Thursday, September 1, 2016

Save on Your NOLA Vacation

Is the Passport,Explorer, or Power Pass worth the money? Recently, I was on Travelocity when planning our two trips and saw passes advertised in Salem and New Orleans, our two travel destinations. Here are some things to consider. The New Orleans pass ran $90 a day and allowed you to visit 70 different sites. Sounds great, right?

I thought so too, until I realized I would have to pay $90 each day. The multi-day card shaves about $20 off per day. So now, you are paying $70 a day. Even though 70 sounded grand, there were probably eight things I actually wanted to do.  When the pass lists the entry price of various attractions to show what you’re saving, it includes the transportation fee price or the guided tour price. Many attractions charge the pick you up at the hotel price and basic entry price. The card honors the basic entry unless it is a jump on or jump off bus. Many places you can go on a self-tour free of charge. Look it up.

If you’re driving or renting a car, you don’t need bus services. We decided to take a swamp tour that was $13 a person and was very near New Orleans. Those who were picked up paid $50 for their tour and had limited hours they could go. While pickup service can be handy, you’re at the whim of your driver who isn’t going to wait for you to roam through the gift shop unless his cousin owns it. Most of the memorable things we have done on our previous trips were something we stumbled onto in the process.

Ironically, I wrote down what I really wanted to do and looked it up on Groupon. I booked four different tours that were on Explorer/Passport Badge for two of us for $120 easily saving us over $500 as opposed to going the badge route.  There are websites for wherever you want to go such FOLLOWYOURNOLA.COM that have all sorts of coupons.

I left some items open such as our riverboat jazz cruise because I didn’t know if we’d have time to do it. If we had bought a Power Pass, it would have had us running from 10 am and  4 p.m since the attractions close at five.  

I also found if attractions are willing to be on the card where they get a smaller cut of their original price, they also have other discounts. In the end, it’s about how workable is it for you.  It is similar to the discount books you buy to get cheap eats, but find the restaurants are about twenty miles out of the city and wasn’t someplace you really wanted to go, anyhow.

We passed on the Salem, MA card too. Not out of expense, but it didn’t offer places we wanted to go. Some attractions were only open for a short prime time season, which wasn’t when we were there.  Always look up the attraction website for operating times. I’ve made the mistake of expecting to do something on our last day that wasn’t open.

In conclusion, what on the surface seems like an amazing deal, may not be after you decide what you want to do.  I did everything on the NOLA card I wanted at a fraction of the card cost. I could take it easy in The Big Easy without the stress of trying to get my money’s worth.

My advice is to do your research. Often, if you take a walking tour or food tour the first day of your trip, then your guide will let you know what are the don’t miss places and possible discounts. Don’t overlook weekday visits, which are usually cheaper. Read expiration dates and exclusions.  It is good to plan ahead, but make sure your discount, or Groupon is still good for when you go. Do you have a certificate? Read it carefully for details. Some aren’t honored on holidays, weekends, etc. I  highlight this information in yellow.

The attraction card sounds good in theory, but it can be like paying  a hefty price for a buffet you can’t possibly eat all of it.  In the end, discover what works for you.

Even though this blog is about the attraction card, avoid visiting places during prime season if you want reasonable accommodations. There are gorgeous places to rent in NOLA through AirBNB or VRBO at minimum prices, but not during Mardi Gras or Jazzfest. Same goes for Salem in October.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Airlines Smoke & Mirrors

Have you ever been in a crowded airport and they start asking people to give up their seats.  They start out by offering vouchers. Maybe $75 dollars toward your next flight. It’s not on this one that is apparently overbooked. The voucher is time limited too.  Unless you’re the type of person who can take several vacations a year, you might not be able to use it. It is only good for the airline that issued it. It also could be invalid on premium flights, which is the one you wanted to fly on anyhow. Occasionally as you wait, the price goes up.

Recently, while my husband and I waited for our flight, the price went up to $400 vouchers per ticket. My husband and I looked at each other considering the possibility, but our luggage had already left. We decided to follow it. If we had a carry-on with the needed items, it might have worked. The airlines pay for the hotel,dinner, transportation and guarantee a flight the next day. I did that once. It turned out to be a relaxing evening and the morning flight wasn’t as crowded.

Overbooking is more prevalent than you might suspect. Airlines load thirty minutes before departure. Once the door closes, you don’t get on the plane. I've watched college students mill around thinking they had all day to board the plane only to be left. They assumed the flight wouldn’t leave twenty-two of them. They thought wrong. Flight attendants are anxious to get you settled to keep the flight on time, identify any troublemakers before they’re in the air, and most importantly, they aren’t on the clock until the door closes.

Sometimes just getting a ticket could test the patience of a saint. Trust me: I know. One thing I discovered when trying to book business flights with my husband is that airlines don’t always show you all the flights. They tend to show you the ones they need to fill. I got around this by calling the airlines directly. In truth, they don’t want you to do this and even have a pre-recorded message telling you your flight will be twenty-five dollars more because you called for assistance. If I end up on the right plane with my husband, then I will pay the extra twenty-five.

Some airlines reward you for booking through them such as Southwest. It allows you to get the cheaper Internet Wanna Getaway price. Others penalize you for contacting them directly as opposed to going to a third party or travel agent. I called Lufthansa to get an estimate to see my son in Germany. They doubled the price because I dealt directly with them.

Flying on weekdays is cheaper than weekends. Business travelers usually return on the weekends and families often start the vacation on a weekend. Monday seems to be the more reasonable day to fly. Your computer could be the problem too since it stores your searches. When I was trying to find a ticket on several different airlines I noticed the price kept going up. I signed off for a couple hours, then tried again, and received cheaper rates.

Using accumulated travel miles can be tricky. It does take a while to accrue enough for travel. If you think that won’t ever happen, use them to upgrade to a better seat. Often using a credit card such as Delta Sky Miles will help you accrue the miles faster. When you want to use your points remember the less desirable flights like the red eyes require fewer points.

Finally, take care of yourself on the plane. Bring an empty water bottle that you can fill up once you pass security. Bring your own snacks and possibly a pillow.  Follow the rules, do not stay on your phone to finish a call. Airlines have dealt severely with people who refuse to follow rules. Anyone who appears demanding, loud and drunk could cause the plane to land early placing everyone else behind schedule.

Watch how you address an attendant. Use your inside voice and good manners. A tired employee who has already dealt with rowdy passengers might decide your brusque request for service could be threatening. Make sure the person who causes the unexpected landing isn’t you. Southwest is the most willing to make sudden landings due to unruly passengers, which explains why their flights tend to harbor fewer difficult people and arrive on time. (This is a personal observation, not a commercial. I only wish they flew more places.)

Want more travel tips. Follow my travel folder on Pinterest.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Saving Summer Vacation Dollars

Summer is here and everyone wants to go on vacation. A recent article in USA Today highlighted how credit cards finance many vacations. The younger the adult, the more likely he or she will charge the trip unaware it will take over two years to pay off a two-week vacation. My first thought was who takes a two-week vacation.

It helps if you save for a vacation even if it is only twenty dollars a week. Twenty dollars each week for a year adds up to $1040 plus interest. It’s better to have a budget before you plan your vacation so you don’t overspend. A co-worker confided she spent $10,000 on a Disneyworld Vacation.

When my daughter was five, she had a primo Disneyworld vacation because we had relatives who worked there then, but we did not spend $10,000 dollars, I doubt if we even spent $2,000 for a family of five. We booked a travel package that included airfare, hotel, and car rental. Years later, I asked my daughter if she remember the vacation, she didn't. Sigh. 

Ironically, she did remember the low budget mini golf, kayaking, and even Girl Scout camp. Keep this in mind, when planning your trip. Standing in long lines on hot pavements in massive crowds doesn't always result in magical memories.

How do you get around the high price of vacation? Here are a few things I learned the hard way.

*Contact airlines and hotels directly. You usually get the same or better price than through a third party such as a discount travel site. The travel sites can mess up your room and don’t come through when your flight is changed or canceled.

*Take advantage of discounts such as booking through the week, flying at off times, vacationing off- season.

*Driving to a popular tourist destination, then book slightly out of the area. Prices will be lower and it be a calmer atmosphere too.

* There is no rule you have to stay two weeks or even a week. Cut down your vacation time into chunks of 3, 4, or 5 days. Consider your travel time too.

* Take advantage of hotels that offer free breakfast.

*Eat two meals a day with an evening snack. We always have a late lunch to beat dinner price upswing, but indulge in appetizers or snacks for the evening.

*Transportation may be your most expensive item. Try to be flexible with your travel time when flying, which can result in a better price. Big cities offer reliable public transit. Never underestimate walking when possible.

*Car rental can be a gamble because they hike prices for events, holidays, and weekends. Sign up for a loyalty program. Take advantage of AAA or AARP discounts. Book during a weekday and lock in prices. Flying in, check to make sure your rental car agency is at the airport.

*Read travel reviews. Often people feel tricked because they didn’t know their hotel was located next to a strip club. People do complain in reviews, but consider if what they’re complaining about is an issue for you. The woman who complained that the hotel ran out of wheat toast one morning was not a problem for me.

*Plan ahead & pack appropriately. Having to buy toothbrush, socks, even a swimsuit is an unexpected expense.

*Make time to relax. Our hotel had outside tables and chairs. Often sitting outside and discussing what we did provided us with a much-needed break. Families with young children might consider camping because the YogiBear campgrounds have constant activities for the children.

*Allow for some impulsive decisions. While walking on Pier 39 in San Francisco, we took a short cruise around the bay for $10 per person.

*Google free things to do in wherever you are going. You’d be surprised there are dozens of free things. Some will depend on the season.

If you can’t afford a vacation, consider a staycation. There is plenty to do in your local area. Don’t think so? Check out your state’s local festivals or go on Groupon. You’ll be surprised. Never discount the county 4-H fair either.

The best thing about taking a vacation you can afford is that you’ll only pay for it once, but you’ll remember it forever unless you're my daughter.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015


Life Hacks

We all wanted to know how to save money. Here’s a few I’ve learned over the years.

·         Check out the bargain bakery bin. Most of the bread and bakery good are ready to expire, but can be frozen.

·         Orphan or bargain fruit rack. The majority of the items broke off from the bunch or spilled out of a bag and or much less than normal.

·         Sample items. Because they usually come with a $1 coupon and are on sale that week. Don’t get them if they’re still very expensive or you don’t like the product.

·         In-store coupon dispensers. Often it could be dispensing a coupon for something you were going to buy anyhow.

·         Rotate your groceries. Use what is going to go bad first. Over forty percent of food gets thrown away in the US. Some because it de-evolved into something nasty while waiting to be used.

·         Browse the deli for the sale stickers. It’s hard to go wrong with a rotisserie chicken.

·         Always check out seasonal items the week after a season passes. I used to load up on seasonal candy for my students. They didn’t care it if had reindeer, eggs, or hearts on it.

·         At home, make sure you include a paper towel in your salad kits to soak up the excess moisture. Try to use it within a week too.

·         Spinach limp? It can be sautéed, go into soup, or form the base of a green smoothie.

·         Sale on cheese? It can be frozen too, except for cream cheese.

·         Meat is usually cheaper in the huge family packs. Can’t afford it, then split it with a friend. 

·         Crackers, chips, cookies can be refreshed in the oven on a high rack, around 225 for 5-8 minutes. The object is to make them crisp, not cook them.

·         Slow foods are less expensive, instead of minute rice, use long grain rice. You can use a rice cooker, which you can pick up at your local thrift shop. Several couple received one as a wedding present and don’t have a clue what it is.

·         Too much salad? It will last another day if you don’t put cut tomatoes or dressing on it. Grape or cherry tomatoes are your better choice.

·         Don’t overlook The Dollar Tree when shopping for food items. I picked up name brand premade turkey gravy for a dollar, which was less than the grocery. They have a large assortment of spices too.

·         Applesauce, apple butter, and other fruit sauces can be turned over after securely fasten the lid to make an air vacuum. This prevents mold.

·         Storing dry pasta in a plastic container prevents weevils.

·         Putting bread on top of the fridge dries it out and promotes house pests.

·         Freeze bacon, especially turkey, it goes slimy in about two weeks.

·         Feeling ambitious, pre-cook a large meal and freeze half of it. Then helps on those rushed days. It also uses less electricity.

Those are my food tips for the week. 

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Seasonal Bargains

I’m wishing I bought the greatly reduced patio furniture back in October. It’s full price now. What should you buy in late March & April?

·         Television and other electronics made in Japan because the Japanese fiscal years ends in March. They are now last year’s models.

·         Houses. Yeah, houses. Those who plan to sell are putting their houses on the market. A crowded market makes for a motivated seller. It’s easy to point out that the house down the street is going for $30,000 less.

·         Cookware and kitchen essentials are on sale, probably because all the big cooking holidays and it is time to fire up the grill. (Grills are not on sale.)

·         Digital cameras, which would be perfect for your vacation. Digital cameras aren’t the must have item they used to be with smart phones, but still better as far as photo quality and getting your photo off the camera.

·         Thrift Items because people are spring-cleaning. Check weekly. Monday is the best day since people tend to drop off items on the weekend.

·         Home Improvement Items. There are sales on everything from blinds to paint.

·         Sneakers. There are several winter shoe clearances going on right now. Get boots for ridiculously low prices now.

·         Vacations. Not the spring break kind, but those after all the college kids leave, especially cruises.

·         Seasonal clothes- most stores already have summer clothes in stock, which means major clearance on winter and even spring clothes. I noticed J.C. Penney’s is already on their 80% off on clothing.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Where Are the Holiday Discounts?

Black Friday Let Down

Did you go out on Black Friday or did you stay home, tucked in bed, with your laptop? Statistics show that it wasn’t the blow-out Black Fridays of the past.  My daughter reported that she went into Target, got what she came for and was out in ten minutes. A friend went to Walmart for the advertised television and found out they were out and he was the fifth person in line. That’s part of the issue with Black Friday is very limited stock. Sometimes, you wonder how limited the stock is. They count on people buying the desired item when the price goes up the next day and they have, surprise, stock. The frustrated shopper also might buy a similar item, which isn’t deeply discounted.

Stores are trying to maximize their profit margin while shoppers try to stretch their shopping dollars. 

Where are the discounts?
1.       The Waiting Game. Hats off to Menards who readily announces in their ads how much of a discount they’ll take off on trees & décor depending on the week. If you’re willing to decorate the week of Christmas. You could save 50%. If you plan ahead, buy after the holidays for next year and save even more.

2.       Year round savings- This happens when you pick up items on clearance year around that would be good gifts. This doesn’t work for kids since their interests change. Items like wine, toiletries, collectibles, even candles work well. (Seal the candles in plastic bags to keep the scent.)

3.       Corporate Buying Sites- sometimes your company gets a better price than you would as an individual. I used my daughter’s corporate member buyer’s card to save 10% on her gift. Yes, this is legal.

4.       Coupons and discounts- We are now in the 2nd week of December and stores lure people in the store with discounts and coupons. Google where you’re going first, there may be an online promo you can print. Yankee Candles has a buy two; get two free offer right now.  My coupon came in the paper, but you can still get a discount online.

5.       Friends and Family Day- this is decent discount usually 20-25%  on certain days. Comes up more often the closer you get to the 25th. Know your prices because sometimes the prices are jacked up to cover the discount.

6.       Flash Sales- these happen online while you’re browsing a site and usually last a few hours in duration. Amazon will give you alerts on particular items you want to buy.

7.       Unusual items in unusual places. I grabbed a great deal on lawn chairs at Walgreens during the summer because they don’t normally carry them, which means they won’t go back into stock. I also had to insist on my holiday discount on Christmas decorations that I received an email about. Not all employees are aware of the emails that go out to Walgreens shoppers.

8.       Read the sales ads. Your Dollar stores often have the same product cheaper than your bigger box stores.

9.       Check out your TJ Maxx, Marshalls & Home Goods clearance. Often you can make a gift basket for the price you’d have paid for one item at one of the box stores.

10.   Shopping after Christmas. Attending a party after Christmas, seeing friends or family after the day, feel free to shop on the 26th and rack up the discounts. Inventory might be slim though.

11.   The Snow Guarantee- several jewelers offer to refund your money if it snows on Christmas. Check out the specifics on this. They aren’t just talking flurries. Remember jewelry has a 1000% markup. Less than 40% of the people who bought jewelry will cash in on the snow guarantee. (I followed last year’s snow promises in the news and noticed not everyone made good on them.) Don’t use this as an excuse to spend wildly.

 It might be a year you want to cut back on gifts. If you do, announce this now, before friends, or co-workers started handing you shiny gift sacks. They can give that bottle of wine or box of fruit to someone else.

Bonus: Big Lots has Hickory Farms gift sets in stock.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Tis the Season to Return

Are you one of those people who never returns anything no matter what? You reason it’s too much trouble. My husband is one of those too. Me, not so much. There is an art to returning.

·         Make sure you know what store it came from

·         Have the receipt with you if possible

·         Return on weekday mornings, possible Tuesday or Wednesday if possible.

·         Know the return policies. Some prohibit returns after 30 days, others as little as seven.

·         If it was a gift. Say so. Gifts are usually only exchanged for store credit.

·         Have an excuse. Didn’t fit. Allergic to wool. Unflattering color.

·         Some items break after initial use or shortly after. The product may have a guarantee that allows you to return it. I returned a gardening tool three times that had a lifetime warranty.

·         Items with warranties should have the warranty and receipt stapled together and kept in an accordion file. Warranty does you no good when you do not have proof of purchase.

·         If there is a possibility of someone returning your gift item, shop at a store with a good return policy such as Kohls.

·         Be realistic. Most stores will not accept anything worn or missing tags. There’s no way to resale it or identify it as theirs.

·         If you cut off the tags, you can bring them.

 Some items you can't return because it is past time. Anything bought with rewards, coupons, or other discount method can't be used for a cash refund, only store credit.

·         Regifting is always an option. Make sure to bestow it upon someone not related or wait a year before Regifting. This way your regifting is less obvious. My grandmother used to put notes on her various gifts who they came from to avoid regifting them back to the same social circle.

·      Donate them. Why allow the unused gift to take up space in your closet? You can also write it off a tax deduction.

·         Recycle it. A velvet smoking jacket isn’t something you always want, but it can make a nice throw pillow or tiny jacket for your dog.

In the end, it’s the thought that counts. Most people forget what they gave you a month later. Instead of storing the item, only to bring it out whenever the friend or relative visits, do something useful with it. In the end, a gift should make the person happy even if they have to exchange it for something they do want.