so easy to use. I input “Denver” and it returned a map with regions of that metropolitan area. I selected the one closest to the Federal Center where I would be speaking, chose the 2.5 star option (I know that Courtyard by Marriott, Homewood Suites, Country Inn are all considered 2.5 stars in Priceline’s world and that is my favorite kind of accommodation when I travel on business).

Next I named my own price. Here’s the tricky part: Priceline hinted that I’d better input $70 per night or more to have a prayer of getting my deal accepted. Phooey. I know better. $50 is my target (knowing they will add tax and other fees on top of whatever price I name).

I decided to lowball my usual $50 and typed in $40. Of course I got a pop-up message from William Shatner that I must be out of my mind with such a low offer and needed to rethink and increase my “bid.” I laughed and hit “Submit.” Ten seconds later, ”Congratulations, your offer has been accepted!” That’s when the site reveals which hotel I would be staying at. Bingo! My most favorite hotel for $55 per night, inclusive.

CAR: If Priceline is good enough to name my own price for a hotel, it’s gotta’ be great for a car. And yes it is. My boldness now surging, I went straight to Priceline Rental Car (name-your-own-price option) and opted for an economy model for (get this) $20 a day. Poor William Shatner. At this point he’s very put out at me with my low bids. And do I care? No! All it takes for him to see things my way is another 10 seconds! Yep, I got the car, too. With fees, $32 a day.

They don’t call me the queen of cheap for nothing. If there’s one thing I know how to do (and love doing), is booking my own business travel. It gives me great practice for when I book my personal travel. Because I make it a point to join every frequent flier/point program out there, no matter how little I pay for hotels, airfare and cars, I get lots of points and miles. And as a reward, Harold and I get fabulous vacations mostly paid for with all of the points and miles I rack up as I travel to speak and participate in media throughout the year.

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4 replies
  1. Jule barta
    Jule barta says:

    I used to use priceline until I booked 3 nights at one hotel that ended up being horrible. It was a national chain, but the location and management were terrible. We ended up leaving after 1 night and could not get a refund because we booked through a third party. Now we use airbnb and have had great results in the states and abroad. If you call the hotel, often they will match the low fairs and save on a booking fee paid to the low cost sites. When looking for low air fair, check for surrounding airports. If you are willing to drive an hour you can sometimes find really great deals and better times at less well known airports.

    Reply
  2. bjorn
    bjorn says:

    Hi Mary – great tips! What would you suggest on getting good hotel deals when traveling with family? We have three kids – my concern with Priceline is that all it says is “1 Room” but no indication of how many beds. Are there other sites to land great hotels with families? Or will Priceline accomodate that? Thanks!

    Reply
    • Jule barta
      Jule barta says:

      I would highly suggest looking into AirBnB. I have used it several times and have found some great deals. My friends and stayed at a small mansion in Virginia for $1000 for the week. There were 9 of us, Hotels were going for $100-150 per room in the area. Prague, we got a small apartment for $40, hotels were over $100.

      Reply
  3. LoraineP
    LoraineP says:

    I use airfare watchdog to keep track of places that I like to fly and they also include southwest airlines rates and explain how to get that rate. Zalyn.com for cars. Gets you all the coupon deals. Sometimes hotwire. I use the hotel website directly to get the points.

    Reply

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