I’m on my way out the door, this time headed for California. What could have been a very expensive trip is going to be so cheap, even I am amazed.
This is a last minute trip so I have not had the benefit of being able to book well in advance. In fact, I’ve had only five days advance notice of this trip.
FLIGHT: My first choice in air travel is now Southwest (SWA). I try to keep all of my flights with the same airline to build up my frequent flier miles. Usually that works pretty well. I’ve found that in most cases, SWA is very competitive. The cheapest roundtrip fare for flights that fit my schedule for this trip—a whopping $742. Gulp! Granted I don’t have the luxury of booking 21 days in advance, but still that number made me wonder if I’d made a mistake. But no, that really is SWA’s best price. I put the reservation on “hold” to give myself time to shop around. Most airlines will do this for 24 hours.
I go straight to kayak.com (a site that searches thousands of flights and airlines, returning results for the exact itinerary I need arranged in order starting with cheapest) and input the same itinerary. Within 30 seconds it returns many options for the same dates and destination. The cheapest: $146 roundtrip nonstop including all fees and tax on Frontier.
Realizing this allows me to NOT SPEND $596, I book it, but not through Kayak. I open the Frontier Airline site and book direct using my account there so I get the reward miles. I never book through Kayak or other similar third-party travel sites because if I need to make any changes or something goes wrong with the flights, having to deal with a third-party travel site to rebook can be a nightmare. I use Kayak for information only. Knowing that the SWA ticket on hold will simply expire if I do nothing, I go ahead and do nothing.
HOTEL: I don’t go to specific hotel sites anymore. I rely on Priceline (the name your own price option, not simply Priceline’s discounted hotel rooms). I find this to be so easy to use. I input my city of choice and the site returns a map with “regions” of that metropolitan area. First I select the region where I want to be and then I usually chose the 3 star option (I know that Hampton Inn, Courtyard by Marriott, Homewood Suites, Country Inn … my favorites, are all considered 3 stars in Priceline’s world and that is my favorite kind of accommodation when I travel on business).
Next, I name my own price. Here’s the tricky part: Priceline hints that I’d better input $75 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) so that’s the amount I bid. 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 that I need to rethink and increase my bid. I laugh as I hit “Submit.” Ten seconds later … “Congratulations, your offer has been accepted!” That’s when they reveal which hotel I will be staying at. Bingo! My most favorite hotel for $59 per night, inclusive.
CAR: My first stop in finding a rental car is hertz.com, where I am a Gold member (I have no idea why, but somehow years ago I qualified for this dubious privilege.) I want to get an idea of the going rate, so I input my itinerary indicating I will need this car for just 24 hours. I choke when I see the lowest rate for the smallest car (economy) will be $82 total for one day. Once I recover from the shock of it all, I decide (as I always do because this happens routinely) that 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 go straight to Priceline Rental Car name your own price option, which is a little tricky to find, and opt for a full-size model for (get this) $20 a day. Poor William. He’s very put out at me with my low bids. Do I care? No! All it takes for him to see things my way is about 10 seconds! Yep, I got the car, too. With fees, $29 for one day. When Priceline reveals which car rental company I’ll be dealing with, I am tickled pick to see I’m getting this steal of a deal from good ol’ Hertz!
BONUS: As I receive email confirmations for each part of my travel itinerary, I simply forward them to my account at TripIt. It’s free, and is it ever slick. I simply select “Add” a new trip and TripIt takes all of those confirmations and builds my itinerary in chronological order with every detail included. The free TripIt app for my iPhone makes sure I have every detail for my trip at my fingertips including driving directions, estimated drive times, updates, etc.
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 to rack up as many points and miles as possible.
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 during the year.