Category Archives: Budget Travel

How to make a discount airline work for you: Review of Allegiant Air

Last week, I was standing in a very long line to check in for a flight from Tulsa to Orlando. It was taking forever because it seemed no one had ever flown before or at best, hadn’t read the fine print on how a discount airline works. At one point, the ticketing agent was on the phone with some guy’s mom explaining why he was needing to pay an extra $50 for an overweight bag.

I was texting my husband while waiting for what seemed like forever. We are both travel pros and honestly, we both have to work on our patience with those that might not be on a plane at least once a month. He reminded me that we needed those people to keep not reading all the rules so airlines like Allegiant can stay in business.

Allegiant Air review

Photo courtesy of Woody’s Aeroimages

I personally love that Allegiant flies direct to Orlando from my town. With any other airline, I would have to connect in Dallas or Houston and spend 8 hours getting there. Allegiant arrives in 2.5 hours and I typically pay about $60 each way.

The basic premise of discount airlines is they offer you a super cheap fare then make up for it with all of the add-ons. If you’re not careful, you’ll end up spending as much as with a legacy carrier like American.

Here are a few things to be aware of when flying a discount airline like Allegiant, Spirit or Frontier. Most of these tips will also apply to European discount carriers like Easy Jet and Ryan Air. You can avoid most of the add-on fees if you do your homework.

  1. Pay attention to which airport you are flying into. Discount airlines often utilize a more remote airport. My flights to “Orlando” are actually landing in Sanford, about 45 minutes from the Disney area and I know I’m going to have to rent a car. There is shuttle service available but the cost is about the same as a car rental. Be sure to calculate any additional transportation costs into your trip total when evaluating the overall savings.
  2. Read the luggage requirements. For Allegiant, checked bags are limited to 40 pounds. You can carry on one bag for free but there are size limits and technically you’re supposed to put it under the seat in front of you. On every flight I’ve taken, there has been room in the overhead that I’ve used but don’t bank on that. A backpack or tote bag will meet the requirements for the freebie.
  3. Pay bag fees in advance and share luggage. Allegiant charges half the fee when you reserve a bag more than 24 hours in advance of your flight. For the Orlando flight, it’s $25 each way or $50 each way at the airport. We will also share one large checked bag then each carry on our freebie so that we’re only paying one bag fee.
  4. Download the app. Allegiant charges $5 for each boarding pass printed at the airport. You can avoid this by downloading their app. You can check in through the app, get your boarding pass and check flight status.
  5. Skip priority boarding. It’s not worth an extra $10 or $15 to get on the plane first. You’re all going to the same place eventually.
  6. Don’t be picky about your seat. This is the one I think most people succumb to on the extra fees, but here’s the thing….you have to pay for the seat selection both ways. It’s not worth adding another $30 to your ticket price. When I’ve booked 2 tickets at once, we’ve been placed either in consecutive rows or in aisle seats next to each other. Don’t worry about this if you’re traveling with kids either. You have to enter the kids’ birthdates when purchasing the tickets so they will automatically put at least one parent with each kid. Trust me, no one wants to be in charge of your 3-yr-old on a flight but you.
  7. Just say no to all of the ‘specials’. After selecting your ticket, Allegiant’s site will cycle you through multiple screens to attempt to add on hotel, car, or entertainment tickets. I have never seen a good deal in these options. Just skip them and research those items separately.
  8. Pack snacks. There are no free drinks or snacks on Allegiant flights. No, not even a water bottle. We pack snacks in our carry on and either pick up a water bottle after security or pack an empty one to refill before boarding. There are snacks and drinks to purchase on board if you forget.
  9. Be prepared for delays. I have been fortunate and have not experienced a lot of delays with Allegiant; none more than an hour. The downside of a discount airline is they don’t have a large fleet so if one plane is down for maintenance or weather, it can have a trickle down effect to your flight since they have limited inventory to substitute.

I can deal with no frills to save a lot of money and in my case, also time. Since I have a daughter that lives in Orlando, I am a frequent Allegiant customer and am appreciative of the service they provide to my smaller airport. Just focus on how much you’re saving and the lack of a reclining seat or in-flight entertainment system won’t seem so important anymore.

Have you flown with a discount airline? Tell me about your experience in the comments!

 

 

Are museum passes a good deal?

Most major tourist destinations offer some type of museum or city pass that supposedly saves you money. But, do they really?

As you’re researching your destination, make a list of your “must sees” and the entry fee. Note: if you’re using a travel guide book, I recommend going directly to the attraction’s website to get admission fees. It’s not uncommon for a price increase to have occurred after the book’s publication and this can affect your overall savings.

After you total up your must sees, compare that to the city or museum pass price. Be sure to read the details….how many days is the pass good for, does it offer free admission to all sites or free to some and discounted for others. If the pass is about the same price or less than your must see admission prices, obviously it’s a good deal. Are museum passes worth the money

What if the pass is still more than your total? You might think you need to pass on the pass, but wait! There’s more to consider. One of the major benefits of a pass is that you become an instant celebrity at all of the participating pass attractions. Okay, not really, but you do gain special access through a line just for pass holders in most cases, and you’re going to feel like a rock star when you’re walking past all of the people who have been standing in line for an hour and a half waiting to get into the Louvre.

paris museum pass

Louvre, Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel

On a recent Paris trip, I purchased a 2-day museum pass for 42 Euros. I visited 5 museums so I probably only saved about 5 Euros. But, I was on a tight schedule and I’m guessing I saved about 2 hours of standing in line. Definitely worth more than a few Euros!

Another benefit of having a pass is you’ll be more open to popping in museums or attractions you might not have visited otherwise. In Florence, there were quite a few smaller museums that I wouldn’t have visited if I’d had to pay 8 euros or so to get into each one. Because I had a pass, I could stop in for a few minutes and if I was intrigued, stay a while to explore.

So do your homework and a little research and you’ll be able to make the right purchasing decision for your travel goals. I’ve visited the same cities and bought a pass for one trip and not for the next, and both were the right decision…for that particular trip.

 

 

The craziest thing I’ve ever done to earn hotel points…..so far.

Points and Miles enthusiasts will do some bizarre things to earn bonus points like buy things and resell them to manufacture spending for credit card points. Last week, I saw a post about someone purchasing 10 copies of Mcafee virus protection then filing for the rebate which made it practically free just to earn about 2000 points. Frankly, I don’t have that kind of time.

So when reports started surfacing that IHG’s Priceless Surprises had a loophole that would allow you to earn 47,000 points for almost nothing, I was skeptical.

IHG Rewards

I went ahead and registered for the promotion as I recommend you do with all promotions, whether you think you’ll be taking advantage of the bonus or not. I began to see more and more reports of the “loophole” working.

So what is the loophole? At first glance, it appears you have to actually stay at an IHG hotel to qualify for the promotion. But wait, there’s more… In the Official Rules, there is an alternate method of entry that allows you to mail in an entry and each entry is supposedly worth a minimum of 500 points. Each rewards member is eligible to send in 94 entries.

IHG Priceless surprises

I decided to give it a trial run. I mailed 4 entries according to the instructions above. (Don’t worry if you can’t read that text; just click here and scroll to page 2.) The rules state you’ll receive an email within 5 days of receipt, but it’s more like 3 weeks. I’m guessing they weren’t expecting all the crazies like me to actually send in 94 entries. I sent my trial entries in on January 5th and started receiving emails this past weekend. I clicked on the link in the email and sure enough, I won 500 miles for each entry. Not bad for a few minutes of my time.

IHG Priceless Surprises

This week I’ve been busy finishing my other 90 entries. I did 20 while eating my lunch at my desk and 50 while watching Fixer Upper. I had enough random office supplies around my house that I didn’t need to buy anything but stamps. This is a great opportunity to use up all those Christmas return address labels your insurance agent sends you every year!

Here’s the math of how all this works out: 94 entries @ 500 points each = 47,000 points. There’s always the possibility that you’ll win one of the larger prizes. Statistically, I think out of 94 entries, there’s a good chance you’ll get at least one at a higher point level.

You’ll spend about $50 in postage to earn the points, but that’s enough points to redeem for a higher category Intercontinental or Crown Plaza property that could be valued at $400 or more per night. You could also use them to book almost 10 nights at a PointBreaks hotel. (PointBreaks hotels are a select group of hotels featured for 5,000 points per night redemptions. Different hotels are featured every 3 months.)

A few other tips:

  • Printed address labels are fine but the index cards have to be handwritten.
  • If you and your spouse each have your own account, you can both send in 94 entries for a total of 94,000 points–possibly enough for a week of free hotel nights!
  • Don’t be nervous about writing the first 6 digits of your MasterCard. These numbers indicate the issuing bank, not your actual account number and are the same or very similar on most cards.
  • Make sure the entries are postmarked by February 15th.

I’m anxious to hear if any of you are going to try this out so leave a comment below. I’ll follow up after the rest of mine and my husband’s entries are processed and let you know how we did.

Happy Friday!

 

 

Disney World Tips and Tricks, Part 1

A few months ago we took the family to Walt Disney World, mainly since kid #3 works there now and it’s the only way we could get all of the kids together at once. I’ve seriously lost count of how many times we’ve visited the happiest place on earth, but it’s a lot. Since Katie moved there last January, I’ve been 5 times and I’m sure this year will be a repeat performance.

Some of the family with our favorite Minnie Mouse

Some of the family with our favorite Minnie Mouse

During this summer trip, I posted several tips on Facebook. Below is a recap of those tips. I’ll follow up with another post with more tips and some FAQ’s. Be sure to leave any questions you have in the comments!

Disney Tip #1: Build in afternoon breaks in your schedule. Every one will be happier and enjoy the vacation more if they’re not exhausted, even the teenagers and adults. This is especially important if it’s hot outside.

IMG_0510Disney Tip #2: A rainstorm is your best friend. A lot of Florida visitors don’t realize that the rain will last about 20 minutes and will result in a mass exodus from the parks. Find a spot to wait it out and your wait times will be minimal for about an hour after it rains. Our Epcot rain brought a rainbow!

Disney Tip #3: Don’t underestimate the value of arriving before the park opens. You can usually ride 3 “headliners” in the first hour with no wait. Save your fast passes for later in the day when lines are longer or use them for parades and fireworks. The newly opened VIP viewing areas for the Electric Light Parade and Wishes fireworks are well worth a Fast Pass, but you’ll need to schedule them as soon as you can since there are a limited number available.

Disney Tip #4: You can get free ice water at any counter service restaurant in any park. And you can bring in drinks and snacks. We all brought in a water bottle and would refill throughout the day with the free water. Beats paying $3 per person per water bottle every couple of hours.

Disney Tip #5: PLAN! Disney is not the kind of place you can just show up and hope everything falls into place. Touringplans.com is a good resource (Approx $12 annual subscription) for checking crowd levels at different times of the year and can even help you decide which park to go to on which day of the week. It includes access to their app “Lines” which gives you wait times (that I find to be more accurate than Disney’s). We refer to this app throughout the day to help us decide what to do next. My Disney Experience is the official Disney app that can be used to make dining reservations, schedule your fastpasses, and view parade and character greeting times.

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Disney Tip #6: Take a break from Disney. Disney can be a bit of a sensory overload, especially for the little ones, so take a day to chill at the hotel pool or go to a movie or charter a sailboat in Clearwater, like we did!

 

 

Disney's Electrical Light ParadeDisney Tip #7: Magic Kingdom typically has 2 showings of the Electric Light Parade each night. There are 2 strategies to use this to your advantage. 1) Go to the earlier parade and watch fireworks, then hit all of major rides that you want to ride again or maybe missed earlier in the day. Most people will leave the park right after the fireworks and wait times are minimal afterwards. Or 2) Ride attractions during the first parade while everyone else is at the parade. This saves you from having to line up an hour before the parade and you’ll probably have a better view since the majority of guests will watch the first one. You can still take advantage of shorter wait times after the 2nd parade on the nights the park is open later. And you won’t mind being up a little later because you took a break earlier in the day.

The whole family with Mickey on my 44th birthday.

The whole family with Mickey on my 44th birthday.

Disney Tip #8: Go to Disney on your birthday. Nothing else will give you the illusion of feeling younger than you really are. Seriously. It’s hard to be bummed about hitting middle age when you’re hanging out with Mickey.

Disney Tip #9: Talk to Castmembers. They can answer important questions like where the closest bathroom is or where you can get a turkey leg. You’ll also get the chance to meet people from all over the world who actually enjoy their job.

Disney Tip #10: When leaving MK at a busy time, follow the signs to the Resort Monorail and get off at the 2nd stop for the parking lot or TTC in Disney speak (Transportation and Ticket Center). Everyone else will be in the regular monorail line going to the same place. There will be thousands waiting in the direct to TTC Monorail line and only a few hundred waiting for the Resort Monorail. You’ll have an extra stop at the Contemporary Resort on the way, but you’ll still get there faster, I promise!

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Click here for Part 2 in this series. Have a magical day!

 

 

Travel Planning 101: Getting Started with Points and Miles

So how much do you think it costs to go to Europe for 10 days? Most would guess $7000 – $10,000. What if I told you it was possible with less than $2,000?

Learning how to utilize points and miles has opened up a world that I never thought possible and allowed us to take trips I would never have dreamed would become reality.

europe budget travel

The trip I’m currently planning is for 3 nights in London and 5 in the French Riviera. I haven’t finalized the trip cost yet but I’m estimating it will be around $1500 for everything. Miles have already paid for 2 round trip American Airlines tickets, valued at $2600. And I’ll be booking our hotels by mid February with points, valued at $2500.

I know this “game” can seem overwhelming, and yes, you will have to make an investment of time. But if spending a little time can help me go on a trip I couldn’t otherwise afford, then I’m all for it! The most important thing I will tell you is not to just collect points and miles aimlessly. Have an end goal and have a plan to get there. If you’re starting from ground zero in this process, I recommend planning at least 9 months in advance.

Here’s a few more tips to help you get started:

  1. Know your credit score. Why is this important? Read Here.
  1. Decide where you want to go and how you’re going to get there. Do you want to relax on Paris, Eiffel Towerthe beach or see the Eiffel Tower at night? (Name that country song!) Which airline flies from your home city to your destination? Look at the award chart to determine how many miles you need to get there. Pay attention to dates as the miles required varies depending on high or low season. (p.s. There’s a major change coming to American’s award chart on March 22, 2016. If you’re thinking of using AAdvantage miles for a trip, book before then.)
  1. Next, apply for a credit card that offers a sign up bonus to your preferred airline. The person traveling with you (even if it’s your spouse) can also apply for the same cards and you can each earn your own bonus. Don’t forget to earn miles through the ways we talked about here.
  1. You can also go ahead and apply for your hotel points bonus cards at the same time, but as always, only take on minimum spend requirements that are part of your normal monthly budget.

6. Get organized! You’ll need a system to keep track of accounts, passwords, spend requirements, bonus earning period. There are some apps available: award wallet (not a fan) or the TPG (The Points Guy) app is fairly good. I’ve found neither one always update accurately. Downloading an app for each reward program and credit card account seems to work best for me. Since the apps save the passwords, I don’t constantly have to re-log in to all of my accounts and these apps will give you the most accurate and up to date information.

7. Meet your minimum spend requirements for each bonus offer. My apologies to my Dave Ramsey following-friends, but never pay cash for anything! That’s like throwing away reward points. You can set up auto pay with a credit card for the majority of your bills—car insurance, cell phone, cable, and internet. Car payments and mortgages can only be paid by card through a payment service like Chargesmart, which charges a fee, usually about 2%. I only recommend using this service if you’re meeting a minimum spend requirement, not on an ongoing basis. Then just pay your monthly bills like you normally would according to your budget, but the payments go to your credit card.

Your bonus rewards will typically be credited to your account when the billing cycle closes IMG_1227after you have met the minimum spend requirements. And it’s a glorious feeling to see all those points or miles in your account! Now you can make reservations and start counting down the days till your dream trip!

*Always remember that if you accumulate debt in this process, the rewards are no longer free which defeats the purpose. You might as well just pay for that trip and save yourself the trouble.