Thursday, June 21, 2007

Here comes summer -- some fun tips

It's about 1:30 p.m. on June 21, and I'm sitting here waving good-bye to spring and waiting for summer to take its place. Thunk.

Well, it doesn't have to be thunk. I've been around a long time and one of the reasons for this blog is to pass along some of the knowledge I've gleaned.

First of all, none of the brand names involve any product-placement -- in other words I'm not getting anything for recommending specific products or services. It's just things that have worked for me.

Plane fares are computed in a way I don't understand, but can take advantage of. Chances are the people in the seat across the aisle from you paid a different price from you. It all depends on when you bought your ticket, from whom you bought it and under what circumstances.

It pays to look around on your computer, and not only on the major sites. I use Orbitz, but always look at sites like Southwest. I like to fly from Bradley International rather than the New York airports. White Plains is a good alternative if you can get someone to drive you to and from the airport -- the airport is nice and well-handled but the $21 a day parking fee will kill you.

Try to fly nonstop. I hate to bounce because then you risk the problems being experienced by three airports, not only two. If you aren't locked into a specific time, many of the booking sites will show you a cheapest time to fly, so you can save big bucks by leaving a day or two later or earlier.

But remember, if you book a 6 a.m. flight, that means you have to get to the airport by 4:30 a.m. to pass through security with enough time. Don't figure you will be alone on early flights. I flew Southwest from Orlando to Hartford on a 6:30 a.m. flight and there were enough people on line to check in to fill a minor-league ballpark.

Flights leave on time or before. We recently flew Air Tran from White Plains to Orlando (nonstop and delightful). Both going and coming, the planes left the gate about 10 minutes ahead of schedule, so make sure you're on time.

If your flight time is flexible and your hotel doesn't have to be in a specific town or district, try Priceline. We got a wonderful hotel room in Gaithersberg, Md., for $50 a night, a third of the rack rate. We wanted to be in Rockville, so we had to drive one extra exit on the highway. Big deal! The only thing about Priceline is that once your offer is accepted, you have a contract, so be sure before you bid.

Don't shy away from suite hotels -- some cost the same or less than non-suite properties. We recently stayed at the Hawthorn Suites Universal Orlando in Florida, and had a two-room suite with full kitchen, king-sized bed, breakfast, free cocktail hour and a surprise dinner for $89 a night. Orbitz sent me a survey to fill out about my stay and gave me a $25 credit on my next booking for my trouble.

Why bother with a suite? If you have dietary restrictions, such as keeping kosher, being diabetic or a vegetarian, it's nice to be able to store some food and heat it up yourself. It's also nice to have breakfast out of the way before starting your touring instead of waiting on line at a restaurant.

Orbitz ( rates the hotels and carries an average rating. It also lists the features of each hotel. Expedia, Travelocity and, as well as others, do basically the same.

That's enough for now. Let's say this feature will return from time to time during the travel season.

Let me know what you think, please.

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