Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Planning A Trip

[I'm a little later than usual getting my weekly blog published. Last night we had the family fantasy football league draft so I was busy collecting players for my team The Lean Mean Blog. I think it's going to be a successful season.]

It's time for my wife and I to take our annual fall vacation. Wendy and I like to travel in the fall to avoid the summer crowds and to hopefully take advantage of off-season pricing at hotels and resorts.

Last year we made it all the way to the Porcupine Mountains in the Upper Peninsula. The year before it was Savannah, Georgia. The year before that we drove to the Outer Banks in North Carolina. Good thing I love the road (and hate to fly).

This year we had thought of doing something more exotic, like California, but the logistics of arranging a vacation there in the limited amount of time we had proved to be too difficult. So we decided to take advantage of the fact that this year we both have passports. We like Maine. Why not Nova Scotia? Hopefully, that's where we'll be two weeks from today.

On the way we'll stop off at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, to check how number two son Scott is doing in his Master's program there. He left for there a couple weeks ago but we thought he might need us to bring some things he forgot to pack. We were right. In fact, he's making a list.

I'm trying to do all this as cheaply as possible. I search the internet for the best hotel rates, AARP and AAA cards in hand. But I'm finding a lot of chicanery going on this time around. I made on-line reservations at a Super 8 in Ithaca and a chat box appears immediately afterwards.

"For making your reservations on-line, you have qualified for a $20 rebate," a text message read. I was supposed to type an answer to indicate I received the message. I did. Then another message came on saying that I actually was going to get a $30 rebate. Wow, sounds too good to be true.

It was. Eventually after a few text messages, it became clear that if I accepted the rebate I would be enrolled in a program whereby I would get discounted rates at all Super 8 and affiliated hotels. They would simply charge me a monthly fee on the credit card I had just given them. I could cancel at any time.

"No, thank you," I responded. They insisted that I could cancel at any time and still keep the rebate. No thanks. I don't trust anonymous messages on the internet.

So I had one night's lodging all set. We would have to stay somewhere between Ann Arbor and Ithaca the first night however. No problem. We stayed at a Red Roof Inn in Erie, Pennsylvania back in May that seemed reasonable. And Red Roof Inn has been advertising heavily on the internet, touting rooms as cheap as $39.95 a night. We might even get the room for less in September than we did in May.

But when I pulled up the price for the room in Erie, it was $99 a night now. Huh? That seemed like a lot more than what I paid before so I checked my credit card statement and, sure enough, I paid $69 in May. So I tried punching in an AAA discount. That got me to $89. I even collected a corporate discount card from the company where I work. That got me to $84. Hmmm. What's going on here? Is there a big convention in Erie, Pennsylvania a week from Friday?

Anyway, I found another Red Roof Inn down the road in Buffalo for $59 a night. Ha! I just hope their rooms have private lavatories. And a shower or bath would be nice too. You never know what you're getting on the cheap.

Whew! Lodging reservations for two nights secured. Only about eight more to go. Wendy was ordering a couple books from Amazon.com. After she put two books in her shopping cart, a message appeared saying that if she spent $6 more dollars she would qualify for a special discount.

Hea, I could use a travel book for Prince Edward Island in Canada. So I picked one out and she put it in her cart. She was about to hit the "PLACE ORDER" button when I noticed something. We didn't get any discount. The book prices were the same as were the shipping charges. Another crooked hook. Dang!

I said forget the Canada book. Take it out of your cart and put it back. Easy to do at the store; hard to do on-line. There were "PLACE ORDER" prompts and buttons everywhere on the screen. One false click and our credit card would be dinged. Nowhere was there a "Cancel Order" or "Change Order." It was buy or else, it seemed.

The only thing I could do was hit the 'previous page' button several times until our order finally appeared, with a "delete" next to the book I ordered. Heck, I can get it cheaper at the local Border's anyway.

So tricky buying on the internet. I went to the Nova Scotia ferry page, ready to make reservations there for passage across the Bay of Fundy. They advertised an AAA and an AARP discount. But the ferry service also had a toll free line in case I wanted to talk to a live representative. Oh yes I do. I want to make sure I get my discount.

When the lady quoted me the full price for a one-way ticket to Nova Scotia, I explained that I have an AAA card AND an AARP card (maybe I would get a double discount).

"I'm sorry, sir. Those discounts only apply to round-trip fares."

*sigh* It didn't say that on the internet.


Blogger Carine said...

LOL-Dave, I hear you on the hotel pricing. ours worked out well for the surprise party in Vegas though. I think Steve used Hotels.com The Sun Coast was 3 miles from the home we were going to. We had pricing from 39-129 for the same hotel! Steve finally got our rooms for $39 a night-we had a gorgeous view of a golf course and red rock mtns. Plus-a total surprise here-we had a free breakfast buffet for both mornings!

They practically paid us for staying at this beautiful resort.
Hope you can say the same when all is said and done.

Have a great vacation. We're headed back to Vegas next Tuesday.

Have I mentioned we don't gamble and can't afford the shows????

8:32 PM  
Blogger Peter said...

Its a minefield out there in "internet land" Dave, sounds like you got it all figured though, hope so!!!

12:29 AM  
Blogger TechnoBabe said...

I work at a hotel and some people who place their reservations online not directly with our hotel don't understand that our hotel is not the company they paid their money to and not in a position to refund or even give them a receipt. Sounds like you are reading everything and know how to maneuver around on the internet so you should have a great time and have a hotel room with indoor plumbing! Enjoy your trip.

5:22 AM  
Blogger Lucy Stern said...

You sound so much like me when trying to save money....The kids call me cheap, I call myself "frugal"... I have an entertainment book that usually saves us good money on hotels, food and attractions. They cost about $ 20.00 a year and I save WAY more than that.... You might look into it Dave.

9:18 AM  
Blogger Big Dave T said...

CARINE--I use Kayak.com, which compares several sites together, including hotels.com, Expedia, Travelocity. Usually, the prices at each site are pretty close.

PETER--All I've got figured out is to be double, no, TRIPLE careful.

TECHNOBABE--I ran into a comment on Tripadvisor from a lady who made a reservation through Expedia, but the hotel either never got the reservation or canceled it. The lady didn't find out until she called the hotel to confirm her reservation.

LUCY--I've been tempted on those entertainment books. But I've always wondered whether they might tempt me to spend money (on dinner out, for example) that I otherwise wouldn't normally spend.

9:24 AM  
Blogger jan said...

Wow, you are so organized. Maybe that is a reason my travels cost so much.

10:02 AM  
Blogger Nankin said...

Dave, I've used Travelocity a couple of times and got no surprises. You just have to be careful out there in internet land.

1:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, you live such an exciting life. Wasting all that time to save a few pennies, and a book about Nova Scotia. Whoa, look out, he comes the party animal.

3:16 PM  
Blogger LZ Blogger said...

Big Dave ~ Aren't these "DEALS" often just a big rip-off? ~ I just hate it when I feel I've been taken! ~ jb///

8:42 PM  
Blogger LZ Blogger said...

PS ~ I forgot to mention that your new avatar seems just a little squirrelier than it used to!

8:44 PM  
Blogger Big Dave T said...

JAN--I get obsessed with planning trips like this. Since we usually only go once a year, I want to make sure every last detail is covered. I love to travel.

NANKIN--So far I haven't used any of those services (Travelocity, Expedia, and the one William Shatner advertises--for some reason, I'm drawing a blank this morning).

ANONYMOUS--Those extra pennies I save ends up being my beer money. So it's all good.

LZ--Absolutely right. It's just a hook to make you think you're getting a great deal. Businesses are getting a lot sneakier, especially travel businesses with the economy.

3:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

We met a girl on our vacation to Costa Rica. She didn't plan ahead at all, instead the night before she arrived in Costa Rica, she emailed a dozen hotels directly asking if there were any "deals" going on. All the hotels responded with significantly lower rates than that of the internet. My boss just got back from Maine. The pictures look really nice. Have fun.

8:07 AM  
OpenID caroldee said...

Absolutely far behind in my visiting people.. dealing with slow slow XP now that the VISTA took a powder. Waiting for my WINDOWS 7 when that comes out. Sounds like you have had some close calls plan wise.. hope things go smoothly and you have a great time. I am sure we will hear about it either way. HAH take care safe travels.. : )

8:33 AM  
Blogger Big Dave T said...

ANONYMOUS--That might work for Costa Rica, but we're going to Nova Scotia, Canada. I don't think there are many big resorts there. In fact, there doesn't seem to be that many motels.

CAROLDEE--My computer at work has been acting dial-up slow. And it doesn't even have Windows Vista. Too many people on the internet. That's it.

6:40 PM  
Anonymous bonnie said...

We just traveled to Glacier National Park and camped, so we're even cheaper than you.

By the way my daughter's fiance (she and he are park rangers there) recently saw a wolverine skulking about!

8:53 AM  
Blogger Big Dave T said...

BONNIE--Seriously thinking of taking sleeping bags and tent ourselves. I'd love to camp in Cape Breton, NS, preferably on the beach near the ocean. But the weather would have to be right.

Both our fav teams won big yesterday, the first time for the Wolverines in a few years. The last time U of M lost three opening games three successive years, it was back when MSU beat us three times back in the Duffy Daugherty era. I didn't realize you guys were ever that good.

4:53 AM  
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