Welcome to a new feature here at the blog called “Dear Deal Mommy” where, you guessed it, I answer reader questions. If you have a travel dilemma, please send it to me at email@example.com with the subject line: “Dear Deal Mommy”. I’ll get back to you either way, but if I think it will help lots of folks, I’ll answer your question in a future post. As you can see from the question below, I like dilemmas with a little meat on the bones!
Here we go with #1…Enjoy!
Dear Deal Mommy,
We are a military family in DC and my folks are coming in for Christmas and New Years. The husband and I have decided to take full advantage of this and would like to take a vacation on our own while the grandparents stay with our kiddo anywhere between the dates of Dec 26 and Jan 5.
We’d love to go somewhere sunny or even somewhere we could ski. But honestly, it doesn’t matter where we go as long as we can get in some “us time.” While we’d like to take a week or more, we are on more of a weekend budget. We are even considering a staycation in DC wherein we get to take in some of the sights we never seem to manage with the kiddo.
And sure it would be nice if we were able to do New Years somewhere, but knowing our available dates are high-travel price times anyway, thinking of a hotel on NYE says nothing but “ca-ching!” to me.
I thought this would be perfect for “Dear Deal Mommy” as I know how valuable having an overnight sitter is and figure there are lots of other families in the same situation…you gotta travel when you have the childcare. I’ve come up with 3 options that come in within Kim’s budget, but will get her and her husband out of town.
Here is Kim’s budget (and other “assets”):
Cash: $800 Max ($500 pref.)
Points/Miles: NONE (we’ll get back to this one!)
Cash Back: $200 on 2 cards
$100 Living Social Credit
At the end of the post are my “Top Tips”. I’ll take you behind my thought process so even if these destinations don’t work for you, maybe they will inspire you to get out of town when you can. I include lodging and transportation in my costs and deduct miles/points earned at 1 cent per mile. I don’t include food or activities because, well, there’s only so much I can do!
Trip #1: Because getting on a plane means “Vacation”: Boston
Using ita matrix I found that Boston was the best city to fly into over the dates in question. I took that knowledge to this package deal on Orbitz: Use code 150VACA on any 4 night hotel/air package over $1000:
Your trip details:
Leave Tue, Dec 31 JetBlue Airways 56
Depart: 9:47 AM
Washington DC, Dulles Airport (IAD)
Arrive: 11:11 AM
Boston, MA , Boston Logan Airport (BOS)
Return Sun, Jan 5 , JetBlue Airways 1257
Depart: 6:35 PM
Boston, MA , Boston Logan Airport (BOS) Terminal C
Arrive: 8:16 PM
Washington DC, Dulles Airport (IAD)
Hotel Check-in: Tue, Dec 31, 2013 1500
Check-out: Sun, Jan 5, 2014 1100
Remington Street, Cambridge, MA 02138
Petite Queen – 1 queen bed – 175 Sq.Ft with Bathrobe, Complimentary Internet Access
Flight + Hotel Package
Airline ticket(s): 2
Hotel night(s): 5
Your savings for booking together
Promo code applied
Total due at booking
Includes taxes and fees
I know this is $50 over budget, but subtract the $9 in Orbitz credit she’ll earn and the $16 in Jetblue miles and we’re pretty close. She can also get $9 back by entering through ebates. She’s getting both 5 nights AND New Year’s Eve by getting the subtotal up to $1000 and using the promo code, so I think it’s worth it to dig into the cash back. It can be done more cheaply by playing with the flight times and shortening the trip or skimping on the hotel, but I thought this boutique hotel near Harvard looked really cute. The Doubletree Bayside also came in right around 1k so could be a good option.
Trip #2: Philadelphia Freedom/MacGyver-ing up some sunshine at Harrah’s Atlantic City
Kim mentioned that she hadn’t done any of the major east coast cities, so Philly came to mind as it’s compact, walkable, and has New Year’s celebrations that are overshadowed by it’s bigger, brasher sister New York.
Even Better, on Living Social (knew that $100 credit would come in handy!) I found the Loew’s for $169/night for 2 nights checking in New Year’s Eve, departing the 2nd, for $429 net ($329 for Kim, since she has a credit). Use ebates and she’ll get 4%, or $10 back.
After 3 days of history, let’s get some R&R in Deal Mommy Fave Atlantic City. Wait, as in New Jersey? Yup. Stay with me…I haven’t lost my mind! First off, if you haven’t been in a few years, it’s much classier than it used to be. Sure, you’ll still find day-glow track suited seniors on combo cane-stools at the nickel slots, but you’re just as likely to find an amazing meal and some of the best beaches on the east coast. Since this isn’t exactly beach weather, I’ve chosen Harrah’s for their pool area: which is a gem: huge and landscaped beautifully, but most importantly heated to 82 degrees year round with numerous hot tubs and waitresses in bikinis ready to serve you frosty drinks with umbrellas. Bring a trashy novel and you can ALMOST feel the tropical breezes.
Best of all, The R&R will be dirt cheap after New Years. Harrah’s offers rates at off peak times that come close to free, and once you sign up for their total rewards program, you probably will be invited back for free! The total cost for a three night stay Jan 2-5 is $201.92 including taxes and fees! Crazier than that, they’re on ebates for an extra 2.5%, of $5 cash back! Who knew?
So the grand total for this 5 night trip is $656.
Philly: $319+$40 parking per yelp
Atlantic City: $197
Gas/Tolls: $100 (this is high, but covers a range of car types)
Trip #3 Start Spreading the News: New York City
No WAY am I suggesting New Year’s Eve in Times Square, so this trip leaves New Year’s Day. People clear out pretty quickly after midnight and hotel rates drop accordingly, as do the crowds, but the holiday decorations are still up so the weekend after New Years is a lovely time to visit. Go up on the Megabus for $112 for 2 people round trip Jan 1-5 from Union Station DC.
As for 4 nights hotel? There are thousands of places to stay, so here’s my advice: use this trip to actually get some points so next time you’re not caught out. I took a look at the sweet spot between affordability, location, and promotions and suggest Hilton’s 4x 4 nights promotion. Combine with the military rate or AAA rate and the Hampton Inn Midtown 35th at 712.37 and the Hilton Garden Inn Midtown 35th st at $725.42 for 4 nights.
Either will earn approx. 27,000 hilton hhonors points on this promotion, or a $135 rebate on the stay (I value Hilton points at 1/2 cent based on past redemptions.) If you choose a different hotel, make sure it is not on this list.
Hotel: $725-$135 points=$590
Thanks, Kim, for being our first “Dear Deal Mommy” test case! Hope these ideas get your juices flowing and please follow up and let us know where you go.
The Deal Mommy’s Top Tips:
Tip: When setting your budget, make sure you count everything!
I jogged Kim’s brain about the Living Social credit as it could come in handy! As we’re only 2 months out, applying for a credit card/getting a signup bonus really won’t help in this case. If I had 3 months or longer lead time, I definitely would have steered more in that direction.
Tip: When traveling on peak dates, remove the “peak of the peak” if possible.
Kim gave me the window of December 26-Jan 5. By traveling the 31st-5th instead of Dec 26-30, (and staying out of New York and Atlantic City the 31st) she’ll save a lot of money. How do you figure out the “peak of the peak”? Sometimes, it’s pretty self-evident. If you want hard data, you can use a flexible calendar search tool: I like the one at ita matrix as you can search a 2000 mile radius and an entire month of airfares.
Tip: It doesn’t matter how rarely you travel…SIGN UP!
I (gently) read Kim the riot act when she told me that she flew three times in the last year and hadn’t signed up for a frequent flyer program. Please don’t throw away money! You get an average of a 10% rebate on airfare in the form of miles…often more. They can be leveraged in a variety of ways and it takes 30 seconds to fill out the form.
Tip: Work what you got.
Kim’s husband is military, which means they qualify for special rates while still earning points. Leverage whatever benefits you can out of whatever associations/programs/affiliations you can think of: you may be surprised!
Affiliate/invite links in post. Thanks if you use them.