Bundling, Unbundling Travel Services For Convenience, Savings

travel services
stevendepolo/Flickr

Bundling travel services can often be the best value when compared to buying individual services in an a la carte sort of way. Buying airfare then adding on a rental car and/or hotel package is a good example of saving travel funds via bundling.

Unbundling, on the other hand, is where fees for everything from checked luggage to exit row seats on airlines came from, generating millions in non-fare income. In a bit of a turn in a different direction, some travel service providers are introducing new bundles that can add up to savings for frequent travelers.

This week United Airlines announced a $499 offer that gives air travelers annual subscriptions that guarantee more legroom and no-charge checked bags. Exclusive to those booking through United.com:

  • The Economy Plus subscription starts at $499 and includes seats typically paid for as an upgrade for flights in the continental United States. Make that $599 to include all North and Central America flights and $699 is the price for Global access.
  • The Baggage subscription starts at $349.00 giving you and up to eight companions traveling on the same reservation up to two bags checked per flight for free. The program does not waive oversize/overweight bag charges.
  • The United Club subscription gives access to more than 45 United Club locations complete with complimentary snacks, beverages and Wi-Fi. The cost: 65,000 miles or $500 per person.

The world of cruise travel saw an unbundling of sorts with the advent of specialty restaurants, charging passengers an extra fee for a fine dining experience. The nature of a cruise vacation still swings towards more inclusive travel than, say, a land vacation. But optional extra charges can add up fast, even doubling the total price of a cruise vacation

In a similar move to United’s subscription plans, Royal Caribbean International has a variety of dining packages on various cruise ships. On Allure of the Seas, for example, passengers can choose from the following packages:

  • Central Park Dining Package, at $70 per guest (regularly priced at $90), includes Giovanni’s Table Italian Trattoria, 150 Central Park fine-dining restaurant and Chops Grille steakhouse.
  • Chef’s Dining Package, at $130 per guest, includes the five-course, gourmet Chef’s Table and wine pairing, 150 Central Park and Chops Grille
  • Choice Dining Package, at $80 per guest, includes Chops Grille, Giovanni’s Table, Izumi and Samba Grill Brazilian steakhouse

Bundled dining packages are also offered by sister-line Celebrity Cruises in a Specialty Dining package with three, four or five dinners.

How to Travel on a Budget

Summer County Fairs Showcase Local Community Spirit

county fair
randychiu/ Flickr

County fair season is coming up quickly, showcasing the work of local farmers and ranchers around the United States. Prize livestock and winning agriculture entries will be on display, but many visitors to county fairs have little interest in that sort of thing. People come from miles around for the local food, carnival rides, performers or just to get out of their normal routine and do something different on the weekend. Here are some of the more notable county fairs this year.

Chautauqua County Fair
Listed as one of ten Blue-Ribbon County Fairs by USAToday, the Chautaugua County Fair features the expected agriculturally focused events like a Goat Milking Competition, Livestock Judging Contest and more. Those events showcase the efforts of 4-H and FFA youth club members. Like the nature of county fairs themselves, those two organizations, the FFA (Future Farmers Of America) and 4-H (pledges Head, Hands, Heart and Health to their club, community, country and world) have evolved too, now focusing on citizenship, healthy living, science, engineering and technology programs.

That’s not to say they won’t enjoy features like the demolition derby, the county fair beauty pageant, New York State Police K-9 demonstrations, the baby parade or the jugglers, unicyclists and acrobats of the Dazzling Mills Family, a traveling act not to be missed.

July 22-28, 2013
Dunkirk, NY
Admission $10 Parking: $102013 San Mateo County Fair
This year marks the 79th San Mateo County Fair that features contests, opportunities to win ribbons, educational exhibits, carnival rides, commercial vendors, food concessionaires, local performers and main stage artists. Nearly 150,000 visitors are expected this year.

Held at the San Mateo County Event Center, the fair will host traditional events focused on pie baking, home brewing, livestock and agriculture, as well as free summer concerts all nine days of the fair. This year features bands including: Tower of Power, Starship featuring Mickey Thomas, Three Dog Night, The Whispers and Morris Day & The Time, as well as award-winning tribute bands Aerorocks and Queen Nation.

Themed “Where Tradition Meets Innovation,” the San Mateo Fair also hosts contests in technology and industrial arts, as well as exhibits and demonstrations in those areas.

Saturday, June 8-16, 2013

2495 South Delaware Street- San Mateo, CA 94403

Admission $10 Parking: $10

San Mateo kicked off the 2013 County Fair season with a flash mob at a local mall earlier this month, as we see in this video:

Budget Travel Strategy: Smart Travel Uses For Your Tax Refund

tax refundIf a tax refund is headed your way, common recommendations include paying off debt; making a major purchase and paying cash, rather than putting it on a credit card and other assorted common sense moves. Travelers can benefit too by using some of the same thinking about what we spend on airline tickets, cruise fare, gear and more.

“Set aside some money for vacation rather than using your credit card and paying interest long after you have returned,” financial experts suggest at Kiplinger in “Ten Smart Uses for Your Tax Refund.”

Looking beyond financial guru tips that can include beginning or adding to a retirement fund, throwing much of that refund into the never ending bog of student loans, maybe some immediate feel good uses would be appropriate also.

Load up travel cards and accounts
Going to be traveling sometime this year? Load up pre-paid travel cards, perhaps a gift card received as a gift that has a few dollars left but was handy to use at the time. Starbucks cards, gas cards or hotel cards some to mind.

MasterCard’s Travel Money Cards are handy. While you have the cash, avoid worrying about it down the road, in several ways with the MasterCard version or one of a number of other cards.

Registering your pre-paid card protects travel funds in case the card is lost or stolen, with no liability, just like a credit card. Starting with a nice chunk of cash from your tax refund, then add to it between now and travel is a good way to save too.

I do this with a dedicated card that is just for my travel fund and believe me, adding to and carrying my “travel card” is a whole lot more fun than a savings account up front. On the backside, eliminate post-travel blues of a new payment to make on a credit card too.

Known Expense Buys
Thinking ahead here is the key.

If, on your last trek through the mountains, one of the last thoughts was “I’m going to need to replace this old backpack before I go again,” but travel is not happening until the fall, get ahead of the game. Buy it now and buy it wisely. Shop and compare various sources with plenty of time, looking for a sale price on the perfect gear.

That works for just about anything and even small items like socks, shoes or more of the pre-paid cards noted above are fair game also. On cruise vacations some travelers choose to pre-pay shore exploration packages, gratuities or beverage packages that can add up quickly on a cruise ship.

Looking ahead to more efficient travel and making the buy you have been putting off is a good idea too. Time for a new digital camera? Buying before the peak travel months this summer can often find lower prices on models those going on vacation are apt to buy.

Buy Now, Travel Later
Cruise lines – between wave season (the busiest booking time of the year) and summer buying season (when many travelers finally get around to booking) – have some of the best deals around right now.

  • Carnival Cruise Lines Friends And Family event, just extended through the end of the month, offer the best rates we have seen so far this year with maximum upgrades and lower fares. Often, it’s one or the other.
  • Celebrity Cruises 123 Go offer new bookers a choice of a free beverage package, free prepaid gratuities or free onboard credit if booked before April 15.
  • Princess Cruises Spring Into Savings Sale has big savings on Europe cruises and Alaska cruises and up to $100 onboard spending money and up to $500 air savings per person. Seven-day Caribbean sailings and seven-day Alaska Inside Passage sailings are also on sale.

Not just the exclusive domain of cruise vacations, other travel options like hotel packages, resort stays and prepaid expenses at destinations around the world are possible too. In Rome, for example, a taxi ride from the air or cruise port can be arranged and paid for in advance. So can tour packages separate from cruise line offerings or hotel-suggested tours, both of which have some of the cost going right back to the source that suggested it.

Beware Of Bargains
Knowing that a great many Americans get a tax refund in the second quarter of the year, sellers of travel and travel-related services feature package deals with refund-laden travelers in mind.

Many are a great value, bundling airfare with car rental and hotel, cruise or resort packages. Some are scams that lie in wait for us to receive that chunk of cash, so check with your trusted travel source or Better Business Bureau before buying.

Bonus Tip: there really is no “Royal Cruise Line.” That’s an old scam by online thieves to get “just $99″ to pay the tax on your otherwise-free ride.

Some taxpayers even make spending their refund on travel an annual event. This video shows a bunch of travelers on their third annual tax refund trip.




[Photo credit - Flickr user robotson]

Travel Tweets Cue Thought, Savings

travel tweets

A great amount of travel information is available on twitter, much more than the standard 140 characters might elude to. Some is straightforward, a simple statement of facts, making who we follow the key to travel info riches. But sometimes, thought provoking travel tweets can prompt a search for knowledge that brings a learning element and along with it, more meaningful information.

@united, the Twitter handle for United Airlines, posed an interesting question recently

“Our longest nonstop flight is 8,065 miles. Do you know which two destinations it connects?#avgeek

Following up later, @united answered

“EWR to HKG is our longest nonstop route.


That made me wonder, “so is that the longest non-stop flight in the world?”

Not even close.

Singapore Airlines Flight 21 claims the title of having the longest regularly scheduled non-stop flight in the world. Also flying from Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) to Singapore Changi Airport (SIN) Singapore Airlines uses an Airbus A340-500 for the 9,534 mile trip in about 18.5 hours flight time.

That knowledge led me to check that tag, #avgeek, for more. That search revealed a plethora of information about aviation-related topics including this video, posted by who explains some otherwise very technical information about jet design in an understandable way.




Of the video, @clemensv says

“I’m a software dude, not an aerospace engineer. But I’m an aviation geek with a bit of 1950s aerospace engineering envy. Because: unlimited money.

Therefore please excuse my amateur attempt at explaining the Area Rule of supersonic jet design completely without resorting to math but rather in the sand and showing it off on a F-86, F-102, F-106, and F-5.”

Perhaps better yet, tweets by travel-related service providers such as @Airfarewatchdog, @livingsocial, @ViatorTravel (or @ViatorGear), @SmarterTravel and others can make for big savings on travel and travel-related products.

[Photo credit - Flickr user eldh]

Save On Road Trip Expenses With The Right Credit Card

road trip

Planning a road trip anytime soon? Odds are the price of gas is a consideration if not a major concern. As gas prices continue to rise, travelers are looking for new ways to save. Tuning up the car, using smartphone apps to find the lowest price around, inflating tires properly and other money-saving measures can help. Using the right credit card can gain big savings too.

The current national average is $3.78 per gallon – nearly 14 percent higher than it was at the beginning of the year – meaning that gas prices exceed $4 per gallon in some states. Having the right credit card can help. But which to choose? Of the two types of credit cards – gas station-affiliated cards and generic gas cards- there are more than 1000 offers out there right now.

“The credit card market continues to offer surprisingly lucrative gas rewards without requiring consumers to fill up at one particular station or another,” says credit card authority Odysseas Papadimitriou, former Capital One executive and CEO of Card Hub, a credit card rating organization that just released its list of the Best Gas Credit Cards.

According to Card Hub, generic cards used for gas can produce some of the best savings.

The best generic cards?
Pentagon Federal Credit Union Platinum Rewards Card – This one offers those who pay at the pump points equivalent to 5 percent cash back on gas at any station plus 3 percent cash back at supermarkets and 1 percent on other purchases. While the card has no annual fee, belonging to PenFed Credit Union costs $15 and members do not have to be affiliated with the military.

Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express – This card gives 3 percent cash back at gas stations, 6 percent at supermarkets and 1 percent everywhere else. The $75 annual fee is offset by a $150 initial bonus for spending $1,000 in the first three months.

TrueEarnings Card from American Express - Costco members get 3 percent cash back on gas purchases up to $4,000 (1 percent thereafter), 2 percent at restaurants, 2 percent on travel and 1 percent on everything else.

But what about gas station-sponsored cards?

“When it comes to choosing a station-specific gas credit card, it’s important to remember that value is inherently conditional,” says Papadimitriou. “In other words, you’ll have to get gas at the right station and oftentimes spend a certain amount each month or year in order to qualify.”

The best gas station cards include:

Marathon Credit Card - This brings a 25-cent rebate, but the offer has a catch. That $.25 is for each gallon of Marathon gas purchased during months a cardholder charges at least $1,000, $0.15/gallon for spending between $500 and $999.99 and $0.05 for spending less than $500. This card does not have an annual fee or an initial bonus.

Chevron & Texaco Credit Card – This card provides a $0.30/gallon, up-front discount on Chevron and Texaco gas for the first 60 days after opening the account. After that, you get $0.20/gallon off during months that you spend more than $1,000 in qualifying purchases and $0.10/gallon off when you spend $300-$1,000. Qualifying purchases include most charges made with your card with a maximum of $300 in discounts each calendar year.

Card Hub also notes other ways to save on gas, like shopping at certain grocery stores. Kroger, Safeway and others offer discounts at affiliated gas station chains based on how much you spend at their stores. For example, spending $100 at Safeway will save you $2 on the next 20 gallons of ExxonMobil gas you buy.

That idea is especially powerful when travelers combine it with the respective station’s co-branded credit cards.

Looking for other ways to save on gas? Check out this video:


[Photo credit - Flickr user little peppercorn]