adult-airport-bags-upgrade

How to Score Upgrades when Traveling

While the old adage “you get what you pay for” often holds true when you travel, a savvy traveler knows that you can often get more than you pay for from hotels, airlines and rental car agencies. The secret? Upgrades. You can book a seat in coach and get upgraded to business when you fly, get a boost from a compact car to a full size one when you drive, or get a view of the pool instead of the parking lot when you check into a hotel.  While upgrades are not guaranteed, there are ways to improve your chances of getting a coveted seat, car or view at no additional charge. While the only way to guarantee you get the room, car or seat you want is to book it, getting an upgrade is relatively easy and free.

Airline Upgrades:

  • Become a member: If you are a member of an airlines frequent flyer club, or better yet, their VIP club, you may be more likely to be rewarded with an upgrade from one class to another.
  • Look the part: It seems silly, but if you are presentably dressed and look like you belong in first class, you are more likely to score a seat in this coveted section.
  • Be nice:  The person who checks you in is the one who has the option of awarding an upgrade, if one is available. Storming up to the counter, complaining and demanding an upgrade and some great ways to be passed over.
  • Be flexible: If the airline has overbooked, and you are not in a great hurry, you may be able to secure an upgrade on a replacement flight simply by giving up your seat. Most airlines will get you on the next flight to your destination – and give you a nice voucher as a thank you as well.

Hotel Upgrades:

  • Book Direct: While you may not have a choice in the matter if your company is booking the room for you, contacting the hotel directly may increase your chances of receiving an upgrade when you arrive. Why? Because hotels need to pay a commission to large clearinghouses like Orbitz, Expedia and Hotels.com if you use one to reserve your room.  If the hotel is already receiving 100% of your room rate, they will be more likely to want you to come back, making you a prime candidate for an upgrade.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask: Hotels are often underbooked, and simply asking if there is an available upgrade may secure one for you. If you visit the hotel frequently, mention this as well; you may be rewarded with a larger room or better view that would otherwise sit vacant.
  • Be friendly: Whether you travel for business or fun, if you find yourself visiting the same hotel again and again, make it a point to make friends with the hotel staff. If the front desk staff, concierge or General Manager gets to know and recognize you, you’ll stand a good chance of getting a great room.
  • Complain in a nice way: If there is something wrong with the room you have been assigned, or you are uncomfortable with the location or condition of the room, say so. If the hotel has some vacancies, you may be moved to a better room; smaller properties are more flexible than large ones when it comes to accommodating requests like this.
  • Be loyal: Many hotel chains, even small independent ones, offer frequent guest rewards programs. These are usually free to sign up for and may entitle you to a room upgrade after a certain number of visits. Simply having the card and presenting it may be enough to reward you with a room upgrade, whether you have used it before or not.
  • Use a partner card: If you have a credit card that partners with a hotel chain, you may be rewarded with an upgrade when you use your card. Check with your credit card rewards program to learn more.

Rental Car Upgrades:

  • Book a class below: Book a rental car that is one class below the one you like; many brands will upgrade you automatically if the next level is available. You can always pay the difference if you need to, but the gamble often pays off.
  • Niceness counts: While politeness pays off any time you are seeking an upgrade, car rental clerks in airports are routinely abused by harried passengers; being nice in this line can pay off with a great upgrade.
eco-weddings

Eco Weddings – Getting Spliced for a Mere Slice of the Price

The average cost of a wedding in the US now totals well over $20,000, representing serious big business for wedding service providers and a serious financial drain for the bride and groom. In fact, a significant proportion of newlyweds find they spend so much on their wedding day that they have little left to spend on their future together and unfortunately start married life with considerable debt. But everyone knows that getting married is not just about champagne toasts, voluminous silk organza gowns, a thousand smiley glossy photographs, emotional speeches or even the hotly-anticipated tropical honeymoon at the end. Any couple can spend a heap of cash on an extravagant ceremony, an exuberant reception and a frisky fortnight in Barbados. A wedding is all about the vows of course, and honouring them for the entire marriage. It’s about growing old together, and staying happily in love with each other, even when you’re shuffling off side by side down to the bingo hall many decades after the last lily in the bridal bouquet has wilted.

Clearly, for every starry-eyed bride and groom with big dreams, deep love and even deeper pockets, there is a lot to be said for drawing up a wedding budget – and sticking to it. Nevertheless, the average cost of a wedding has doubled in little over a decade. Couples in the US spend an astonishing $72 billion a year on their nuptials. In these economically shaky times, and with climate change at the forefront of many conscientious people’s minds, there is a greener low-cost alternative to the popular lavish, blow-the-budget weddings. And it doesn’t have to mean compromising on quality or sacrificing any of the things that traditionally make a wedding day so special. You can always make a positive impact on your guests without making a negative impact on the environment!

For an eco-wedding that won’t break your bank or your hearts, the following factors should be considered in the planning stages:

When?

May to August tend to be the priciest ‘peak’ months so if you get married off-season (typically November to March) you are more likely to get competitive rates. Of course you are also much more likely to get cold, grey, wet weather, but there’s no guarantee of glorious sunshine even in the middle of summer anyway. Some people are actually more tempted by the idea of a winter wedding – white furs, flowing velvet capes, open fires, the scent of pine cones, a starlit sky, candlelight and the purity of fresh snow can set the perfect scene for all those cosy wedding photos. Also, getting married in the morning and holding the reception at lunchtime will mean less alcohol is consumed compared to an evening reception. This alone could take as much as 10% off the final wedding bill. Choose flowers that are in season and available locally.

Who?

Look at your guest list and remember that for every person invited to the wedding, an extra $25 to $150 can be added to your overall spend (depending on venue and catering choices). On average, 50-75% of the overall wedding budget is spent on the reception – food, drinks, entertainment and venue hire. Most venues will stipulate minimum and maximum numbers, so it might be wise to try to steer more towards the ‘minimum’ – unless of course you have an extended family, in which case pruning the guest list can often become a rather stressful task. Stand firm – it’s your wedding, and if you are footing the bill, you should have the final say about who gets invited. Avoid food waste by meticulously planning the menu and checking dietary requirements well in advance, and use locally-grown produce where possible.

What?

What is really necessary to make your wedding day just how you want it? It is, after all, just one day, and it will pass remarkably quickly. Do you really need a wedding planner? Do you really need an expensive professional photographer? Do you really need hundreds of elaborate hand-tied bouquets? Or individually crafted invitations with pressed rose petals and professional calligraphy? Or a flock of white doves and a pair of peacocks? Or a huge, tiered cake? Or an hour of spectacular fireworks before the vintage champagne is uncorked? Prioritise your list of wedding day requirements – you certainly don’t need to spend a fortune to have a wedding that both of you will remember with great joy and affection for the rest of your lives, and one that your guests will also never forget. As delightful and impressive as some of these ‘finishing touches’ or luxurious extras are, they often make the difference between keeping within your budget and over-stretching it.

How?

How will you get to the venue? Some couples like to splash out on flashy limousines or even the fairytale pumpkin-shaped horse-drawn glass carriage. But there are huge savings to be made by choosing a wedding venue close to home (within a few miles) and selecting a mode of transport that offers comfort, prestige and good value.  If a Daimler, Bentley, Cadillac or Rolls Royce is a little too traditional, why not go for the more quirky option of a VW Beetle, a campervan or even a wedding bus? If the venue is close enough, you and your attendants could even walk there. It will certainly get people talking, and a little light exercise before the ceremony might help calm your nerves. Also try to arrange car shares between guests, which will not only cut down their collective carbon footprint but will also avoid parking problems at the venue. And how will you get to your honeymoon? A long-haul flight to a far-flung destination will obviously increase your own carbon footprint, so consider a local honeymoon destination, or at least avoid flying if you can. Couples spend, on average, three times more on a honeymoon than on a ‘regular’ holiday so it’s worth looking at ‘last minute’ deals to popular honeymoon destinations such as the Caribbean or the Maldives rather than booking a specialist honeymoon package (usually with hidden extras) in advance. You might also consider eco-tourism for your honeymoon.

Wear?

Does the bride have to wear a bespoke, pure silk, floor-length designer wedding gown? As dazzlingly beautiful as the designer wedding dresses are, they are invariably costly. These are made to measure from the finest fabrics and so will fit you perfectly and look sensational, but the price tag will be as breathtaking as the dress itself. It is not impossible to find a stunning dress that suits you and fits you for just a fraction of the price – there are thousands of ‘off the peg’ dresses available at department stores and bridal boutiques, and if your budget is tight you can check charity shops or eBay for an unexpected bridal bargain. It might even be possible to pick a dress up for free or borrow one from a friend and get it professionally altered or embellished to suit your own style.

Why? 

Why shell out hard-earned cash for specialised wedding services if you have friends with useful talents who are prepared to offer their services in lieu of a wedding gift? Perhaps you know someone with artistic flair who can design and create your wedding invitations, or a budding photographer who can provide you with a special wedding album? By calling on favours from talented acquaintances, you could save thousands and it will also help make your wedding feel more like a team effort with involvement and cooperation from people who care about you and want to do whatever they can to make it extra special.

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Affordable Travel Tips

Affordable travel is important but it’s not as difficult as you would think.  Most people think that saving money on travel takes a lot of time and effort but there are many quick, simple thinks you can do to save money while not sacrificing the quality of your experience.

With all the new fees applicable to traveling, especially by air, you’ll save money if you keep your luggage to a minimum.  You can do that by packing differently, such as rolling your clothing instead of folding.  Rolled clothing takes up less space so you can take more with the added benefit of being wrinkle-free if you do it carefully.  Take advantage of the amenities at your destination to avoid packing hair dryers, curling irons, clothing steamers and similar items.

You should also look into medical and travel insurance, particularly if you’re on a vacation that includes a lot of physical activity.  One accident can cost you tens of thousands without the proper insurance, particularly if you’re in a foreign country.

Book your flight well in advance and be flexible on your travel dates.  You can often save a lot of money on flights with connections; they are inconvenient but considerably less costly than direct flights.  If it’s a long trip consider a night flight so you can sleep on the plane and save a night’s lodging price.  You might also consider a bus—security checks plus flight time is often as long or shorter than a bus ride.  You can sleep on the bus or enjoy the scenery.

Check with your employer to see if there are company discounts on rental cars, hotels, or airlines.  You can often save a lot with these discounts.  Also, think about renting a room in a nearby town rather than a large metropolis and save at least half on your room.  If you stay somewhere with a refrigerator you can save on meals.  Also, having a big lunch and a light dinner will save money; the same foods are often twice the price in the evening.

Finally, look into all-inclusive packages that cover all the costs of your stay including gratuities.  These packages can save you hundreds and you’ll have a lot less to worry about.