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Coupon Abbreviations
  • SC = Store Coupon
  • MC = Manufacturer Coupon
  • SS = Smart Source
  • RP = Red Plum
  • PG = Proctor and Gamble
Coupon Terms
  • WYB = When You Buy
  • B1G1 = Buy One Get One Free
  • .75/1 = 75 cents off one item
  • .75/3 = 75 cents off three items
  • EXP = Expiration Date

Going Nuts? I can help you understand coupon terms and abbreviations

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saving on lodging

Summer Vacation: How to Save on Lodging

The kids are out of school, the weather is warm, and you are getting the itch to change scenery and just relax. Vacation is wonderful, but how can you truly relax when you know that your hard earned money is being spent so quickly? Those of us committed to a frugal lifestyle often have a hard time splurging or treating ourselves, even on vacation. Last week we discussed general principles and planning tips, including prioritizing your budget. When it comes to lodging, your priorities will be based somewhat on your personality. I have organized the tips along these lines, but that doesn’t mean that they apply exclusively to that personality type.

Looking for Adventure

Go where the deals are:
One of our readers, Bryarsmom, contributed a wonderful idea last week. Most folks approach the planning phase with a location already in mind, but why not find a steal on a hotel or rental home (and airfare if necessary), book it, and then research all of the great reasons to go there? You can use the Internet to find historical sites, restaurants, and fun activities. Sometimes just discovering a new place is half of the fun!

Go outdoors:
Camping is about the cheapest vacation you can take, but it is not for the faint of heart. It is most certainly no frills.  It is a wonderful opportunity to get active since you’ll most likely have access to hiking trails, canoeing, mountain biking, etc. Not to mention that setting up camp can be a workout in itself. If really roughing it sounds…well, too rough for you, then consider renting a cabin at a state or national park. It is a little more expensive than a tent, but you can maintain some amount of creature comfort. There are also many great campgrounds with running water and electricity located at each campsite, along with bathrooms nearby.

Looking to Lay Low

Get away from the action
If you are planning a more traditional vacation, but would really just like to be left alone to relax, first consider renting a house instead of staying in a hotel. You’ll have more privacy and probably more amenities for a lower price. This will be important if you plan on spending more time cooking and eating in, reading on the porch, and napping on the couch or hammock. Furthermore, most hotels are found on the main strip or in the downtown area. Staying away from the hubbub tends to lower the price of lodgings. For example, if you are planning a beach vacation, try to book a second (or even third) row house instead of beach front. A great house rental resource is: Vacation Rentals By Owner.

Get away during the off season
Even if your vacation is very dependent on the weather, say a beach or skiing trip, “shoulder” season can provide the atmosphere you need without the sky high price. Look for deals in the fall or spring. If you are flexible (remember start your planning early) you can do your research and find the cheapest time to visit your chosen location.

Looking to Reconnect

Find extended family or friends to join you
A larger group may mean renting a larger house or a larger block of hotel rooms, but this also means splitting the cost. For example, a vacation home big enough for a family of 4 or 5 might cost $1000 per week. But you may be able to travel with three families and rent a larger home for $2000 per week, or $667 per family. This may also save you money in other budget categories. For example, each family could be responsible for cooking a meal one night. As you’re planning activities you may find that opportunities open up because you have more people, such a game of beach volleyball. Or renting a jet ski or boat may become more doable if you can split the $300 three ways.

Find family or friends in a distant city
Someone who lives in a town is often the best tour guide. They know where to eat, how to get to all of the interesting sites, and even how to avoid traffic. Better yet if your tour guide is a family member or friend you’ve been looking to reconnect with. Better still if you can stay in their home and avoid paying for lodging all together! Another idea is to ask family or friends who own vacation rentals if you can use them. They may give you a reduced rate or even let you stay for free.

Find the local attractions that make your home special
Maybe you just moved to a new city and are looking to explore it, or maybe you have lived in the same town your whole life but have never visited historical landmarks, the nearby state parks, local museums, zoos, or aquariums, or even eaten at a well known local restaurant. Take a week off of work, tell your friends and family you’re on vacation, unplug your phones, computer, and TV, and spend some time discovering or rediscovering your own surroundings. You might be surprised how exciting your home really is!

A Few Quick Tips:

  • Make sure to go through Ebates when you make any kind of travel or lodging purchase so you can earn cashback!
  • Use hotel reward programs wherein you can eventually begin saving some money.  Go ahead and register, you never know when they will come in handy.
  • Hotwire is a great resource.  Remember that you can ask Hotwire to send Travel Alerts when a hotel in your vacation destination is in your price range.  If you ever find a price lower they will match it too!!
  • You don’t have to wait for the last minute to get good deals.  Go ahead and book the hotel and if the price gets lower you can ask the company you made the deal through (Orbitz, Hotwire, even the hotel) to match that price.  You can even do this if you see the hotel cheaper on a different site from the one with which you booked.
  • Don’t want to pay for lodging but know a friend in another area?  Simply switch houses for a week! (Just make sure they are a clean friend and aren’t the kind of person who will run off with your Pride & Prejudice box set.)

Other Resources

Trip Advisor
National Park Service
State Park Websites (each state has their own)

    • ireneY

      Jenny, you didn't mention Priceline.com!? We've gotten the most awesomest deals on hotel and rental cars by bidding. The most amazing deal to date has been our Park Hyatt in the heart of downtown San Fran for $69 when the going rate was $250+! Down comforters, music system playing when you arrive, bottled water, free morning coffee and tea service in the lobby. Plus, we walked two blocks to China town for the cheapest and yummiest meals!

      The trick to Priceline is lots of research beforehand. We use biddingfortravel dot com to see what other successful bids in that area have been. That way, you won't pay a penny more that necessary to get a bid accepted. I can go on and on about bidding strategies. There should be a tutorial on biddingfortravel, but I can elaborate if anyone is interested. I was just researching a trip to Vail for a wedding next month. I am determined to get a deal in a pricey locale. Happy travels!!

      • Paulahecker

        I regularly use Hotwire and have only been dissapointed once (and complained and received a credit for one night's fee). The trick is to really know your area, and steer clear of anything lower than 3-star. I also have been using betterbidding.com to try and make an educated guess as to which hotel I'm at before I click “purchase”.

        Our best score was a hilton garden in across from Sea World's Parking lot for $35 a night. We also stayed at the Best Western Lakeside at Disney's Main Gate for $34 a night and it was much nicer than expected.

        • ireneY

          Yes, Priceline has been good to us in terms of customer service as well. On a trip to London, there was a small fire on the top floor of the hotel and they evacuated everyone at about 2 am. The hotel shipped us to a sister hotel via bus and we walked back in our jammies the next morning when the fire was safely out. It was kinda' fun, actually, because we hung out with another couple from Detroit who used Priceline for their room, too! LOL! We were slightly disappointed since we weren't able to make it to the changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace on our last day of the trip. We called Priceline; they were very apologetic and refunded one evening's rate.

          • Leslieavon1585

            I found a good deal on Travelocity, They have a top secret hotel deal. We stayed at a 3 star hotel in Pittsburgh for $37 a night. It was a nice hotel with a indoor swimming pool. I was leary at first and only booked 2 nights. They reveal the name of the hotel after you book and pay for it. We stayed the 2 nights and it was really nice, I went back online and booked another night at the same hotel and rate!!!1

      • Lorrose57

        please elaborate… always looking for a good hotel deal…. we camp in a trailer, but it is a lot of work… Thanks!

      • ireneY

        Okay, this might sound convoluted. Start with 4 stars and add more regions that don't have 4 star hotels to get extra bid opportunities. Otherwise, you would need to change a parameter (date, star level or region) in order to resubmit a bid, or wait 48 hours to resubmit with same parameters. Sometimes, you don't even need to go up in price if you're sure someone else had gotten the same deal for the same time period. If you have to drop a star level on a rebid, go down in price to match. The 4 stars are the best deals because their rating system is slightly skewed towards a lesser quality. If you run out of rebids, use DH's email and credit card so they won't consider it a rebid. Did any of this make sense? A lot of this was learned through trial and error. One error was a mildewy Holiday Inn in Miami. Lesson: stay with 4 stars! :o)

    • Lanavdixon

      Ten years ago we bought a 1/12 share in a house on Lake Keowee. We get 4 weeks a year and only pay 1/12 of the costs. If we rent one of our weeks to a friend we pretty much cover our costs for the year. Yes, we do go the same place over and over but it is our 2nd home and we love it there. BTW we had cash for the initial purchase and we have always been glad we did it. We could not afford to buy on that lake now as real estate has tripled there but there are other places that are cheaper.

    • Andrea

      Also, if you know someone who owns timeshare. Everyone who owns timeshare is part of a club. Usually you can get great deal if you go a week or so off season. We went to Disney the week before Christmas and stayed in a 2 bedroom 5 start fully equipped kitchen and it was around $200. They usually charge a small friend and family fee.

    • Lanavdixon

      I would hide my Pride and Prejudice box set or take it with me!!!

    • Anonymous

      Oh, one more idea re: picking a destination. Clarkhoward.com lists hot flight deals in the travel section. Some are just too good to be true and expire quickly. If you’re flexible and stick to the parameters, there’s some real steals!

    • Land1216

      Don't forget about the cabins at the KOA campgrounds. They are so reasonable and usually in nice places. Research ahead which one you want to go to because different places have different amenities. My college son and his buddy stayed in one near Savannah for about $35 a night and were right on a lake and had a nice pool which was almost empty their whole stay.

    • Lyvismommy

      We picked up a new idea to try when we went to Macon, GA to attend the Southern Savers Seminar! We booked our hotel through Orbitz, but when we got there, the clerk said that they suffer because of booking sites like this. Their rooms go for cheaper rates, plus they are shorted the booking charge that Orbitz deducts for their services. He said that if we found a great price online, to call the hotel and let them know what the rate is, and the hotel will normally beat the price, b/c that way they don't have to pay the booking fee. He said he would beat Orbitz's rate by $5! Just an idea…

    • BeccaM

      I love travelzoo.com for hotel deals. Lots of times I just scan their weekly email and see if there are any deals for a place I'm thinking about going. Or I let the deals tell me where to go. We've gotten good deals at nice hotels using them. Also, lots of city hotels have deals on the weekends since their peak time is during the week with business travelers.

    • Lyvismommy

      We picked up a new idea to try when we went to Macon, GA to attend the Southern Savers Seminar! We booked our hotel through Orbitz, but when we got there, the clerk said that they suffer because of booking sites like this. Their rooms go for cheaper rates, plus they are shorted the booking charge that Orbitz deducts for their services. He said that if we found a great price online, to call the hotel and let them know what the rate is, and the hotel will normally beat the price, b/c that way they don't have to pay the booking fee. He said he would beat Orbitz's rate by $5! Just an idea…

    • also check the safety conditions of the place you want to go to. one place i highly recommend is the El Cid Vacation club. that's a really cool place