At last the fashionable world has caught up with me. "Itís
chic to be cheap," Gene Sloan recently announced in USA
Today (7 March 2003). Sloan interviewed Ted Moncrieff, senior
editor of the prestigious Condť Nast Traveler, who told him
that "excess is out." Even Traveler's famously
affluent readers are looking for a deal --- and boasting when they
get one. Moncrieff goes on to say that people don't brag about a
$50,000-a-week villa anymore unless the villa sleeps 20, is
all-inclusive and in the end, it's just the most fabulous bargain.
Of course Iíve always loved a bargain. This winter a nose for
the best deals meant that my husband Nelson and I could enjoy a an
extended ski vacation in the US. Not only did we tour many resorts
in New Mexico, Colorado, Utah and California, we also experienced
daily life in many communities across the U.S. We spent 92 days on
the road, driving 12,000 miles in our Volkswagen, and did it all on
How did we pull it off? Let me count the ways.
Good Car Cents
Before leaving on a long trip, we always treat our car to a
complete inspection. I also carry a directory of dealers with us, in
case we need service on the road.
Sudden weather changes are common in the West, so snow tires are
necessary for winter travel. Officials in charge of road safety can
refuse access to cars not equipped with snow tires or chains.
This winter we learned the importance of filling the gas tank
before crossing deserts, and not only for safety. The price of gas
will blow your socks off. In mid-March 2003 we paid $2.89 a gallon
in the Mojave desert and $2.63 a gallon when crossing Death Valley.
Chalk it up to the learning process.
The roof over your head is the main expense when away from home,
so anything I can do to lower the cost will mean big savings in the
official discounts: Members of Triple A, AARP and other
associations get 10-20% off rack rates. Sometimes being a senior
will get you a discount - no card needed; they can tell just by
looking at you. But although wrinkles may mean bargains, I still get
a kick out of someone asking to verify my age, just to make sure Iím
coupons: Our best lodging deals were found in TRAVELER
Discount Guide Hotel Coupons, Travel Coupon Guide, Hotel-Motel
Coupons and other, similar booklets. Iíve discovered that the
prices quoted in these booklets are among the cheapest rates
available. Many pages include coupons to clip and present at the
advertised motels. These guides can be found at Welcome Centers,
Travel Centers, tourist offices, gas stations, McDonaldís and
local restaurants, and other public places. Coupons can also be
printed from the following internet site:
Motel prices vary widely, but we usually managed to find motels
priced about $29.95, although we occasionally went as high as
$39.95. All prices quoted are in US dollars. Our best buy using
coupons was a Homestead Suite in the heart of Denver, which we
rented for the weekend at $31.99 a night. It came with a full
kitchen and was right next to a beautiful golf course. As
Easterners, we just had to take snapshots of people playing golf in
January! Homestead Suites are located in 112 cities across the US.
Special rates go to those who reserve on the internet. For even more
discounts look up Suite Savings, a last-minute weekend rates
program. If we had taken advantage of this program, our suite in
Denver would have cost a mere $28.99 per night. Contact Homestead
Village Guest Studios at tel. 888-STAY-HSD or check out their
website at www.homesteadhotels.com.
early birds: As soon as we drive into a new state, we stop at the
first Welcome Center to pick up our coupon booklets. The coupon
pages show which highway exits have the most lodging bargains. We
usually settle into a motel around 4 pm. The trick is to arrive
early: as the motel fills up and rooms become scarce, coupons may be
evaluation: Another advantage to arriving early is the chance to
look over the immediate environment in daylight. Once we signed into
a motel after dark only to find that our room was next to the
railway! The whistle and rumble of cars on the tracks reminded us
every 45 minutes or so, all night long.
Itís always a good idea to inspect the room before registering.
I suspect we sometimes got a better room this way. In any case, if
weíre not satisfied, there is still time to change our minds. On
three occasions we turned down motels after previewing the rooms.
phone vs. walk-in: In Las Vegas we discovered that we got a
better rate over the phone than in the lobby: $45 over the phone,
but $49.95 for walk-in registration at the Excalibur Hotel. Other
people have since told me that they have experienced the same rate
weekdays vs. weekends: Itís a known fact that most motels
charge a higher rate for weekend stays. On Fridays and Saturdays, we
choose motels outside of town or those with no attractions nearby.
Las Vegas hotels have especially wide price ranges: weekdays are for
tightwads like myself, the weekends for the rich and famous.
negotiation: You donít have to be a hag to haggle. Some people
(my husband, for instance) find it embarrassing to negotiate. But itís
no secret that hotel managers are often willing to give you a better
rate if you plan to stay for more than one night.
As we drove to Park City, Utah, last February, a blinding
snowstorm forced us to sleep over in Heber City, 17 miles away. We
holed up in Macís Motel: "Clean - Quiet - Warm," its
neon sign declared.The official price was $35 a night. Our room was
indeed clean and comfortably warm; the Main Street traffic made
quiet debatable, but we were glad to be there.
I asked the manager for a better rate if we agreed to stay for a
week. As it turned out, we stayed at Macís for three weeks - our
longest stay in any one place. Fatigue from daily skiing neutralized
the traffic noise and we slept like logs. We paid $150 per week,
taxes included, for a room with fridge and microwave. An hour away
from Salt Lake City and only 15 minutes from the Park City ski
areas, Macís at Heber City proved to be our best lodging bargain.
Macís Motel is located at 670 S. Main Street, between McDonaldís
and Pizza Hut. For reservations, call 435-654-0612.
Our food expenses on the road are quite similar to what we pay
while at home. Instead of eating in fancy restaurants, we opt for
family fare. Many of our best meals were had in supermarkets. At
chow time we dropped into one of the big ones and headed for the
deli section. Some stores have a good variety of hot meals; others
have only fried chicken and chips. If there is a seafood counter,
you can obtain steamed shellfish. Our favorite supermarkets were
those featuring hot soup, custom-made sandwiches and a salad bar.
Many motel rooms are equipped with fridge and microwave. We often
had our evening meal as well as breakfast on site. We picked up a
slick little egg-poacher that I now consider essential equipment for
traveling. Each morning started out with a plate of fresh fruit
bought the night before at a local grocery store. Most motels offer
free continental breakfast, so we were able to round out our morning
When we settled down for more than a single nightís stay, we
invariably chose a motel room with kitchen facilities. A few days of
shopping in the same supermarket made us familiar with the
employees, the products and the local customs. Social interactions
provide excellent opportunities to learn more about the area -
people are always pleased when you show interest in their
neighbourhood. This is how we learned about a first-rate eatery in
Elk City, Oklahoma. For excellent Mexican food, efficient service
and a warm "down-home" atmosphere, all at fast-foot
prices, I highly recommend the El Charron restaurant.
Most US supermarket chains have a savings card program. Anyone
can obtain a card by filling out a form at the service counter. To
save on purchases, you simply present the card at the checkout
counter. We were repeatedly surprised at how much we managed to
lower our grocery bill. I now have 11 different cards which Iíll
keep for future trips.
Instead of buying postcards and other souvenirs in tourist shops
and boutiques, I discovered that many items are much cheaper in
chain stories such as Wal-Mart, K-Mart, supermarkets and department
stores. Inexpensive one-hour photo service comes in handy too.
To call ahead for reservations and to keep in touch with those
back home, there are also deals on telephone and e-mail services.
Wal-Mart carries long-distance telephone cards at 6Ę a minute for
calls within the US. Cyber-cafťs can get quite expensive, so we
always stop at the local public library. Even the smallest towns
have libraries, and the internet service is usually free.
Last but not least, the Golden Age Passport to national parks is
a terrific bargain. If you are a US resident and 62+ years young,
you are entitled to purchase it for a one-time fee of $10. The
passport is good for the rest of your life in all national parks,
including major tourist attractions such as Grand Canyon,
Yellowstone and Mount Rushmore.
welcome to the club
We have found that stretching our vacation dollar means that we
can travel for longer, and visit many more places than if we flew to
one resort and settled for a week or two. And the challenge of
getting more while paying less is a big motivator. The thrill of
each new bargain gets my adrenaline flowing, and I savour my prize.
Itís a little power trip and I love it.
Cheap chic is catching on. Sloan and Moncrieff agree with Peter
Yesawich of YPB&R, a marketing services firm specializing in
travel. Tightwads of the world, hold your heads up high! Our day has