Savvy Travel: Tips Learned over 30 Years

The Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco, CA a...

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Presented by Gary Cocozzoli, Cheapskate-in-Chief who likes to save (money) – for the 5/25/11 Lawrence Tech Staff Senate meeting.


  • didn’t fly until his 20’s, never traveled much as a kid
  • #1 idea for travel: don’t be late! (32 in attendance)

Travel Bargain Hunting

  • it is hard work: saving money takes time
  • sometimes you make compromises, but this doesn’t mean going to cheap and dirty hotels
  • you have to have a plan in mind, and other options, to have a satisfying time

“Don’t Go with the Flow”…

  • avoid the crowds
    • have to compromise with others’ vacation times, but you have to find the time
    • don’t go during peak times: costs more, crowds/traffic are frustrating
    • don’t go to theme parks during Feb. break, or Christmas week : crazy busy
  • Seasons
    • go off season, or at least in the “shoulder” seasons to get better prices
    • FL – high season is mid-Febrary to Easter. Accommodations to rental cars much cheaper during other times of the year
  • Conventions (avoid!)
    • Check a city’s convention and visitors bureau web site for the list of upcoming large conferences
  • Days of the week
    • learn to play off weekends and weekdays (cities: often Fri/Sat/Sun is best, tourist regions: Mon-Thu is best)
    • Compared Mackinaw City hotel Fri/Sat $288; Sun/Mon $158.  Save $130 by moving over just two days for same room (August)

Airline Horrors

  • it used to be fun to fly
    • so many fees and restrictions spoil the experience, security too is more dehumanizing than it has to be
  • is very helpful website to determine best fares among all airlines, and for other travel info and comparisons
  • Tues/Wed/sometimes Sat are cheaper to fly, usually early and late flights are less too
  • Parking at the airport – off site offers lower prices and convenience – online coupons always available
    • Quik Park and also US Park at DTW -usually have the best prices, usually one free day too with coupon
    • Airlines Parking (he had a bad experience once with that lot) will stack discounts (e.g., AAA + coupon)
  • When did travelling with luggage become a travel option?
    • Check airline’s website or to get latest fees, usually $25/bag checked
    • Spirit Air charges for carry-on luggage too ($45) that doesn’t fit under the seat in front of you
  • Red-Eye Flights: fly from the west coast overnight and arrive in Detroit in the morning
    • a full day of touring, relaxing dinner, nap on plane, don’t have to stay another night in a hotel
  • get a travel pillow for your neck – inflatable kind, very inexpensive, folds flat for pocket or purse

Rental Car Traps

  • check prices, book, then check again and again (up to a week before)
  • Make each reservation separately (flight, car, hotel) even on the same booking service
  • Costco and Sam’s Club offer great discounts on car rentals – usually also have 1 free extra driver instead of $10/day
  • collision damage waiver (CDW)  (or “loss damage waiver” LDW) vs. insurance
    • CDW – not technically insurance, but does a similar thing – just walk away from car damage
    • I was in an accident once, my insurance covered it completely, but double check what your coverage is
    • credit card may offer secondary insurance (gold/silver/platinum, but check) on a rental
  • you usually need a credit card to book a car
  • in rental car world, a day is 3 hours, you may as well be 5+ hours late once you hit 3 hours late.
    • if you are gone 5 days, go with a weekly rate
    • weekend rates run from noon Thursday to noon or midnight Monday
  • Alamo is my favorite car agency
    • you can choose your own car
    • prices are sometimes the very best (it always depends)
    • quick to check out at the kiosk, they don’t harangue you get unneeded extras at the kiosk

Hotels: Hovel or Happy Place?

  • a hotel may make all the difference, if it isn’t satisfying – your vacation may not be successful
  • use – hotels, attractions, restaurants etc.
    • the most comprehensive review site, reviews done by fellow travelers
    • discount the reviews at the extremes, but all are very helpful
  • AAA, AARP (can join 50+) – can often get hotel discounts when no other offer is available
  • 62+ most get a senior discount
  • and good discounters, have nice sites (also see
    • not too keen on “naming your own price” – you give up control – you are stuck with whatever you get
    • they charge your credit card upfront (just be aware of this)
    • some bookings offer free cancellations, other times you would lose everything by cancelling, be sure of the rules
  • make sure wireless internet is complimentary, most hotels offer free wireless in lobby; generally $10-$15 per day if not free
  • “resort” fees – they charge you $5-10/day (or more!) per room or per person, for amenities you might not even use
  • Make sure you know how you booked your reservation
    • you can cancel, but make sure to cancel with booking site, make note of 1-800 number
    • have a printout with your reservation number handy, in case there are any disputes over price/terms

Doing Disney

  • requires discipline and preparation, plan carefully
  • Disneyland (CA) is more compact, requires less walking, and generally more pleasant weather year-round
  • Disneyworld (FL) more spread out, takes more time, does have the Animal Kingdom park (not in California)
  • arrive early – you get on more attractions in first few hours than you would for the rest of the day.
  • my ride got stuck for 40 minutes on Thunder Mountain. Things can happen on vacation. If you have a plan, you have options to save the day.
  • RideMax software is great: can choose day, time, and attractions and it makes a minute by minute inventory that really works at both CA and FL Disney parks.
  • Books by Bob Sehlinger: Unofficial Guide to…[Disneyland, Walt Disney World, etc.] are a great value.  Check the public library or MelCat before buying, but it is worth the small investment.  Published annually, usually in November or so.

Hidden Gems

  • St. Louis
    • all attractions are free – art museum, zoo, science center, historical museum, brewery tour (Clydesdale horses), Union Station
    • The Arch (small charge for some portions), reasonable parking nearby or take elevated train
    • Cahokia mounds (small charge), and many more attractions
  • Train to Chicago
    • park at Dearborn station for free, lets you off right downtown, avoid airport hassles here and there
  • New Orleans
    • good to go in Summer – it is hot but more atmospheric, even lower prices in summer Sunday-Thursday vs. Friday-Saturday
    • also December is good time to go (very few conventions in Dec through mid-January)  Weather is mild.
    • wonderful Christmas celebrations, special holiday dinners at restaurants
  • Scottsdale – fabulous resorts at 1/3 of the price (sometimes less!), lush pools, mornings not all that hot for outside activities.  Palm Springs is similar, lower prices continue through the fall, has cable car to mountaintop, 30 degrees cooler up there.
  • San Francisco
    • stay in Oakland or Hayward, take BART subway to downtown area
    • go north across Golden Gate Bridge, rest stop just north affords beautiful view, walk the bridge if desired from there
    • car is fine to have just don’t go in the hilly area of town if you are nervous about that; downtown parking can be difficult too
  • America the Beautiful Pass
    • up to 4 adults per pass, $80 annually, seniors 62+ only $10 for lifetime

You can skip…

  • Great Salt Lake – disappointing, not much to see or do
  • Arcosanti – grand experiment in “living” is quite desolate, almost amusing in its pretensions
  • Jekyll Island, GA – good for golfing, but pools at resorts are not heated, not much to do
  • Any wax museum – a waste of wax.  They are not convincing in the least.


  • anyone who works at GM, take their business card, only $7.50 a day vs. $10 at Airlines Parking
  • added restrictions with airlines – tips for travelling with children – get seats together, need special accommodations, probably should call airlines to assure seats are together or assigned in a good location
  • way to reserve certain seats? Southwest Airlines doesn’t reserve any seats, but you can check for every plane type at the other airlines
  • favorite place? New Orleans – nice place to go for a few days just to get away.  New Mexico is an enchanting place, different from other places in the SW.  Climate is pretty moderate, even in summer.   Interested in petroglyphs (what do they mean?) and why ancient Native American settlements just disappeared?

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