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.