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February 22, 2009

Money Saving Travel Tips

In this economy we’re all looking to save money, especially on travel. So I’ve assembled a few tips I’ve learned over the years to keep you on the go while still saving dough.

Let’s consider a business day-trip to Washington, planned and booked one day in advance.

THE AIR SHUTTLES: You can’t beat the convenience, but it comes at a weighty cost. The walk-up one-way fare on the US Air Shuttle from LaGuardia is now $329 in coach (and $500 in First Class!). Given that flying time, gate to gate, is only an hour, this has to rank as one of the most expensive flights you can take out of NYC. But did you know that US Air is now part of the Star Alliance network so it code-shares its flights with United Airlines? A round-trip on the same US Air flights, booked through UAL, is $464. (PS: my last Shuttle flights were empty and even though pre-booked, the agent told me there’d be no problem catching an earlier or later flight.)

ALTERNATE AIRPORTS: If you’re willing to fly out of JFK, the savings are amazing… roundtrip on JetBlue is $116 and on Delta $137. And depending on where you’re heading in DC, flying into Dulles might save you time and money.

AMTRAK: Any regular reader of this column knows that I think Amtrak is the only way to “fly”, even to Washington. And you have plenty of trains to choose from departing New Haven, Bridgeport and Stamford. The high-speed Acela would be my first pick, but Business Class (there is no “coach” fare) would set you back $412 roundtrip. And First Class on Acela is an additional $103 each way, adding up to $618 roundtrip.

A cheaper Am-alternative are the non-Acela “Northeast Regional” trains. Older, slower and making more stops, they’ll get you to DC in four hours and 35 minutes versus Acela’s three hours and fifty minutes… but coach is only $206 roundtrip. (I’d skip the $36 each way ‘upgrade’ to Business Class on these trains. All you get is a bit more leg-room and free sodas.)

AMTRAK DISCOUNTS: Amtrak rarely discounts its flagship Acela service, but it does offer AAA and NARP (Natl Assoc of Rail Passengers) members a 10% discount on bookings made three days in advance. Students, Seniors and Veterans can save 15%. Kids (age 2 – 15) travel half-price.

Amtrak’s “Guest Rewards” (frequent traveler) program is fabulous… and free. Rewards include free travel and, for heavy users, free upgrades for First Class, even on Acela. Last year I took a free trip, Chicago to LA, in a Deluxe Bedroom for two days and nights (including meals) on The Southwest Chief for free! If I’d paid for the trip it would’ve cost more than $1000.

WEB RESOURCES: My favorite online resource for comparing air fares (as well as hotels and car rentals) is www.kayak.com, a Norwalk-based travel website. (In the interest of full-disclosure, they’re a consulting client of mine… but that’s not why I give them a plug.) Kayak shows you all the flights on all the airlines, not just a few, so you can prioritize by schedule, airport or fare.

What’s your favorite money-saving tip for travel? Drop me a line and I’ll share it with others. Just e-mail me at jim@mediatrainer.tv

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