The Deal Mommy

Deal Mommy Rant: What’s the Deal? Not this clunker to Hawaii, @WaPoTravel!

The Washington Post Travel Section publishes a weekly “What’s the Deal?” column that is supposed to highlight “This week’s best travel bargains.” Thousands of readers eagerly consult this section every week looking for a way to afford that dream trip to, say, Hawaii. Why, here’s one:

Pleasant Holidays is offering discounts on trips to Hawaii. The offer is valid on packages of three nights or longer at participating resorts on Oahu, Maui, Kauai and Hawaii (the Big Island). Prices vary. For example, a mid-September package on Oahu including round-trip airfare from Washington Dulles, seven nights at the Waikiki Beach Marriott Resort & Spa and one-week rental car from Hertz is $5,071 for a family of four. Priced separately, the package would cost $6,459. For the best prices, travel through June 6 or Aug. 14 through Dec. 18. Book by June 30.

(Can you see where this post is going?)

Many readers are going to see that post, say to themselves, “I don’t have 5K lying around, guess it’s Ocean City again!” and lose out on the opportunity to see the world, all because of BAD ADVICE. I’m going to take apart this deal, piece by piece, and put it back together stronger, cheaper, and better, because, dang it, I’m TIRED of beating this drum alone: YOUR KIDS DESERVE BETTER, AND SO DO YOU.

Why does this bother me so much? Because we frequent travelers know reflexively when we see a bad deal, but our friends, family members, co-workers, and neighbors don’t. They trust the so-called “experts” to guide them, and when the experts steer them to bad deals, they are either:

a. Suckered into paying $300 a night for a parking lot view at a 40 year old Marriott, then too gun shy to ever try again.
b. Convinced they aren’t “rich” enough to travel in the first place.

I’m not saying you can get to Hawaii for free, but even using only basic travel strategies, I KNOW you can do better than the $5,071 “sale” price on this stinkier. Because the Washington Post travel section is targeted at the average family, I’m going to skip points and miles pep talk and stick to cash only tips and widely available promotional rates. Also out the window is tons of planning time…I’ll keep it short and sweet.

NO family with school age kids is going to travel in mid-September as school has just started! Clearly the price has been cherry-picked, but even so we’ll use it as a guideline. A better week is Nov 1-8, which includes Election Day (schools are closed for polling) and usually one or two other school closures for teacher workdays/conferences.

Using the same Pleasant Holidays website, I got this:

And this isn't a beach view room!

And this isn’t a beach view room!


Using ITA Matrix the best flights I found November 1-8 from a Washington airport were $819 each on Alaska Airlines, or $3276. However, expanding my search turned up the following:

And they're non-stop to boot, so you actually have LESS travel time, even with the drive!

And they’re non-stop to boot, so you actually have LESS travel time, even with the drive!

You have to get the airport and/or park no matter where you travel from, so that’s a wash. Let’s add $100 for gas and tolls, so your total savings is $3276-$2856=$420. Worth the drive to Newark? I think so!


This one is a no-brainer. I see an economy car for $254 including tax on Orbitz. I expect this to go down, so I’ll keep an eye on it. I would normally use AutoSlash as they’ll re-book any changes for me, but they didn’t show availability.


To be comparing apples to apples, our family should stay at a hotel at least as highly rated on Tripadvisor. Fortunately, the Marriott is only #40 out of #82 in Honolulu, and I only have to beat a garden/city view room. I double checked the property, and there’s nothing special facility wise (no crazy pool, etc.) to beat. Let’s see if I can do better!

A quick check of gives us a bunch of options. Using tripadvisor as a backstop (only picking hotels ranked #40 or higher), I chose the Aqua Waikiki Wave, rated #25 for a grand total of:

ta da!

ta da!

To sum up: our family, who was told they needed to spend over $5,000 for a week in Hawaii, got the same trip, on better dates, in a better hotel for $4,352, or $700 than the “best deal of the week” price. This was with about 20 minutes booking time and NO miles or points. Imagine what this family could do if they really tried!

26 thoughts on “Deal Mommy Rant: What’s the Deal? Not this clunker to Hawaii, @WaPoTravel!

  1. TheMrPickles

    Fantastic! I see these offers all the time and I know they are crazy. People want the comfort of knowing that there is a tour operator standing behind the trip, but often that comfort comes at a very high price.

    You can almost always find a better deal using some creativity.

    1. The Deal Mommy Post author

      Thanks! It’s one of my pet peeves…spoon feeding people cr*p because you think you can get away with it.

  2. Carol Sottili

    I wrote the item that you have allegedly taken apart, piece by piece. I’ve been writing about travel deals for the Washington Post for more than 20 years. Had you compared apples to apples and not changed the dates and the hotels around, you’d see that my deal was totally accurate. Your declarations of better hotel, better dates, better airport are all subjective. And whenever you switch all the specifics around, prices change. You declare that a family of four would be more apt to go in November than September. But some school districts are on year-round schedules, some just get one day off Election week, some people home school. You think it’s easy to get from Washington to Newark? Tell that to my kids after a nine-hour drive in bumper-to-bumper traffic. (I just visited relatives near there last week, so I know what that’s like). And let’s not even think about what that drive would be like after a red-eye flight. One size does not fit all. My column offers many deals each week at different price points to different locations across the globe. Could someone get a better deal at a different hotel on different dates using a different airport? I’ll give you that.

    1. The Deal Mommy Post author


      Thanks for taking the time to reply. I appreciate what you are are saying, and don’t dispute the accuracy of the information, but that totally misses the point of my post. Don’t trust that the experts will find the best deal for you. Here’s the bottom line, and what I am asking you, and my readers: PLEASE price out these packages yourself with a bit more creativity and emphasis on the experience rather than the exact package before accepting the company line.

      Writing for the Washington market, I find it just bizarre to choose to highlight a “family” package that almost no family that public schools their children in the DC metro area would take, hence the date change to the nearest possible DC Metro school holiday. I actually took your prices, since November’s retail came out to be over $600 more expensive. As for the airport change, the Pleasant Holidays website wanted me to take an 11 hour layover, so the 9 hour drive in traffic would have been a treat!

      1. Carol Sottili

        Sorry, but I still maintain that it’s silly to try to compare oranges to apples. Not everyone lives in your world. Some people take their kids out of school for vacations. Some have children young enough to travel in September. Some would not even think about driving to Newark from here. We always expect that our very intelligent readers will use our deals as a starting point for doing their own research. The column is designed to give them ideas. And Pleasant Holidays often has packages that are cheaper than doing it yourself, especially if you want to stay at a name-brand hotel. I stand by the item.

    2. TheMrPickles

      Sounds to me like you have a problem with constructive criticism.

      Tell me, how much does Pleasant Holidays spend on advertising with the Washington Post?

      Can you honestly say that their commercial relationship with the Washington Post has nothing to do with your promotion of this “deal”?

      Awaiting your response.

      1. Matt Wald

        This was my first thought: so defensive! Does the columnist get kickbacks from Pleasant Holidays the way bloggers get kickbacks from credit card companies!?

        It’s sad that it seems like everyone has a conflict of interest in giving travel/points and miles advice anymore, whether they do or not…

        1. The Deal Mommy Post author

          Hi Matt and thanks for commenting,
          The “What’s the Deal” section has been on my rant list for a long time. It’s basically just a collection of press releases. WAPO is pretty good as marking advertorial as such, so I don’t want to take that leap and say they’re paid…I just think it’s a lazy way to fill some space.

    3. Andrew

      You seem to be a sore loser. You’re being pointed out for taking advantage of your readers’ trust and you can’t admit that you have conducted this insane violation of journalistic integrity.
      Also Deal Mommy is looking at apples to apples. Both options are a vacation for a family of four to Hawaii. Do you think most people even really know what hotel they are staying at? Ask an average traveller where they are staying and maybe half will know, and a tiny fraction of that will give you a good reason for staying where they are. Deal Mommy has been extremely fair using TripAdvisor ratings.
      Though yes you are a female, you should grow a pair and (wo)man up to the fact you’re taking advantage of your readers’ trust by not alerting them to the whole spectrum of what is available.

    4. TTF

      Carol. Let’s be honest here. 9 hours from DC to EWR? Really? It may have taken that long once in history, but this is by far not the norm for this trip.

      I’ll give you the choice to drive to EWR is not for everyone, but lets not decide to use made up once in a lifetime facts.

      Even in Friday evening traffic, catching a flat, changing to the donut, going to a repair shop and having a new tire installed and driving down only takes 7 hours. And that’s a lot of added “oh crap” moments that aren’t normal.

      1. The Deal Mommy Post author

        Agreed! I did the drive to NYC on the day before Thanksgiving, leaving at 2, and we got to Manhattan at 8. BTW…NEVER AGAIN;)

  3. Susan

    Spot on! I think another main point you were making is for readers to take packaged deals and use them as a springboard or starting point in searching for that dream vacation! As Mr. Pickles commented, a little searching and creativity can often turn up a better ‘deal’.
    I am sure that Ms. Sotilli’s deal is accurate for the timeframe she presented, but, as a former teacher, I am inclined to think that mid-September is definitely not an optimum time for a family vacation.

  4. Kevin F

    I’m not a loyal reader to either one of the two in this debate so there’s no choosing sides here beyond what I think is accurate. I am into the traveling game and have been for years and know that “great deals” are very rare and most people that post deals are not experts.

    I have a question for Carol:

    Do you really think this is a great deal for a family to take or are you just trying to be controversial? Either way, you don’t come across as an expert even though you may think that writing travel deals for 20 years can somehow justify this article.

    All your points argue about why it’s hard or tough to find a great deal. Because of this you sound inexperienced. No one really cares about that and it’s just an excuse for not knowing a better way. You either really believe there isn’t and you found the best deal or you’re being controversial to save face. Either way, it’s weak sauce and you should bring on better deals!

    If you know your stuff then there shouldn’t even be a debate because we all know what a great deal looks like so bring on better deals!

    So again, do you really believe this is a great deal or are you trying to be controversial?

    And I love great deals; especially for families!

    1. The Deal Mommy Post author

      Thanks for commenting, and welcome! You’ve nailed the real topic of my rant, this specific “deal” aside: 90% of what’s sold as a bargain is not. Sure, it’s a discount off retail, but if you’re even considering retail, you’ve already committed to paying too much. By focusing on the experience, you’ll be able to re-create what’s being spoon fed to you at a fraction of the price, even if your apple is Granny Smith instead of Gala.

  5. LufthansaFlyer

    Wow, very defensive response. Surprising for a veteran journo. Not sure why apples and oranges have been thrown into the debate….. was a package to florida vs. Washington state being debated?? 🙂 Oh well, TEE time! 🙂

  6. Scott

    While I agree 100% that these sorts of articles are lame and NOT putting forth the best deal at all, I do think Carol offers a fair criticism. I will say while reading your article I probably had the same thoughts Carol did, Newark? November? Your changing the rules. I think your point would have been better if you could have found a better deal around the same time and at the same airport. As a parent with two young kids, I would much rather have an 11 hour layover then spend 9 hours in a car to get to an airport with a cheaper flight. At least with an 11 hour layover we can go outside and explore the city a little bit. As opposed to being confined to hell on four wheels.

    That aside, what frustrates me about posts like Carol’s is that her readers would be so much better served if she explained to readers how to look for better deals. With basic skills you could probably find a better deal with about an hours worth of work. As the saying goes, give a man a fish you feed him for a day, teach a man to fish…. Well you get the point and Carol if she has been doing this for 20 years should know better.


    1. The Deal Mommy Post author

      Hi Scott and Thanks for commenting,
      Fair points. I changed the dates because of the school scheduling issue being one of my top pet peeves. Being the recipient of a truancy notice for a Kindergartener scars you! The airport…I should have mentioned it was three flights, with two layovers (7 and 4). Don’t know if that changes your math any…

  7. Jason Steele

    I’ll side with Deal Mommy, but rather than delving into this particular issue, let me just say that I started writing online because I saw so many mainstream media authors get it wrong when it came to travel, that I knew I could do better. Too many articles were written about how to “save money on baggage fees by packing less” that I felt that there was plenty of demand for super content like Deal Mommy creates. Keep up the great work!

  8. The Deal Mommy Post author

    Thanks, everyone, for the feedback. If there’s one thing that can be learned, junior bloggers, it’s this: ACCEPT CRITICISM GRACEFULLY!

  9. Matt

    Maybe the 9 hours Carol talks about refers to the round trip time, which probably isn’t that far off. I guess it just depends how you value your time. If I was traveling by myself and could save $400 to fly out of Newark, then I would consider it. But if it’s only $100 per person savings, I’d rather just fly out of DC and avoid the drive.

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