Money Travel

Small Savings – Travel, Part Two

A few weeks ago, I shared some of my cost savings tips for travel in a post from my “Small Savings” series. Here is part two, and the last of it (for now…I keep thinking of more!).

Travel in the times right before/after “peak season”. Ever notice when you look into a hotel’s rates…that sometimes you find that they’re in three buckets – high season, regular season, and low season? These seasons are supposed to correspond to popular holidays, and also the best times, weather wise.

However, the weather has changed a lot lately, if you haven’t noticed – it’s been hot in months that used to be cold, and vice versa. Rainy in dry season, and dry and rainy season. I almost never book at peak season prices anymore if I can help it (Thanksgiving and Christmas being the exception..hey, I have to use those vacation days!). Instead, I try and book either in regular season or even low..researching the weather patterns in the last few years. So far, it’s worked out fine.

Chedi-Main-Pool

Lovely weather while in Bali in May (considered low/mid season)

Book through the right agent. Despite what we’ve been taught by Priceline commercials, it’s not always better to book through discount brokers, especially with luxury properties. Fair or not, you stand a much higher chance of being booked into that small, noisy room by the elevator…and the hotel may be less likely to respond to your complaints as well.

Instead, either book directly, or if it’s a luxury hotel, I recommend booking through a service such as American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts (available with the Platinum and Centurion cards) or a Virtuoso agent (which I use, as I no longer have a qualifying Amex). Bookings at valid hotels through the latter two usually gets you breakfast for two, and another amenity – all for no extra charge above what you’d pay on the hotel’s own website. Now you know why I always indulge in great calorie laden breakfasts, whenever we travel!

Virtuoso Magazine

Brand names don’t always equal quality. I find this especially true for accommodations, less so for airlines – I’ve rarely been impressed by a U.S. carrier and never disappointed by Singapore/Cathay, which is pretty much in line with their reputations. For hotels though, quality and experience can vary widely. I am a huge fan of the Four Seasons, but there are a few properties in select locations when Four Seasons would be very low on my list. Unfortunately, almost all Ritz Carlton’s have been disappointing for me (except New York) and I’d much rather stay at the Double Tree down the street where the prices are lower and there are great cookies!

So do your research for each location – and don’t just assume that because it’s a luxury or well known brand, that it’ll be good. Properties can vary greatly.

DSC_0656

The view of Istanbul from our small boutique, “non big name” hotel, the lovely Neorion

Book hotels close to local food options. This isn’t necessarily a savings on the hotel front, but can be overall for a trip. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been booked in some random, out of the way hotel in a commercial district (usually for business travel) and the only thing to eat is expensive, unsatisfying room service. That adds up quickly, and plus the food isn’t even very good!

The combination of plane travel and jetlag can prove to be very tiring, and some days after a long morning and afternoon of sightseeing, the last thing you want to do is navigate a metro with multiple stops, or pay a huge cab fare to grab a bite. That’s why if I have any control over the hotel choice, I’ll always book it near lots of walkable food choices nearby, even if the hotel is a little more. When we were planning our trip to Barcelona, we were originally booked at the Hotel Arts – a beautiful hotel by the beach. In December though, not many beach restaurants are open. Even though the Mandarin Oriental in central Barcelona was quite a bit more, it ended up being worth it, for all the local food in walking distance. I have no doubt that had we stayed at the Ritz we would have spent quite a bit more on room service and cabs!

Tapas-24-Bikini

Ham, cheese and truffle sandwich, right next to our hotel in Barcelona

And my final tip…(for now, because I keep thinking of more)….

Splurge on extraordinary experiences. No this isn’t a savings at all, but just a reminder that travel, especially pleasure travel, should be something special for you. Does that necessarily have to involve you staying at the George V, having all your meals at L’Arpege, having a daily facial at Institut Dior? Of course not! Honestly, even if I had unlimited resources, I wouldn’t opt for an itinerary like that – it takes the fun and joy out of an experience being “special”, a splurge.

When you travel, you are taking time away from your day to day life, to indulge in a different experience. So I think it is natural to splurge on something that would be very meaningful to you – maybe a fancy meal out, or a nice souvenir for yourself, or a private tour, or a historic hotel. Think about what would mean the most to you, and in my opinion, spend a little more and treat yourself. You’ll then always have those memories to remind you of your trip.

Thank you for reading and as always, please share some of your travel  savings tips as well!

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  • a
    March 3, 2014 at 8:52 am

    Thanks for the traveling tips!

    Four Seasons George V is the best hotel I’ve visited and I always go back whenever I can afford it even just for one night. But so incredibly expensive. Even the Four Seasons London was half the price. Paris now has the new Shangri-La that used to be the hotel particuliere of Napoleon’s grandnephew. It has to be beautiful right? Many fashion and social events have occurred there. I wonder if it can hold its candle to George V? When you visit George V, you’re a part of history. Service is impeccable. No other hotel can match it, not even other Four Seasons.

    The Amex travel concierge is very good. They do charge a nominal fee, but worth it. The Amex Platinum Fine Hotels can give you back amenities and perks worth hundreds of dollars. And you can cancel 24 hours before (I believe). I also read somewhere that Amex holders (not necessarily Centurion holders!) are treated better – I don’t know if it’s true. I also read Expedia is considered annoying by hotels, since the hotels profit the least from Expedia and its peers. When I booked Four Seasons London with the Amex, they knew I also stayed in Four Seasons Paris. They made a chocolate plate with a map for me. Chocolates on the map that said “London” and chocolates on the map that said “Paris” with a connecting line between them. Wow… that is service!

    I still fly economy, because I prefer to spending the equivalent of business class tickets on shopping. Economy Plus or other variants are a good alternative. I used to prefer direct long haul flights, but now I like doing connecting flights with breaks of half a day or a day in between cities. Good way to see a city without committing to hotels…. provided you have the energy!

    • Katherine
      March 3, 2014 at 12:18 pm

      I’ve only stayed at the George V once, I always look at it when booking a fun trip to Paris but the prices always scare me a bit. I might try the Shangri La or MO next time, though to be honest I’ve found the local food options around most of the palace hotels to be a little lacking, especially if you’re not in the mood for very fancy Michelin..

      That’s very cool about the London/Paris Four Seasons syncing! Did you book yourself or through an agent?

      • a
        March 3, 2014 at 2:32 pm

        Yes, it seems George V and Shangri La are the most expensive in Paris. Even more expensive than London, and that is scary.

        I booked through the Amex Concierge.

        I agree about the hotel food. Hotel food, regardless of the hotel’s prestige, has never been the best. I don’t know why.

      • a
        March 3, 2014 at 2:37 pm

        I’ve visited by the MO Lobby in Paris. It was the run-of-the-mill minimalist style. For places rich with history, I prefer something more historical.

        A new MO will open in Taipei soon. I’ve heard some impressive things about it.

        I would love to read more about your favorite hotel experiences!

        • Katherine
          March 3, 2014 at 4:05 pm

          Taipei is in dire need of better hotel options. Exciting!

      • C
        March 15, 2014 at 10:58 am

        If you don’t mind a somewhat small room, I found the W in Paris to be the best W I’ve stayed at and generally outstanding.

        • Katherine
          March 16, 2014 at 5:49 pm

          I have yet to try the W there! The location is very nice. I’d like to try it one day!

  • Tracey
    March 3, 2014 at 11:23 am

    Love your blog. I totally agree with your comments on the Ritz. Just returned from one this weekend, and it did not delight or impress.

    • Katherine
      March 3, 2014 at 12:16 pm

      Which one were you at? So disappointing as they have such a historically good brand.

      • C
        March 15, 2014 at 11:00 am

        One vote for Philly’s not living up to what you’d expect. And I live near the one in downtown NY, have not seen a room but am not impressed by the restaurant and general feel of the lobby area.

        • Katherine
          March 16, 2014 at 5:54 pm

          Oh I haven’t been to Philadelphia in years! Thank you for the heads up.

  • Jennipher
    March 3, 2014 at 12:21 pm

    Thanks for the great tips! I totally agree that traveling right before or after peak season is a great way to save money.We stayed at Villa d’Este in Lake Como the week after peak season ended, which allowed us to save almost 1/3 on our room cost, and the weather was simply gorgeous – perhaps even better than it was during peak.
    One of my tips is to belong to an airport lounge club (or use a card that affords you access). While not an up-front savings, this is a necessity for me as the customer service people working in the club are a million times friendlier and more willing to help you sort out travel snafus than the run of the mill desk agents. It’s worth the up-front cost as they have saved me costly rebookings or hotel stays from being stranded in pass-through cities many times.

    • Katherine
      March 3, 2014 at 4:05 pm

      I think Villa d’Este is probably best when it’s not peak season and overrun but tourists too! THat’s a great tip about the agents in lounges – they are a lot more helpful, and accessible as well.

  • Jane
    March 3, 2014 at 1:16 pm

    Great tips! Totally agree about booking through Amex. The extra amenities that they provide adds a special touch, plus theyve been very responsive whenever an issue arises.
    Ive only stayed at two Ritz, and both times have been just so so. Im really picky when it comes to clean bathrooms, as long as it’s clean, im good w it 🙂

    • Katherine
      March 3, 2014 at 4:05 pm

      I have the same bathroom paranoia. Which RC’s were you at?

  • Marisa
    March 3, 2014 at 3:32 pm

    Hey! Do you happen to have any travel agent recommendations for Europe (Italy in particular)? Thanks!

    • Katherine
      March 3, 2014 at 4:04 pm

      Are you looking for just high end hotels, or air travel too? I might have a good rec if you’re only looking for luxury hotels.

      • Marisa
        March 3, 2014 at 5:37 pm

        Thanks for getting back to me! We have airfare taken care of already! 🙂

  • Mel
    March 4, 2014 at 9:38 am

    Hello Katherine!

    I have been in Paris a dozen of times!! Just adore this city!

    As for savings…here a small list:

    SAVE: expensive meals…once or twice is fine. Not every day & night.
    SPLURGE: expensive drinks at fancy hotel bars! It’s more fun than eating, and you get to know so many nice people!

    SAVE: expensive hotels. Instead cosy boutique hotels or furnished apartments (for longer stays..)
    SPLURGE: Spa and treatments at George V!!! (or any other good Spa around the globe). Worth every penny!

    SAVE: Millions of souvenirs from every place you stop for looking at,…One magnet of each city and I’m done ( has not been always like this…). Or fashion that is available all over the world. ( I mean who wants to spent an afternoon at Zara or H&M while in Paris??? )
    SPLURGE: faux or fine jewelry, or Art from local designers.

    SAVE: Time 🙂
    SPLURGE: Time 😉

    Bissous!
    Mel

    • Katherine
      March 4, 2014 at 5:29 pm

      Love the last bit especially. Time is the most precious thing on a holiday!

  • Linda
    March 5, 2014 at 9:44 am

    Longtime reader. Really love the variety in your blog. Do you have a particular virtuoso agent that you recommend? Is there a big price difference between their prices and regular web prices? Do you their services is better than the Amex Fine hotel/resort program

  • Linda
    March 5, 2014 at 9:51 am

    * I meant – would you say virtuoso is better value than the Amex program?

    • Katherine
      March 5, 2014 at 12:05 pm

      Same value in my opinion. Plus with Virtuoso if you have a good agent you’ll work with the same one who knows your preferences, etc. Same price as best rate on the website (but not things like advance purchase, etc).

      Occasionally FHR may have better promos and then of course go with them. The one exception I have seen is with Centurion which occasionally has a very good promo, free night etc but to me it isn’t worth the annual fee.

  • Diva In Me
    March 5, 2014 at 10:01 am

    I believe in you that Four Seasons never disappoint. I mean so far for my bf and I. As for Ritz Carlton, the only one that I’ve stayed in is Kuala Lumpur and I must say it was pretty good and I’m impressed myself with the personal butler that we had. I bought a 3 days 2 night stay as a present for my bf and I think we were both pleased with their services. You’re right about doing some research. It’s always a good thing to know what you want before drawing the plans for travels.
    My saving tip for travel would be using public transportations such as metro and bus and hail less cab if possible.

    • Katherine
      March 5, 2014 at 12:18 pm

      I am a public transportation lover! Right there with you!

  • Clara
    March 6, 2014 at 6:10 pm

    Thank you for another great tip! Just curious, what is your thought on hotel auctioning such as Priceline Name your own price? I’ve used it when staying in Chicago and ended up getting a lovely modern hotel for really affordable price, but the downside is that I can’t choose a specific location! Have you used it before?

    btw, happy 3rd bday feather factor!! 🙂 I love your blog as always!!

    • Katherine
      March 7, 2014 at 9:39 am

      Thank you Clara! I do use Priceline selectively especially if I don’t have a hotel preference – you are right, there are some fabulous deals on there!

  • Revanche
    March 7, 2014 at 12:03 am

    I had to laugh at the idea that the Doubletree is preferable over the Ritz. I mean I do opt for the Doubletree any time I can because I’m a cookie glutton but I’ve always imagined the Ritz to at least be that good! I think they’d be mortified to know that they came off on the losing side of that comparison 😉

    I too love traveling off season but we may be having to travel during summer this year which will be … interesting! I noticed that you didn’t have any trips to Italy logged which sort of surprised me. Is that not on your list?

    • Katherine
      March 7, 2014 at 9:38 am

      Hi – I love Italy! The last time was in 2010 that I went but I didn’t have this blog then so didn’t make a log, lol. I would love to go back and especially to Tuscany and maybe Florence.

      RC is the biggest luxury disappointment to me in the last decade or so! Although the one in Central Park is supposedly still very nice!

  • Anita Hendrieka
    March 8, 2014 at 3:26 pm

    Great post and thanks for the tips!

    Anita Hendrieka
    http://www.anitahendrieka.com

  • Phi
    June 14, 2016 at 10:54 pm

    I work for a luxury hotel and yes, we are annoyed at bookings made through expedia. These travelers feel entitled yet they’re paying the lowest of low. Just saying

    • Katherine
      June 16, 2016 at 6:39 pm

      Interesting insight, thank you for sharing!