Where to Celebrate the New Year in the United States

newyears-destinations_coverAs a diverse population of over 300 million people, Americans embrace a variety of traditions and beliefs during the holiday season, from Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa to Festivus, ChrisFSMas, and more.  One holiday that the vast majority of us recognize, if only because the calendar forces us to do so, is New Year’s Day — and its lead-in, New Year’s Eve.  Of course, the proper way to mark the transition from one year to the next can be as personal a decision as the December holidays are.  If you’re still trying to determine where to celebrate the New Year, here are a few locations you might want to consider, depending on what your interests and desires may be.

New York Citynewyears-destinations_nyc

One of the things “the city that never sleeps” is known for is its televised Times Square ball-drop, which rings in the New Year in millions of homes throughout the Eastern time zone.  Spending New Year’s Eve in Times Square is a popular bucket-list item, though, so if loud, boisterous crowds are on your agenda, try to get there early; revelers start staking out the best spots on the morning of December 31.  (Fortunately, there are dozens of other entertainment options in the area if you’d prefer a roof over your head that night.)

Pasadena, California

Looking for a warmer clime (and a longer tradition) than Times Square offers?  Try the Pasadena Tournament of Roses® Parade, which celebrates its 126th year with an “Inspiring Stories” theme.  You’ll have to buy a ticket if you want to sit in the grandstand, but you can save money simply by watching the festivities from the sidewalk.  After the parade, football fans will want to head to the Rose Bowl for the first-ever FBS College Football Playoff game, which kicks off at 2:10 pm PT.  This semifinal match-up features #2 Oregon and #3 Florida State.

Key West, Floridanewyears-destinations_keys

If you’re not looking for tradition, large crowds, or hoopla, head to the southern-most spot in the continental United States.  Whether you’re looking for a romantic getaway, an eccentric gathering, or just some time alone, Key West offers a variety of events, sites, and sights to help you contemplate (or forget) the last 365 days and get ready for the coming year.

Estes Park, Colorado

If you’d rather embrace the cold than escape from it, try Estes Park, where you’ll find plenty of New Year’s activities, as well as all sorts of winter fun.  Its location in Rocky Mountain National Park provides an abundance of outdoor adventures to help you kick off 2015 in style — skiing, sledding, tubing, snowmobiling, and more.

Travel Plus

Earn 5% cash back on your New Year’s airline, hotel, and rental-car reservations by making them through Travel Plus.  You’ll also enjoy cash-back rebates on a variety of flight, hotel, and rental-car perks that will help your 2015 budget.  With Travel Plus, you can save on all your travel needs.

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How to (Diplomatically) Ask Travel Guests to Leave

travelguests_coverWe tend to connect travel costs with our own trips out of town.  Sometimes, though, such costs show up unexpectedly on our doorsteps, in the form of people who violate Ben Franklin’s maxim about houseguests, overstay their welcomes in our homes, and lower their own expenses by transferring them to their hosts’ budgets.  As a public service, we therefore offer a few tips on how to (diplomatically) ask unwanted travel guests to leave.  (Please note:  These suggestions aren’t guaranteed to work.  In fact, you really should review your specific state’s laws on houseguests before letting them into your home.)

Stop treating them like guests.  travelguests_dishesThe longer someone stays in your home, the more that person becomes a part of the family (or an unofficial tenant).  Just as you expect your children to do household chores to earn their allowance, ask unwelcome visitors to work (and/or pay) for their accommodations.  One potential drawback (beyond the possibility of creating an implicit pay-to-stay agreement):  Once your guests start chipping in for privileges, they may expect better service.  You might avoid this by assigning them particularly unenviable, unenjoyable chores.

Stop acting like a host(ess).  Most of us behave differently when guests are around.  Our ingrained living habits — casual clothes around the house, dinner in front of the TV, milk gulped straight out of the container — often vanish, at least temporarily.  Go back to your preferred lifestyle:  Play your favorite music whenever you want, catch up on TV shows according to your own desires and schedule, fix single-serving (or strictly family-size) meals, and tell your guests they’re on their own.

travelguests_walkingMake yourself unavailable.  Even the rudest guests might find it difficult to justify staying in your home if you suddenly got sick or had to go away.  (Don’t accept their offer to look after you or your house.  If necessary, tell them you have a long-time nursing/house-sitting arrangement with someone who owns a Doberman pinscher that doesn’t like strangers.)  If your guests don’t take the hint, start packing your bags or exhibiting uncomfortable signs of illness, and shoo them out as you go along.

Show them the (hotel) door.  If you can afford it, pay for a night at a local hotel, tell your guests it’s non-refundable, and present the offer in a way that makes it hard to decline (e.g., “I really can’t recommend this hotel highly enough” or “you’d be doing me a huge favor”).

Be honest.  If worse comes to worst, the truth can set you free.  Tell your guests you need to get back to your previous life — the one you enjoyed before they arrived.

Houseguests who refuse to leave can take an unexpected bite out of your household finances.  To stretch your travel budget as far as possible, try Travel Plus, where you’ll earn 5% cash back on flight, hotel, and rental-car reservations, as well as rebates on a wide range of travel perks.  Happy trails (and please remember to go home at a reasonable time)!

How to Save on Valentine’s Weekend Getaways

valentines_mainAs virtually every woman knows (and as anyone in a committed relationship with such a woman would do well to remember), Valentine’s Day arrives annually on February 14.  This year, it falls on a Friday, which offers an enticing possibility (or a daunting challenge, depending on your viewpoint):  Wooing your partner with a perfectly-timed romantic weekend excursion.  Assuming you want to celebrate on the road, here are a few tips on how to save on Valentine’s weekend getaways.

Make sure your partner is good to go.  This is the first tip for good reason:  If you splurge on all of the frills and extras of an amorous vacation without checking your partner’s availability beforehand, you may very well lose your entire investment.  Appealing travel deals are frequently non-refundable, so be sure your partner’s schedule is clear (and your relationship is solid) before taking any financial plunge.

valentines_savingSet — and stick to — a budget.  Love may know no boundaries, but credit cards and bank accounts have well-defined limits.  Determine how much you can afford to spend — on everything: travel, accommodations, dining, activities, and whatever else you might want to offer —  and don’t exceed that limit.  (If it helps, Americans earmarked $239, on average, for 2013 Valentine’s Day signs of affection.)  If your partner really loves you, the amount you spend on your Valentine’s Day trip won’t be nearly as important as the thought, effort, and tender, loving care you put into planning the outing.

Check around the corner.  You don’t have to travel far to find a lovers’ locale.  A simple change of scenery may be all you need to set the proper romantic mood.  Especially if you already live in or near a popular vacation destination, search for affordable B&Bs or other places to stay in the area that can lend an air of “escape” to your weekend plans.

Find seclusion (and savings) in off-season sites.  It’s wintertime, so most of the popular summer destinations in the north are fairly deserted.  This can be great news for the romantically inclined:  Room rates are usually as low as they ever get; even the best restaurants aren’t fully booked; and any cold, inclement weather that might roll in will provide a fabulous reason (should you need another one) to hunker down and cuddle up in the warm confines of a cozy bed.

Delay gratification.  Anticipation can be sexy.  If you want to treat your loved one to a romantic trip but can’t afford it quite yet, try the next-best thing:  A promise to take that trip down the road.  Wrap it up in a pretty bow (figuratively or literally), then spend your Valentine evening exploring the possibilities.

valentines_envelopeIf you want to save on a Valentine’s getaway this year, you can earn 5% cash back on flight, hotel, and car reservations while enjoying rebates on all sorts of enjoyable travel perks as a Travel Plus member.  Tell us in the Comments section where you plan to go this Valentine’s weekend.

Money-Saving Travel Tips: How to Save on Hotel Rooms

hotel_roomThe holiday season is one of the busiest travel periods of the year.  If you’re hitting the road this December, you’ll generally have two choices:  Stay with friends or family members, or book a hotel room nearby.  The first option will lower your travel expenses; the second option offers more day-to-day freedom but increases your trip costs.  Still, flexibility is a valuable travel asset, so if you choose (or need to use) the second option, here are a few tips on how to save on hotel rooms.

Book in advance.  If you haven’t already reserved a room, it may be too late (depending on the popularity of your destination), so get cracking now.  As availability dwindles, prices tend to rise, so the earlier you try to lock in a room, the more options you’ll have on accommodations and rates.

lastminKeep an eye out for last-minute deals.  This may seem to fly in the face of the first tip, but when hotels get late cancellations, those empty rooms aren’t generating income, and even a relatively low price beats nothing.  If you have refundable reservations at one hotel, it never hurts to check last-minute prices at local hotels.  You might luck into a more affordable rate at another inn.

Contact your destination hotel directly.  The big chains have central customer service departments that handle reservations made via their 800 numbers.  Calling the hotel in your desired locale allows you to speak with a manager who will know more about site-specific deals, recent cancellations, or even events in the local area that could drive up demand (and rates) during your desired travel dates.  Be sure to check in periodically prior to your arrival date; you may be able to obtain better terms if rates drop after you’ve booked your room.

hotelcontact

Compare hotel prices and travel dates.  You should always research local rates, of course, but you should also consider using one hotel’s price as an opening bid to negotiate a better deal at a nearby hotel.  In addition, if you’re able to move your travel dates a day or two (or, better yet, a month or two) in either direction, you might be able to enjoy significant savings on your stay.

Connect through social media.  Many hotels are using social platforms to communicate with travelers.  Using Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, or other channels to follow your chosen hotel(s) through social media can help you score special discounts and upgrades.

Get with the programs.  Most hotels offer discounts to regular customers through loyalty programs, which are typically free to join.  Sign up with as many complimentary programs as you can — and look into special deals that might be available for free via your credit card issuer, your airline, or even your employer.

One sure way to save on hotel rooms is to book them through Travel Plus — you can earn 5% cash back and claim rebates on a variety of hotel services.  Happy travels!

Money-Saving Travel Tips: How to Save on Rental Cars

winter_trafficAs the holiday season ramps up, so do highway traffic numbers.  Most of these drivers are heading somewhere for Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, or New Year’s Eve, and quite a few of them are renting cars to reach those destinations.  (The holidays are typically one of the busiest rental-car periods of the year.)  If your holiday plans this year include car reservations, here are a few tips on how to save on rental cars:

Book early.  The law of supply and demand states that prices rise in response to high demand.  As the holidays near, the rental-car supply will dwindle.  Not only will you have fewer models to choose from, you’ll also pay more for the privilege.

Search for deals.  From online coupons to discount codes, from credit-card arrangements to corporate rates, you can find rental-car savings if you know where to look.  Be sure to compare and contrast rates and offers from every rental-car agency in your given area.

fineprintRead the fine print.  Just because a rental-car ad says “$20 per day” doesn’t mean you’ll only pay $20 a day.  Extra charges and hidden fees can turn what looked like the best available deal into one of the most expensive ones.

Book only what you need.  Larger vehicles may offer more space, but they cost more, too, not just in per-day rates but in fuel charges.  Smaller cars generally get better gas mileage, and they also have smaller tanks, which makes fill-ups more affordable.  Plus, compacts are one of the most popular choices, so they might all be taken by pick-up time, which could lead to a free upgrade.

Pay for your own gas.  Rental-car agencies are happy to fill the gas tank for you, a courtesy that doesn’t come cheaply:  Their per-gallon charges are typically much higher than the price you’d pay at the pump yourself.  Make sure that, when you return the rental car, the gas-gauge needle is in the exact same spot it was when you drove the car off the lot.

car_rental_signAvoid airport pick-ups.  Rates are usually less expensive if you pick up your rental car in town or at other locations that don’t ask you to pay “airport fees” or other convenience charges.

Skip the rental insurance if you can.  If you already own a car, your auto insurance policy probably covers rental cars, too; call your insurance company to confirm.  If you don’t have auto insurance, your credit card issuer may very well offer rental insurance when you use your card to pay for your rental car; again, call to confirm.  Only if you’re not covered elsewhere should you consider purchasing insurance from the rental-car company.

One final way to save on rental cars is to book yours through Travel Plus.  You’ll earn 5% cash back on your reservation, along with rebates on rental-car services, including equipment rentals, additional drivers, late returns, and more.  Wherever you’re going over the holidays, travel safely!

Top U.S. Vacation Destinations in November

november_carThe vast majority of travel in November revolves around Thanksgiving trips and reunions of families and friends, so U.S. vacation destinations in November tend to cater to holiday celebrants.  If you’re looking for places to go and/or things to do that can energize your travel plans — including one destination that has nothing to do with Turkey Day but provides fun for the whole family — read on.

New York City.  november_nycMacy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, perhaps the most famous display of floats in the world, attracts 3 million people along the route and another 50 million who tune in to catch some of the broadcast.  If parades aren’t your idea of fun, New York in November also stages the ING New York City Marathon, the New York Comedy Festival, and the Radio City Christmas Spectacular, among other events.

NFL games on Thanksgiving Day.  This season’s slate of traditional Thanksgiving fare offers three exciting contests, whether you attend in person or watch on TV:

  • Green Bay at Detroit.  Save for the 1939-44 seasons, Detroit has held a holiday game every year since 1934.  This year, the Lions take on their NFC North foes, the Green Bay Packers, at Ford Field at 12:30 (Fox), in what could be a pivotal step in the division title race.
  • Oakland at Dallas.  Dallas, which has hosted a Thanksgiving game in all but two seasons since 1966, welcomes the Oakland Raiders to AT&T Stadium in the 4:30 game (CBS).  The Raiders may be playing for an AFC wild-card berth at best, but the Cowboys have a shot at winning the weak NFC East this season.
  • Pittsburgh at Baltimore.  The Steelers travel to Charm City to face the Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium in an AFC North matchup at 8:30 (NBC).  The Steelers have been struggling this season, and the defending Super Bowl champion Ravens aren’t overpowering many teams, but this has been the fiercest rivalry in the NFL over the last decade.

The Colorado Rockies.  Savvy skiers are eager to take advantage of the relatively sparse number of mountain-goers over Thanksgiving weekend.  From Aspen to Vail, from Breckenridge to Steamboat, and everywhere in between, skiers and snowboarders can shred the steep vertical drops at Colorado ski resorts in November while navigating smaller-than-usual crowds.

november_rockies

Union City, Tennessee.  Discovery Park of America, located three hours west of Nashville, is scheduled to open on November 1 and will likely become a popular attraction year-round.  It will feature simulations of the area’s 1811-12 earthquakes; an “interactive starship theatre”; a 20,000-gallon aquarium; a 48-foot model of the human body (including a slide in its leg); and a wide range of natural and historical artifacts across the 50-acre complex.

Regardless of your November vacation destination, you can earn 5% cash back on flight, hotel, and rental-car reservations, along with rebates on travel perks, through Travel Plus.  Click here for additional tips on how to save on Thanksgiving travel, and let us know in Comments where you’re celebrating Thanksgiving this year.

Money-Saving Travel Tips: How to Save on Thanksgiving Travel

thanksgiving_travelNow that nights have turned chilly again, fall foliage has started moving south, and footballs are filling the air every weekend, it’s high time (if not past time) to make Thanksgiving travel plans.  Contrary to popular belief, Thanksgiving weekend may not be the busiest time of year to travel, but it can still feel that way when you’re crawling through a traffic jam or a backed-up airport security line.  Of course, if you don’t plan ahead, you won’t have to worry about busy airports, because you won’t have a flight to catch (unless you’re “lucky” enough to find a high-priced, last-minute seat).  To help relieve at least some of the financial burdens of your holiday trip, here are a few tips on how to save on Thanksgiving travel:

  • Make your reservations ASAP.  The (fairly) early booker gets the best holiday rates — and the best seats.  Unless you’re willing to risk being wedged into a middle seat between, say, a chronic snorer and someone who thinks good hygiene is highly overrated, the benefits of choosing your own seat can be huge — especially if you need to make a connecting flight.thanksgiving_travel_off-fly-days
  • Fly on “off” days.  Evidence and popular opinion suggest that the day before Thanksgiving is the single busiest travel day of the year.  It’s certainly a high-demand day, and high demand means high prices.  You’ll find lower airfares the weekend before Thanksgiving Day and the Friday, Saturday, and Tuesday following it.  (In fact, some of the cheapest fares might be available on Thanksgiving Day itself.)  If you have some flexibility, extend your stay — or cut it short.
  • Compare prices at different airports.  If you’re flying into or out of a big city, you may have multiple airport, airline, and airfare options.  Skip the closest airport if you can save good money by driving an extra half-hour.
  • Drive instead of flying.  Gas prices often peak in the summer, when more families hit the road for vacations, and prices at the pump have been dropping recently.  There’s no guarantee that they won’t increase again around Thanksgiving, but depending on your destination, the cost of driving may still end up below airfare costs.  (Just be careful out there; Thanksgiving is one of the three most dangerous driving holidays.)thanksgiving-transportation
  • Consider alternative transportation.  Take the train, commuter van, or bus to the plane to save on parking fees, or take the train or bus all the way to your destination.  Rail and bus fares for shorter trips tend to be more reasonable than airfare (or rental cars, for that matter), and children usually travel for less.

Thanksgiving weekend kicks off the holiday season (quite literally this year:  Hanukkah begins at sunset on the day before Thanksgiving), so it’s critical to find ways to save on your Thanksgiving travel plans.  To earn 5% cash back on reservations and additional rebates on travel conveniences, be sure to check out Travel Plus.  And wherever you’re going for Turkey Day, travel safely (and dine well)!