Seattle Is The Country’s Most Expensive Labor Day Destination

Want to save money on this long weekend? Don’t head to Seattle. The Emerald City is the country’s most expensive destination for this upcoming Labor Day weekend, based on the cost of its lodging, according to a new survey by CheapHotels. The survey compared hotel rates for 20 popular U.S. destinations for the Labor Day weekend period spanning August 31 to September 3 (Labor Day).

The cheapest available three-star hotel is a hefty $312 per night, perhaps due to a large event, the annual Bumbershoot Festival, taking place that weekend. This music and arts festival typically drives around 100,000 visitors to the city each year. As a result of its popularity, hotel rates are around 65% higher than normal, according to the survey.

Budget travelers can find much more affordable rates at other national destinations, though. In Washington, D.C., or Miami Beach, for example, they can score a three-star hotel room for around $100 per night. And the usually in-demand Orlando is a bargain hunter’s dream. In fact, it’s the country’s cheapest Labor Day weekend destination according to the survey, with an overnight rate of only $63.

If you’re looking to save costs, we’d also suggest avoiding Virginia Beach ($309), Atlantic City ($286) and Philadelphia ($269).

Where (Not) To Go To Save Money This Summer

I unintentionally chose one of most expensive weekends of the year (Memorial Day) to visit the country’s most expensive destination. Whoops.

According to a new survey from Cheap Hotels, Newport, Rhode Island, is the United States’ most expensive destination in terms of hotel costs (one of the famed mansions is shown at right).

The survey compared hotel rates for all destinations in the U.S. for the period of June through August 2012. The rankings were determined based on the cost of each location’s cheapest available double room (only hotels above two-star ratings were considered). As such, it reflects the minimum amount travelers will have to spend to stay at a certain destination.

I learned this the hard way – even tiny bed and breakfasts that looked, in my mind, decent, were $300 or more per night. In fact, the exact average is $319 and the high-end hotels were running closer to $1,000 per night.

At this price tag, the Rhode Island resort scene is living up to its nickname, “Queen of the Summer Resorts,” coming in significantly higher than the runners up: coastal California’s Santa Monica and Napa Valley’s Calistoga. In comparison, visitors to these second- and third-place finishers will have to pay at least $287 and $285 respectively for a double room this summer.
Martha’s Vineyard, the affluent Massachusetts island located south of Cape Cod, ranks as the fourth most expensive U.S. destination, with an average overnight price of $275. The Massachusetts cities of Cambridge, Boston and Provincetown also landed prominently in the Top 10.

On the bright side, we had fun? If you’re visiting one of these destinations this summer, here are five money saving tips you might not have considered:

1. Pick a place with at least one meal included. Our hotel in Newport had a rather hefty breakfast spread each morning.
2. Opt for somewhere central. Sure, it’s less expensive to stay a bit outside of town, but if you’re constantly schlepping back and forth and looking for a place to park, your cab fees or parking costs may negate your thrifty hotel purchase.
3. Book early. Yes, hotels are sometimes known to drop rates at the last minute or place discounted rooms on sites like Hotel Tonight, but just as many offer early-purchase promotions of 15 to 30 percent off the average daily rate.
4. Consider a suite. You’ll not only have more living space, but many offer pull-out beds, which can save those traveling with kids or a group from buying an extra room.
5. Know where to splurge. This may sound counter intuitive, but planning out where you want to spend your money pre-trip can actually save you. Want to visit the aquarium or that fancy steak place? Great – now you know not to blow $15 on coffee and muffins each morning. Factor that in times two, for four days and you have your steak dinner.

Syracuse, New York, offers $1 deals for March Madness

In celebration of Syracuse University Orange’s #1 seed in March Madness, the city is featuring a “1 for 1 All the Way” campaign, offering a variety of $1 deals. Twenty-two local hotels, restaurants, spas, museums and theaters are offering discounts for the Orange’s run through the NCAA Tournament. To receive all promotions, just mention “1 for 1 All the Way.” Check out some of the top deals below, or go to Visit Syracuse for a complete list and more information.

Hotel Skyler

Recently opened is Hotel Skyler (pictured right), once a temple and then a theater until it was turned into a hotel. Now, it’s an eco-chic LEED Platinum Hotel that offers a mixture of retro and metropolitan style with “organic comfort.” In honor of March Madness, the property is offering visitors who purchase two nights at the “best available rate” to get a third night for $1.

The offer is valid until April 10, 2012, on new reservations only. Call 1-800-365-4663 or 315-476-4212 to book. Lakeland Winery

Lakeland Winery was the first custom winemaking facility in New York and offers wine tours, classes and even the chance to make your own wine and label. Throughout March, the winery will be selling select bottles of red and white wine for $1.

Hours are Monday to Friday, 4:00 to 8:00 a.m., and Saturday, 10:00 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Jefferson Clinton Hotel

Located in Armory Square, the Jefferson Clinton Hotel (pictured right) is an eco-friendly property and a member of the Historic Hotels of America. It was originally built in 1927 as an upscale hotel, but had to shut down after the Stock Market Crash of 1929 and the Great Depression of the 1930s. Under new management, the accommodation was able to reopen in June of 2001 and has been a Quality Award Winner for the past six years, as well as the Hotel of the Year in 2003. For March Madness, they’re offering guests who stay two nights a third night for $1.

Deal available until May 1, 2012, on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday arrivals. Black out dates include April 19, 20, 21, 27. Call 315-425-0500 to book.

Belladerma Wellness Spa

Belladerma Wellness Spa is a boutique day spa that offers personalized service and treatments. To help celebrate March Madness, the spa is offering a deal on their UltrasonicFacial – buy one for $75, get one for $1. The treatment involves cleansing sound waves that bolster cell repair and muscle tone. The treatment is followed by an arm and hand massage, as well as a moisturizing mask.

Available until May 1, 2012. Call 315-751-1439 to book.

Onondaga Historical Association Museum and Research Center

The mission of the Onondaga Historical Association Museum and Research Center is to “inspire people’s understanding that the history we share as a community is the foundation for our future together.” Visitors will learn about the beginnings of central New York, transportation, architecture, agriculture and more through exhibits like “Agriculturally Speaking,” “Birth of a County” and “Crossroads of New York.” Through March, the historical association is offering the following deals:

  • Syracuse China Standards- Buy one at $10, get a second for $1.
  • CD’s direct from the Syracuse Symphony Orchestra collection- Buy them for $1 each.
  • Syracuse China Approved Sample Plates- Buy one at $15, get a second for $1.
  • OHA Signature DVD’s- Buy one at $19.98, get a second for $1.

Limit one deal per item, per customer.

Elsbeth Rose

A boutique clothing store, Elsbeth Rose sells fine women’s clothing and accessories in classic and urban styles. Their most popular location is in Armory Square, where you will find dresses, pants, tops and accessories by designers such as Ronen Chen and Isda. This is the location you’ll want to stop in during your March Madness visit as they are offering the chance to buy one Alternative Tee Shirt and get a second of equal value for $1.

Available until the end of the NCAA tournament.

Empire Brewing Company

Established in 1994, the Empire Brewing Company is a bohemian downtown bar and grill that also houses an award-winning brewery. For the eco-conscious, the venue uses only local ingredients, and even won a Snail of Approval Award from Slow Food for its efforts. In honor of March Madness, Empire Brewing Company is offering 16 ounce pints of house-made brews for $1.

Deal available during Syracuse University men’s basketball NCAA Tournament games.

1060 Restaurant

1060 Restaurant is an easy-going restaurant with an upscale feel. The venue uses locally sourced ingredients to create a menu of American and international cuisine, like Greek-style vegetarian pitas, mesquite-smoked pulled pork sliders, and Atlantic salmon. Until April 10, the restaurant will be honoring March Madness by offering $1 domestic beers.

How to game Priceline to get the best deal on a hotel room

If you like to stay in nice hotels but hate paying full price for them, you’ve probably tried to bid for a room on Priceline at some point. But are you sure you got the lowest possible price? I’ve been using Priceline to bid on hotel rooms for years and I think I have the experience down to a science. Here’s how I use the site.

Map out a bidding strategy using free re-bids

If you’re familiar with Priceline, you know that if you’re opening bid is rejected, you need to alter either the star level, dates of travel, or geographic zones in order to bid again. Otherwise you have to wait a full 24 hours before submitting the same request, even if you’re willing to increase your bid.

A good way to circumvent this rule when bidding on hotel rooms in large cities is to determine what level of accommodation Priceline offers within each geographic zone. All you have to do is click each zone, one-by-one and see what star levels below gray out. For example, Atlanta has 21 zones. If you click into each, you’ll discover that only 6 of those zones have 4 star hotels; 3 other zones have nothing better than 3.5 star hotels; 7 zones max out at 3 stars; 3 offer only 2.5 or 2 star hotels, and 2 allow bids only on 2 star hotels.

So if you want to bid on a four star hotel in Buckhead, you actually have 15 free re-bids in the zones with no 4 star offerings, at no risk. If you’re willing to pay up to $90, for example, start out with a $45 low-ball offer, and then move up in $3 increments each time your bid is rejected, adding a “safe” zone each time.

Bid 1: 4 star, Buckhead- $45
Bid 2: 4 star, Buckhead, Druid Hills, $48
Bid 3: 4 star, Buckhead, Druid Hills, Forest Park, $51

And so on. If you strike out getting the 4 star hotel and are willing to move down to 3.5 stars, you start all over again, and, based on this example have 12 free re-bids on “safe” zones that have no 4 star or 3.5 star hotels. This can be time consuming, but I’ve gotten some incredible deals using this method, which has been explained on other sites as well, including the Westin Atlanta North at Perimeter Center for $55, the Hyatt Regency Philadelphia at Penn’s Landing for $45, and the Marriott Toronto Airport for $48, to name just a few.Do your homework

If you’re the kind of person who hates Priceline’s element of surprise- you never know exactly what hotel you’ll get until after you enter your credit card information- do some research on sites like Bidding for Travel and Better Bidding to find out what you might get. Bidders post successful and unsuccessful bids in the forums and the sites also features lists of reported hotels in the different zones in many cities around the world. Don’t assume that these lists are comprehensive- I’ve gotten hotels that aren’t on these lists, but they are useful to give you an idea of what you might get. A new site, Bidding Traveler, allows you to enter a low-ball bid and a final offer and then advises you on an optimal bidding strategy based upon recent accepted and rejected bids on Priceline.

Still nervous?

One other tool travelers might want to be aware of involves a glitch on the Priceline site I read about in a forum on, regarding credit card security codes. Priceline requires bidders to enter their credit card information before they bid, but the glitch is that the system reportedly allows unsuccessful bids to go through with an incorrect security code. Only if your bid is accepted will it prompt you to correct your security code.

Practically, this glitch provides some good intel. For example, let’s say your $50 bid was rejected, but you try again at $70, with an additional zone or reduced stars, and the system prompts you to correct your security code. That means they want to accept your $70 bid. But perhaps you have some free re-bids and would rather try again at $60, knowing you can always come back to $70 and get your room.

After your bid is accepted

Some hotels practice a sort of informal discrimination against travelers who book via third party sites like Priceline, by giving them the least desirable rooms. In order to try to avoid this, call the hotel as soon as your bid is accepted. Express your room preference and give them your frequent guest number. Some chains won’t give you points on a Priceline stay, but some will, if not always for the room, then at least for other incidental charges you might accrue while staying at the property.

If you have any kind of status at that chain, they are a lot less likely to shaft you just because you booked on Priceline, and even if you haven’t signed up for that hotel’s frequent stay program before, it’s usually worth your time to do so before arrival, since those with no status tend to get last choice of rooms.

Using Priceline for rental cars and flights

I’ve also had some success using Priceline for rental cars, sometimes scoring rides for as little as $12 per day before taxes and fees. There is no free re-bid system but you can start at the luxury or premium level and work your way down to economy or compact. I’ve found that in practice, most rental companies will allow you to upgrade if you bid on a small car and decide you want something different, assuming they have the category of vehicle you want.

I’ve been less successful using Priceline to book flights. I’ve only tried it twice and both times I wasn’t happy with the itinerary I got. I used it to book a flight from Chicago to London and ended up with a long layover in Cincinnati. The second and last straw for me was a Chicago- New York flight that departed at 6 A.M. and had a long layover. For international flights, you can depart at any time midnight-midnight on your proposed date and for domestic, you’ll travel between 6 A.M. and 10 P.M. I’m a big fan of non-stop flights that leave well after the start of the Today show, so Priceline does’t really work for me on flights.

Priceline not for you?

If Priceline still seems a bit too risky for you, you might consider trying a new site called BackBid. The site allows travelers to post their existing reservation and then invites other hotels to try to beat it. I’m not very risk averse and I love Priceline, so I haven’t tried it yet. If you have, let us know how you made out in the comments section, and happy bidding.

Image via Flickr, Loren Javier.

Couchsurfer rhymes a “gift rap” to his host


Couchsurfer Matthew Bloomfield really appreciated his stay at host Elmar Bierbaum’s apartment in Lima, Peru. If fact, he felt so grateful that he composed a rap as a tribute to Bierbaum (and he stayed within the 1,000-word limit for a CouchSurfing reference).

Bloomfield calls himself “The Rapping Professor”, as he not only writes rhymes for those you give him a couch to sleep on, but also for his day job. An event entertainer, the rapper has been able to break into an unusual niche and has been very successful, even performing at corporate parties in Asia.

Check out the Rapping Professor’s talents for yourself in the clip above.