Archive for the Category »frugal traveling «

  Travel Tip Tuesday: Travelers Spent More Than $2.5 Billion in Baggage Fees in Less Than a Year…


That $2.5 billion is airlines’ profit from baggage fees in the first three quarters of 2013, so we travelers actually spent more, according to the U.S. Department of Treasury.

The airlines say increased fuel prices warrant the higher fees… yet an analysis  by the Detroit Free Press reports airlines spend only $2 in jet fuel per bag. I am sure some of the fee goes to labor to handle bags, but even if that is another $5, the airlines are just upcharging us.

So how can we travel smarter? How can we avoid shelling out the $25 for a checked bag, or even more for luggage that is overweight?

It takes planning.

1) Before you book your ticket find out the weight requirements and luggage policies for your potential airline. Fees may increase the price of your trip by hundreds of dollars if you are traveling with a family. Seek out airlines that don’t charge (For example Southwest as of now.)

Once you find the fare to fit your budget, make sure you refer to the policies when it comes time to pack.

A great downloadable guide to airlines’ carry on and checked luggage rules can be found at Remember – sometimes policies for international flights are different than domestic.

Luggage Scale from

Luggage Scale from

2) Invest in a cheap luggage scale to weigh your bags at home so you can reshuffle or remove items before you get to the airport. They are generally hand held and clip on your bag. Here is a review of good small scales that are around $20-40 in range //




3) Pay attention not only to the WEIGHT of your bag, but the MEASUREMENT requirements too. I recently flew Spirit and they strongly emphasized only certain dimensions would be allowed as carry on – I measured my bags with a  tape measure before hand to make sure.

4) Become a member in an airline loyalty club or credit card. I don’t know many people who aren’t, but in case you didn’t know, you often get special luggage allowances.

5) You can always ship your luggage ahead…. I know people who swear by it, but I personally don’t need to add yet another step to my travel planning. And, it may not be worth it for only one bag.

6) Pack less. This may be the biggest hurdle of all for some!!!

  Travel Tip Tuesday: Be Smart About Travel Deals Where “Kids Eat Free.”

You have to be your own advocate when you travel, because the airlines, hotels, etc are always looking for ways to get your money. And apparently, so are some employees.

One way to avoid being taken to the cleaners is to be informed. Read the fine print. Ask questions. For example, this past summer, we stayed at a resort that had advertised “Kids Stay and Eat Free.” Sounds like a good deal, right? Generally, it can be…

KIds Eat Free in Hawaii

KIds Eat Free in Hawaii

But here’s how this deal worked. “Kids Don’t Eat Free” all the time. The fine print said, kids only eat free with the purchase of an adult meal. So if you have three kids, and only two adults, one kid is not going to eat for free. Thus, the campaign is a little misleading.  And if one adult doesn’t feel like having an entree when the child is hungry, well then your child will not eat for free.

Also – make sure if they do eat for free, you should know if  you tip on it. We were tipping the server  on what would have been the cost of the “free meals” because we thought the servers still deserved to be tipped. And they even brought us a separate bill for the free meals with a line for gratuity. – see the photo.


However, maybe the third day (that’s about 7 meals later) one very honest server stamped the bill – see photo below- and told us that the resort pays 10% tip  on the free meals. So with us tipping on top of that, the servers were getting double tips – and not being honest and upfront about it.


It was inconsistent the whole trip. More often than not, the servers would not tell us, and bring us the blank bill with the gratuity line open. I hate to be nit picky, but this is not being upfront, and could get some travelers angry.

Lastly -for a deal like this, you should ask what restaurants are available. If you are on an island resort, with nothing else around, you can bet the restaurants will be over the top expensive… look at the menus before you book if staying on your budget is important to you because sometimes the “kids eat free” deal doesn’t even bring the menu prices down that much.

Be smart on your sojourns. And… have fun.

Mauna Kea Resort, HI

Mauna Kea Resort, HI

  See Some of our Nation’s Treasures for Free…

I remember the first time I saw a national park. It was Yosemite… through the lens of photographer Ansel Adams.

yosemite_valley from couldn’t wait to go after admiring what he captured on film… and when I finally did, it was more of a playground than I had ever imagined. And pretty too!

If you don’ t have plans this holiday weekend, there are many national parks that are free on MLK Monday. … Just in case you needed an excuse. It’s part of a fee-free program on certain holidays. If you have the day off and want to go, you can find the list here.

Since Yosemite, I have made an effort to visit other parks… Bryce Canyon, Zion, Grand Canyon, Yellowstone… all spectacular in very different ways, which is exciting. I especially loved the fountain paint pots at Yellowstone – so much thermal activity here it looks like a different planet.


Glacier National Park in Montana is the park I’d like to visit next.   What about you? Monday might be a good day to do it…

  Ski Smarts For Saving Money – Part 2


Mammoth Mountain

Mammoth Mountain

I’m skiing Mammoth Mountain, CA this week. It is so not crowded, and we got a great deal on a condo that is not always available during busy times.  I realize not everyone can take off skiing right after the holidays, but my kids have a third week off for break.  My point is, if you can ski during mid-week, right before or after the holidays, or end of season into spring, you can save a lot of money on lodging and enjoy empty slopes!


The downside – sometimes the snow is not at it’s peak (excuse the pun.) Right now, there are many rocks showing. But, use that as another way to save money – Since the roads will be easier to navigate with little snow, you don’t always need to rent an SUV if you are flying to your ski destination. They are more expensive. Save money by renting a regular sedan – check road conditions, and get chains if necessary.

Also – in the event you book a trip long before you go, it is smart to buy travel insurance in case – oops- there is no snow, or something happens. You won’t lose all your security deposit for a condo, house, or hotel room.

Have a great day and pray for more snow!



  Travel Round Up: Escape Winter Cold W/These Deals!

Love finding travel deals to share with you.

Here are some that look exciting this week:

Business travelers, especially, may appreciate this one:



DEAL #1- Round trip from LAX to Hong Kong on luxury airline Cathay Pacific – $769!!! Cathay Pacific is one of the finest airlines… and this deal is good for next June. The reason? Cathay Pacific is adding another daily non-stop flight from Los Angeles to Hong Kong in June, and this is a promotion for it.

June is a good month to go – it kicks off summer activities in the gateway to the East.

You must act fast the sale ends Nov.11. For more on the deal:



DEAL #2 – 7 night cruise to the Caribbean aboard Princess Cruises’s newest ship….for $599 a person!!!

This is good for certain dates in February 2014…. The ship sets sail from Fort Lauderdale and goes to the Bahamas, St. Thomas, and St Maarten.

For $49 more per person, you can get a balcony cabin and also a $200 credit per cabin.

Book by Nov. 8 – tomorrow!! Here’s where you go:



DEAL #3: A great deal to a tropical get-a-way…. A Mexico package deal. A seven night all-inclusive stay in Cancun starting at $979 per person, includes airfare, hotel, meals including alcohol, and ground transfers.  Prices vary a little depending from where you are flying.

Stay in what is described as a four star hotel – the BlueBay Grand Esmeralda.

This is good for January, for those of you who want to escape the snow, and this deal expires Nov. 13.

Get booking!

  Travel Tip Tuesday: How To Save Big Bucks Getting From Airport To Your Destination

One of my road rules is to never fly in or out of New York (or any other metropolis) during rush hour. It can be unpredictable and add undue stress to your trip. But on a recent trip to the Apple, I had no other choice because I needed to make an event. I would have never made it taking a cab or car from the airport into the city – it was that close.

That’s how I discovered NJ Transit.

EWR AND NEC TERMINALThe trick is to fly into Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey.  At Newark, the AirTrain Network makes frequent stops at all the airline terminals, rental car facilities, etc. But… it also connects to NJ Transit which has rail lines to take you to Penn Station in Midtown Manhattan.

AirTrain comes every three minutes, except on Sundays, and it takes about 10 minutes to get to NJ Transit from your terminal.


If all goes smoothly – no delays, etc, you can be at Penn Station 40-45  minutes after starting at the airport.

Although you can’t always count on it taking 45 minutes or so to get into the city – always plan for more time just in case – what you can count on is saving money. While a car may cost you $70 to go to the airport or into the city, the train costs a mere $12.50! Round trip that is a nice savings. If you want to stay on the budget route, take the subway from Penn Station to your next destination for $2.50.

photoGranted, if you are out for comfort, or have a lot of luggage, you may want that car or cab. The train isn’t uncomfortable at all, it just involves some shlepping  However, I love the rush of a train station – I’m energized by the hustle bustle, the great people watching, and all the street performers doing their thing underground.

Tip: Buy your round trip ticket on the first leg of your trip so you don’t have to wait in line on the return portion of your trip.

Many other cities offer train service that is cheaper and convenient – BART in the Bay Area, or the “L” in Chicago.

Happy Travels!!


  Hotel of the Week: $200 A Night In New York City!

Despite the uber-expensive hotel rooms that proliferate New York City, there are some very affordable, AND clean hotels that are easy on the wallet. You just need to know where to look. Some of these hotels aren’t on the travel planning websites, but some are. I found one I would revisit on Expedia.

When I was in New York last week, hotel rooms were booked solid due to the United Nations meetings.

The Franklin Hotel

The Franklin Hotel

And I am glad, because I discovered the lovely Franklin Hotel on ….THE UPPER EAST SIDE. I know you’re thinking – say what? An affordable hotel in that zip code?

The Franklin Hotel, NY

The Franklin Hotel, NY

Yes my friends – The Franklin is around $240 a night for a single room with king or queen bed. ( The price may vary a little bit depending on supply and demand.) For that amount, you could dip into the rest of your hotel budget and eat at Balthazar every night. It is located on 87th and Lexington – near subways and cute shops.

photoLet me tell you about the Franklin – I do admit I was  a little let down at first. The photos on it’s website make it look super splashy. Real life? Not so sexy, but European charming. So when I walked in the small lobby, I was worried to see the room. European charming can sometimes turn dowdy.

First, though, I was told, I should grab some wine and cheese in the complimentary happy hour in the sitting room. Huh. I grew more pleasantly surprised by the minute.

photoThe room didn’t disappoint – I was relieved. Nothing fancy, but modern, simple, and like I said, clean and quiet.

photoLet me just say though – calling it small is kind. The room left no excess space – only one person could definitely brush his or her teeth at the sink at a time, as it wasn’t part of the bathroom, and practically butted up against the bed.

The room is perfect for one person, could be crowded but doable for two… but if you are spending a lot of time in your room while in New York City, something is seriously wrong. This room is for people who need a clean, quiet place to sleep in an awesome, tree-lined, top-notch neighborhood.

photoThe hotel has charm, and was immaculate- even down to the shower grout (Oh yeah, I notice.) and had nice shampoos. The beds are comfortable, and there’s – FREE WiFi. Uh-huh. You know how I feel about that.

photoThe staff was incredibly helpful and nice… and the next morning? Complimentary European style, self-serve breakfast with a New York Times. Classy.

photoIt really did remind me of some of the quaint smaller hotels in which I have stayed in on budget trips to Europe. It has more personality than a generic chain.

photoLook at the doorknobs on the old elevator – inlaid with what looked like mother of pearl.

My one complaint, besides the room sizes, with which I can TOTALLY live, is that the hotel charges a “resort fee.” This is clearly no resort, no pool, or gym access – items to which the typical resort fee go.

So – basically, those free happy hours and breakfasts aren’t free, but cloaked in a “resort fee.” Just be honest, and charge me for the breakfast and don’t charge me a resort fee. (Resort fee is $12 a night)

To make things worse – and this isn’t the hotel’s fault – Expedia doesn’t tell you there will be a resort fee. Not cool.

But do check out the Franklin.  If you aren’t spending much time in your room, want a safe location, and want to put more of your trip budget into things to do in New York, rather than where you spend your sleeping hours, the Franklin is where dreams are made of….




  Travel on the Super Duper Cheap


Nothing like Hawaiian coffee. I am on the Big Island and it came to me – as a coffee snob, I never really take advantage of the in-room coffee maker. Nope. Id’ rather drag myself out of bed, march down to the hotel coffee bar, and order a $5.00 latte.

But – my tip to you fellow java hounds may be obvious, and I admit, super cheap, but no denying it is practical.

If your hotel provides free in-room bottled water, a coffee maker, and most importantly, GOOD coffee, take advantage of that in-room maker. Especially in a place like Hawaii where so often the beans are local and good – Kona coffee black or with cream?

For a week long trip, it could save you close to $100 for two coffees in the morning, you don’t have to leave the kids to do down to the coffee bar – and quite frankly, depending on your room, it is relaxing to enjoy it from your balcony or overlooking a view.

If the hotel doesn’t give you bottled water, ask if the tap is filtered.

I warned you this was a super cheap tip.

Now – if you want to make your love for coffee a part of your overall trip, many destinations have coffee plantation tours where you can immerse yourself in the local agricultural business.
The tours teach you about coffee from bean to cup. Some are set in beautiful locations like a rain forest. If you want to bring some home, chances are it might be easier to order from the website once you get home unless you have room in your luggage :)

Here are some websites to explore for Costa Rica, Puerto Rico, and Hawaii….Now go enjoy your cup of joe.



  Happy Travels With My Mom… An Affordable Way To See The World With Grandparents #homeswap

Travel With Family

When I was a young girl, my mom made family trips a priority. Many years later…  and with  three young children of my own, she and her husband were able to come with us to France for the price of airfare only.

Provence, France

See… we did a home exchange in France for one glorious month. The beautiful thing about a home exchanges is that unlike getting separate hotel rooms, you can swap your home for a villa with multiple bedrooms so your family and your parents can all stay together for …. FREE. Yes, no money is exchanged. It is a wonderful way to travel with extended family.

There are many pluses to this….

Our Home Exchange in the French Riviera

First off, some on fixed incomes have an affordable and comfortable  place to stay. Ours in the French Riviera had a guest house – perfect set up for grandparents coming along.

And…not only are the accommodations free, but you have the option of eating meals at home, saving money there too. And you don’t have to sacrifice culture – if you’ve ever shopped in the Parisian markets or grocery stores for a home cooked meal, you know the experience of which I am talking.

Secondly – bringing along Grandma and Grandpa can work out fabulously for some adult time! You have willing and happy built in babysitters for a night out with your partner.

Winetasting in Chateauneuf du Pape

Or, they can be company in fun activities! Since my mom and her husband like wine tasting, they were my company in the world class Chateauneuf du Pape region!

Then there are the benefits for the kids…. they get to share a rare experience with their grandparents… and if you travel to a region of your heritage, grandparents can also provide illuminating facts about your family history.

Home swapping isn’t for everyone, I admit. The most common question I got was – “What did you do with all the stuff in your house” “Did it bother you to have other people stay in your house?” You have to be comfortable with people you don’t know living in your home. I talked to our exchange  family on the phone before hand, and one member even was in LA for business and we had him over for dinner, so I felt comfortable. I looked at it as company was staying at our house.

Truth be told, I talked to so many different potential Europeans about staying in our house, and discovered that most of them just want to use your home as a base to travel around, and quite possibly wouldn’t be there most of the time anyway.

There are many different companies that offer home exchange opportunities – usually you have to pay a nominal  yearly membership to have access to the listings. A couple that I have tried,or know someone who has tried are: and

Two bits of advice: Plan ahead – many of the better houses started making plans 10-12  months before the trip. Also – get traveler’s insurance. I did have one house cancel on me… luckily, I had enough time to find a replacement, but had it been closer to the travel time, it would have been much more difficult.

It is more work than simply booking a hotel – but worth it. I know my mom would say so :)

Happy Mother’s Day Mom!


  Travel Tip Tuesday: Think You Can’t Use Frequent Flier Miles Last Minute? Think Again!

I just booked a flight 30 days out using my frequent flier airline miles. No – that’s not a typo – only 30 days out, to the day.

It reminded me of a tip I often give: If you have an account with an airline, let’s say American, don’t just check with American to see if there open seats for using ff miles. Check all the partners – For example, American is partners with Air Tahiti, which has flights to Paris from LAX. Who would have thought to check with Air Tahiti to go to Paris?

Auckland, New Zealand

American is also partners with Air Pacific, and Qantas….. so if you are flying to New Zealand, you have more than one option. Air Pacific doens’t only fly to Fiji! You could book a departing flight on Air Pacific, and returning on Qantas.

THe catch here is that you have to go to mulitple websites because one airline doesn’t show its partners availabilities.

I realize this involves soem finesse, and it often gets complicated doing all the research about partner airlines and available flights to frequent fliers.  So in this instance, I would recommend calling the airlines., Yes, there will be a $25 or so fee for doing so, but if you can save $1000 on a flight and book with your miles, it is worth it.

Happy Travels!