Monday, August 29, 2011

Bidding Goggles

If you have ever bought a hotel you should be pretty familiar with the how the system goes, but I will explain it for everyone else.

As ad's mention when hotels have unsold rooms they give them to Hotwire to liquidate at reduced prices.

So 4 star hotels in New Orleans for 2 star prices.

But where is the Catch? If everyone knew that great hotels would drop their prices in half weeks before a check-in the entire supply-demand principal would collapse.

So yes there is a catch....

Below I have shown some of the zones that hotwire uses in New Orleans. You are given the choice of a hotel in La Place, New Orleans East, Airport Area, Downtown / French Quarter and last Harvey. Assuming you are a tourist you would like to probably stay in the French Quarter, but the French Quarter, Business District, and the Garden Distric are all in one zone. (Some cities are better zoned).

Once you have chosen a location they will make 2 or 3 offers for either a 3 star, 4 star or 5 star hotel with a higher price as you work up to the 5 star level. They will tell you just a couple of key facts about your hotel such as if it has a restaurant, gym, pool or laundry service to name a few and sometimes they will tell you if the hotel has a high approval rating on (one of my favorite websites for all travel needs.

That's it, a 2 - 4 sq mile proximity, hotel class, and a few amenities. Once you have given them your money and agreed to the price they will reveal your hotel to you.

Hotwire is a good way to save 20-50% on hotels prices on any other website. I recently used them multiple times in Paris because due to conventions the city was really booked and rooms were very limited driving prices of a 3 star hotels to ~ $300 a night. Using hotwire I was able to go up a category (4 star) and save some money as well, have a safe, nice, clean upscale hotel room.

Although I like hotwire, sometimes not all hotels are created equal, It would be really nice to know what hotel I was agreeing to before they took my money. You could get the hotel on the far side of town away from everything that just got downgraded to a 3 star ect... so I came across a great website that fixes that for you.

By going to this website and launching their application, it will open along with a decoder screen. Put in the City, Dates, and Star Level, then Hotwire will provide a "nameless" 4 star hotel with certain amenities (pool, gym ect.) put that data into and they will give you a short list of hotels (hopefully 1 ) that meat that criteria. Once you have the short list go to compare the "tripadvisor rating" from hotwire and to see if you can find a match. If you like the hotel BOOK IT. This is a great way to get great rooms for a lot cheaper then anywhere on the net.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Baggage Claim

This past week we were thinking about which baggage we wanted to bring on our trip to France, and I thought this would be a good topic for blogging.
We have tried every which way of baggage.... let me give you a recap.

Tahiti: Packed one huge cloth bag with wheels - we waited at baggage claim for a long time and never saw our bag?!?, but we did see a garbage bag that was duct taped up that no one had claimed. After everyone picked up all the bags, we went over to the garbage bag and duct tape ball, opened it up and sure enough it was our bag inside.

Lesson Learned: Don't trust cheap cloth with a big bag in an overseas flight, and never underestimate the duct taped bag that keeps going around and around....

Italy: Decided to pack 2 smaller bags. Took an Air Italia Flight (only 40 min flight from Rome to Nice...) Bags never made it. Still not sure how that happened. I don't think they even were put on the plane! We ended up backpacking across Italy not intending too (I think it was 14 days without our bags?)... I spent hours arguing with the baggage claim lady in Naples, who did not feel like helping. She kept telling me " you are American so you must call the US office to help you." Wow. My husband had to hold me back. I ended up just saying calmly, "Let me see the lost luggage room." She finally showed me and it wasn't there, so I asked to see the next room. It wasn't there either. I asked to see the next room, and she answered that was all of the rooms, but after seeing the lost luggage line, I insisted that there was another room, and sure enough, she finally showed me.... and there they were. After months of negotiating about the cost incurred while backpacking across Italy, I finally got a check for ~ $128.32 from them. I think I still have it, and am going to frame it.

Lesson Learned: There is always another lost baggage room in Italy!
Also, I have small carry on bag that can be worn on the side, as a back pack or actually put around me in front. I keep all essentials in this bag I need to survive if my luggage never comes. This bag can be unloaded during the trip and used trekking around for anything anywhere.
Consider taking a picture of what is in your luggage before you zip it up. This is easier to have proof if something happens.

China: I packed a bag that can zip up into a small 5" square patch into my larger bag. I put all of my travel treasures in this bag and bring it on the plane with me home to ensure nothing brakes.

Lesson Learned: Pack a carry on collapsible bag for souvenirs. Make a copy of your passport especially if you are going to a country that would like a passport. Never have your passport and your copy in the same bag.

Verona, Italy: We went to see a opera in an old Roman Colosseum. My hubby went to take a picture of the beautiful site, and when we went to go inside... no tickets.
He had put them in his back pocket to take the picture, and ... gone that fast. Never felt a thing. I think we ended up buying the same exact tickets twice. :(

Lesson Learned: Front Pocket Wallets - This is a must for guys. They are shaped like a front pocket to make wearing them comfortable as well as safe while still organizing things you want to keep on you with you.
Money Belts: Tried this too... This is just for emergency because we could only fit one paper bill in there!

Los Cabos: We bought a souvenier ceramic tequila decanter in the airport thinking we would carry it on home to ensure it was safe. What we didn't know was since we had to switch planes and we were coming from a different country, they make you go through customs at the stopping airport, and they insisted that we had to check the decanter since it had a small bit of tequila in it. We smelled our luggage before we saw it...and my beautiful decanter was broken.

Lesson learned: Tequila smell eventually comes out. Down your tequila before going through customs.... Then you can bring your decanter with you, and you will know your tequila will be in good keeping too.

Chile: My hubby wanted to maximize the amount of wine he wanted to bring home from this famous wine region of the world. When he came home he only had (4) bottles in a wine carring case (the max they would let him bring). I told him I was sorry he couldn't bring more home. He just smiled and opened his luggage. I took out a very heavy rolled pair of pants. Sure enough there was a bottle of wine in them. We ended up with (20 bottles).

Lesson learned: My husband is lucky and strong. I would have not risked my wardrobe on some wine, but I am sure glad he did. Oh, and clothes can be used as bubble wrap substitute. (Note: this was attempted before the tequila incident.)

As you can see, we are still figuring the whole baggage thing out.
I did have a fear of checking luggage for a while (tried to pack every thing in carry-ons), but after seeking help at Carry - Ons Anonymous, I am getting better.

Good luck packing!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Destination Idea - Tolum, Mexico

Destination Idea

Tolum, Mexico (Just south of Cancun)

Beautiful Beaches, and Mayan Ruins
This is a great place to visit some Mayan Ruins, without the crowds at Chitzeniza (one of the largest and most popular Mayan Ruins). Bring a bathing suit as you might want to go swimming in the picture purfect waters below. No wonder the Mayans set up camp here! Wouldn't you? Travel tip: If you pack your own lunch with lots of cool water- which we reccomend, beware of bold Mayan birds who will try to take your food right out of your hand!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Destination Idea - New York

So with all the talk of debt, and financial crisis I thoght I would point out a picture from a trip a couple years ago to New York City.

Southwest just opened a new route to Newark from Houston, so there are lots of sub $200 flight deals out there which is especially good for a summer fare.

Tip: Reserve a ticket ahead of time, to go inside the statue liberty, otherwise you will just have to wonder the grounds till the next ferry comes. Link

Food: Grimaldi's pizza under the Brooklyn Bridge, worth the wait Link (p.s. there are locations across the US including (Arizona, Flordia, Las Vegas, & Texas so you can get a sneak peak before you go)

Monday, August 1, 2011

France preparation

This past week we did a few things to help with the preparation of out trip to France.

We try to have fun preparing and even make it into a date night - an inexpensive one at that!

1. Pop some yummy popcorn and top it with your favs
2. If you have comcast cable, they have a website called After going there click TV at the top and type in Rick Steves.
3. Scroll through and pick from 85 different episodes where he goes all over Europe.
4. Have a note pad handy to write down things you want to make sure you want to see or do.
5. Enjoy the rest of the evening talking about what you liked and can't wait to see/do with your spouse at your next traveling spot!

Another thing worth mentioning that I did this week was download Rosetta Stone and brush up on my French which I learned many, many (and I think I need to add one more) many years ago. I have been impressed with the program and will do a few more and see what happens!

I also have been skimming trough the travel books that I bought at Borders the other day. I skim through it at night, or at the pool or even on my lunch break. It is important that doing your research is fun and enticing you to read up more and become excited about your trip. It should not feel like work or preparing for a final exam!