A Heap of Cheap: My Year in Travel

Looking back at my travels in 2013, I’m compelled to acknowledge something. Although my husband splurged on a long-planned gift, a 19-day repositioning cruise to Barcelona for my milestone birthday (no need to get into which milestone), we are otherwise a pair of cheapskate travelers.

Thrifty. Frugal. Penny-pinchers. We have our excuses. I work for a non-profit and he works for a newspaper. (You remember newspapers. They’re like the Internet but you can fold them.) Neither of us travels much for business, so we’re paying almost everything out of our own pockets.

The trouble is that we love to travel and our tastes always exceed our budget. The solution is the Internet — not fold-able but full of travel bargains. So after ringing in the new year, I find myself at the keyboard nostalgically recalling the deals we tracked down and the websites we used to find them in 2013. Here they are:

Priceline (www.priceline.com) I can’t count how many times my husband and I used this site during the year but it’s unusual for us to stay in a hotel without booking through Priceline. For example, we got a room at the beachfront Crowne Plaza in Ventura, CA, for $78 ($95.20 with taxes and fees), the Stamford (CT) Hilton for $60 ($76.78 total) and the Conrad Hilton in New York City for $183.00 ($234.99 total). For the most part, we use the blind bidding process but we occasionally choose an express deal that looks appealing. (We’re starting off the new year with a $157 express deal for a hotel with rack rates starting at $414.) We use Priceline for rental cars, too.

The NYLO in Warwick, RI.

The NYLO in Warwick, RI.

Travelzoo (www.travelzoo.com) This site provided me with a birthday gift for my husband — a $199 voucher for a two-night getaway at the NYLO Providence / Warwick, including $100 in restaurant credits. We had a great time. (I admit, I was counting on him to invite me along when I bought the voucher. Risky, but it worked.) I also bought a Travelzoo voucher as a Christmas gift for my daughter: $99 for a spa day, including a massage or facial, at the Four Seasons in Westlake Village, CA.

Kayak (www.kayak.com) This is my go-to site for finding the lowest airfares. I never book a fare without checking it. There are other very good ones but I find Kayak to be flexible and thorough.

Southwest (www.southwest.com) Kayak and other airfare aggregators don’t search fares on Southwest Airlines, which keeps its booking engine separate from the rest, so I never search domestic fares without checking Southwest’s site. In my experience Southwest doesn’t often beat the lowest fares offered by the legacy airlines, but I find that the lack of change fees and bag charges makes a big difference in the bottom line. No wonder I’m flying Southwest more and more these days.

Starbucks (www.starbucks.com) I know the coffee is pricey but it’s good and I don’t know how many times I’ve used Starbucks Wi-Fi instead of paying outrageous hotel rates. It helps that there’s a Starbucks around almost every corner in many cities around the world. You don’t need the website to get coffee and Wi-Fi but I get special discount offers via email because I use a Starbucks card hooked up to an online account through starbucks.com. Yes, a caramel macchiato is sweeter at half price and it can last through a few hours of table-hogging Web use if you drink slowly enough.

eBags (www.ebags.com) This discount site is the only place we buy luggage. My husband, our daughter, our son-in-law and I all have TravelPro bags from eBags. In 2013 I paid eBags $69.50 for a Piel travel wristlet that lists at $125. Free shipping, too.

(I list more of my favorite travel websites here.)

Let me add that there’s one thing we don’t skimp on, and that’s tips. We tip wait staff, housekeepers, cab drivers and skycaps generously. They deserve to earn a decent living. And we’d like them to be able to afford some travel, too.

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