Posts Tagged ‘fees’

How to Save Money Dining Out, Traveling or At Home


Whether you are on the road traveling or touring your own home town, dining out can be a real wallet drain. You are at more of a disadvantage when you are in new unfamiliar places with limited resources and in a rush. But you can still enjoy dining out without busting your budget even while traveling, vacationing, or touring your own town by simply keeping a few easy tips in mind.

 

A Hotel restaurant may be convenient, but… that little bistro or cafe down the block may be a far better value. For example, we randomly selected the Hilton Hotel on Ave. of the Americas in NYC. We checked the weekday breakfast menu at the New York MarketPlace Cafe. The full American Breakfast Buffet is $35 per person. The lowest priced item on the breakfast menu was $12 for granola with yogurt, berries and honey. At the Europa Cafe, just two blocks away, you won’t get the Hilton atmosphere, granted, but you’ll get a lot of local flavor and a spinach and cheddar cheese omelet with potatoes, toast, and coffee or tea for $7.53 – that’s a savings of $27.47 over the hotel cafe. Europa Cafe’s large homemade granola with yogurt and fruit is just $4.25 – which is a $7.75 savings over the New York MarketPlace Cafe.

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Hidden fees can appear on your dining tab. Before you pay or sign ask if a gratuity has already been added in. This applies anywhere, including in your own home town neighborhood. Some countries customarily add a gratuity in, or a “service charge”. Often a gratuity is included for larger parties of 6 or more. Ask your lodging hosts or hotel ahead of time how much of a tip is customary. Watch for extra platting charges for splitting an entre; it might be worth it to order something small and pack the extra to go, instead of incurring a $6 fee that you get nothing in return for. Ask before you order if they accept credit or debit cards, and if there is an extra surcharge for using them.

Ask your hosts or hotel if there are any specials, vouchers or coupons for restaurants.  However, when asking for a recommendation, keep in mind some concierges get kickbacks for sending you to pricy tourist traps so be sure to ask for their unbiased opinion and suggestions.

Some establishments may offer lower prices or freebies on certain holidays, or on specific days of the week, or during certain hours, like before 7:00 pm or after 9:00 pm. Check the specific restaurant you are interest in online for any current promotions, and also check online for coupons and specials at sites like Restaurants.com.

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Eat off the beaten path. Head for eateries in areas that outlie the more popular busy tourist centers. These restaurantuers livelyhoods depend on serving local residents and business people quality fresh regional dishes for reasonable prices daily, and that works in your favor.

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Street Food. This can be a great way to have a quick sample of local cuisine at a real bargain, but this can also be tricky.  You want to be sure the vendor is well equipped, hygienic, and the food is good quality and fresh.

Catch this video from a curbside cuisine expert for tips on how to do that:

Cook in. Of course, a big dining money saver is to prepare at least some of your own food. You can do this, even if you’re traveling.  Shop at local farmer’s markets or nearby grocery stores and prepare a picnic. Creating your own meal just once a day can easily save you $35 or more, per person, per day.

More money saving travel posts:

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Save Money on Travel Lodging, Hotels, Cruises

As the cost of travel continues to rise, the price of lodging can run up your expenses quicker than you can keep track of.  Even if you do secure a great price on a hotel room, consider that if you’re traveling with a family you may need more than one room. And the tally for dining, parking, tips, surcharges, phone, minibar, entertainment, sightseeing, and transportation… can really add up.

Hotels are masters of creating an environment where your value judgment can be quickly clouded. In this excerpt from an article by for Wired.com, “The Curse of Mental Accounting” author Jonah Lehrer addresses how this happens and the ways in which our assessment of worth can be easily manipulated:

Needless to say, mental accounting also explains my expensive internet connection. In the end, expensive hotels are able to charge insane amounts of money for Cheerios and wifi because these exorbitant charges get posted to the mental account of the hotel bill, which will be hundreds of dollars anyways. As a result, the charges don’t seem quite so crazy. (This also helps explain why cheap hotels are so much more likely to offer free internet and breakfast buffets. Sometimes, we get more when we pay less.)

If you plan a little ahead of time, and arm yourself with the knowledge of what to expect and the many approaches you can use to help bring those expenses into your control, you can have a wonderful time enjoying, dining, touring museums and historical sights, or just lounging and relaxing without paying astronomical prices to do it wherever your are staying.

The key is to think ahead about what your real desire is and what your real needs will be, and then follow the travel pointers and video tips we’ve assembled here from some of the best travel experts out there… and then go for it!

Lodging:

Hotels can be pricey, we all know this. The place to start is online. Compare prices and deals through sights like tripadvisor.com, hotels.com or cheapoair.com. After you find a few prices, check the hotel’s website for special offers. Then, check sites that offer promotional discount coupons like yeahtravel.com. or FabulousSavings.com And finally, call the specific hotel directly (not the central booking agency if you can avoid it, though it’s becoming more difficult to do this). You have a better chance at negotiating or receiving price-matching, perks or upgrades and securing more favorable cancellation terms when you speak directly to the hotel. Hotels can pay a commission of up to 30 percent to online booking sites, so ASK if they have a better deal than what you’ve found online or if they can match it.

Our number one top solid sure-fire way that consistently gets discounts, deals or extras on hotel stays is to simply ask. There are almost always discounts available, but they will not volunteer that information. However, if you ask, they are usually more than happy to try to accommodate  you. It will never do you harm to politely ask.

  • Ask the hotel directly if there are any specials or discounts available that you may not be aware of.
  • Ask if they accept membership discounts for organizations like AAA, AARP, veterans, seniors, frequent flyer loyalty programs, etc.
  • Mention that you’re a loyal customer if you have frequented the hotel or the chain before.
  • If the hotel has a loyalty program of their own, you may be entitled to receive a savings or promotional deal. If you are not a member, you can sign up on the phone when making a reservation or right then and there during check-in, and if it is free to join, you have nothing to lose.
  • If you’re at the front desk in person, either at check-in or checkout, and you are asking for special considerations you won’t get very far if you are inconsiderate with your request; ask quietly to avoid putting the agent “on the spot” when other guests are within earshot.
  • The hours between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. can be particularly busy for the reservation desk. It’s check-out time, and the agent may not be able to take the time to try to work with you, so try to avoid calling with special requests or attempting to negotiate between those hours when you can.
  • Some requests are better made at check-out, for example: it’s easier for an agent to remove Wi-Fi charges from your bill than it is to wave them in advance.
  • If you need more than one room, ask if they could give you a break.
  • Ask politely if an upgrade might be available, or if the parking might be included, etc.
  • Want a more spacious room without paying more? Request a corner room.

Bidding on a room can bring huge savings through websites like priceline.com, but we advise to use this only if you are familiar with the area where you will be staying, because it is not until after you confirm the non-refundable purchase, that you  find out which specific hotel you have purchased.

Get to know a new or unfamiliar location by searching websites like tripadvisor.com which offer user reviews and photos. But don’t rule out travel agents. They will often be your best bet for accurate information as well as inside deals.

“Ask for Unpublished Rates” says GetARoom.com founder Bob Diener. He suggests to call the hotel directly and ask for the “Unpublished Rate,” which can save you 20% or more.

You can avoid many extra hotel fees. Be aware that  there are many items that may incur a fee which you may not have been informed of. Ask at check-in for an itemized list of everything they may charge you for, for example: daily newspaper delivery or an extra bed or crib.

Minibar expensescan add up quickly. Some minibars are equipped with a sensor, and you end up with a charge when an item is simply moved – even if you don’t use the item. Find out first before you check-in if that’s the case for your hotel.  Better yet, ask them to remove the mini bar contents and any other “offers” that look like they are “gifts” but aren’t, like that bottle of wine or water, the bag of snacks, or the enticing “gift basket” sitting on the counter. You can even request this to be done before you arrive.

Ask the hotel for a referral to a nearby grocery store, and supply your own snacks and drinks at a fraction of what the hotel charges.

Hotel videos and DVD rentals steep prices can be a drain, especially if you’re traveling with kids. Try renting from a nearby shop for far less.

Hotel Alternatives:

Staying in a home can be a real money saver.You get to experience a location as a resident would, an enriching addition to any travel experience. You can prepare your own meals and snacks and dine in sometimes. A family can be together without needing to secure separate or additional room rentals. Friends can all stay together and share expenses. Deposits are usually required, but would be refunded after your stay if there has been no property damage. Catch the video from the Better Business Bureau for safety pointers.

  • Rent a house or a condo. Home owners list their homes, vacation homes, or timeshares for rent.  Some resources: homeaway.com, vrbo.com, resortquest.com, and interhomeusa.com.
  • Home Swap. If you are a renter or owner of a house, condo, yacht, villa, apartment  or RV consider a home swap, or staying in a home as a guest. Often a vehicle is included in the swap. You pay nothing more than the membership fee.  Some resources:  homeexchange.com charges a minimum enrollment of three months which runs about $47.85.  homelink.org offers a yearly membership fee of about $119.00.
  • House Sitting. If you don’t have a home to swap, it is still possible to stay for free by house sitting. Seasoned traveler Nora Dunn writes about her house sitting experiences for CareOne Debt Services blog and lists three house sitting job listing Web sites.

Smaller sometimes is better. Consider a smaller hotel, pensione or bed and breakfast, ranch, or guest house. Many are privately owned and operated with detailed and friendly pride. They are usually less expensive than a major hotel chain or resort. Often a meal is included. A resource: BedandBreakfast.com.

And, even smaller: Micro Hotels. Ultra small hotels are popping up all over. Typically these offer very, very tiny paired-down rooms, with starting rates as low as $75 a night.  When they began showing up they were often geared toward the younger traveler, but with the growing budget-savvy trend for travelers, there are now many “luxury micro” hotels emerging which provide luxurious amenities. If you aren’t going to be spending much time in your room anyway, this option can offer you tremendous savings. Do an online search using the term “micro hotel” and you’ll find many. A few examples: NYC’s The Pod and The Jane. NiteNite is in London. Yotel, is in London, Amsterdam and just opened in Times Square in NYC, Spring 2011.

Location, think outside the perimeter. If your vacation plans are taking you to one of those popular busy tourist spots or attractions, try this: find your destination city on the map, but before booking your hotel there, check for outlying areas and towns a short distance from that spot. The hotel, dining and shopping rates may be considerably less, but you’ll still be very close to where you want to tour.

A word about all inclusive and Cruises:

All inclusive destinations or cruises can often be a bargain, not only in price but if you’re looking for just about as “worry free” a time as you can get, this is probably your best bet. However, it pays to plan ahead, and that also includes all inclusive vacations. There can be many pitfalls and there are always hidden costs. Find out before you go exactly which services and products are included in the “all inclusive” fare, and which will run up extra charges, like salon and spa visits, top shelf drinks, higher end restaurants, and yes, even disembarking charges. And be advised that port-of-call tours provided by the cruise line are “offered” at premium high-end prices compared to local tour operators you could secure on your own.

More travel money saving articles:

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New Credit Card Rules – A Better Game?

Credit cards are tricky enough, but now new rules have gone into effect that will impact your credit card use, billing dates, fees, fines, spending limits, and interest rates. Our Finance, Credit, Budgeting channel has among it’s inventory, the six short videos featured below that give great pointers on how these changes affect you and what you need to know to stay on top of the game. There is controversy over the effectiveness of these new rules and whether they provide more protection to consumers or not. We’ll be interested to hear your experiences with the new changes.

Credit Cards: New Rules – FBN

Credit Cards: The New Rules - CBS Early Show

New Credit Card Bill, What it Means for You – Money Talks

New Credit Card Rules – What to Do BEFORE they take effect - Laura Rowley

New Credit Card Rules Guide - Ron Lieber, NY Times

New Credit Card Bill of Rights – Bloomberg News

And for more in-depth information on credit, we’ve made available  in it’s entirety PBS’ FRONTLINE TV special: The Card Game: Wizards of Consumer Lending

And also a re-posting of their associated blog post, We Bring You: FRONTLINE’s “The Card Game”.

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Last Minute Gift Card? Check This First!

The Gift Card: the ultimate last minute holiday (or any day) gift. Practical, versatile, always appreciated, and no strings attached — not!  There may be strings, and you and your gift recipient may not even be aware of them.  If you’re considering giving gift cards at all, please see this short video first.

Do Gift Cards Have Fees? - Important information from financial rate and personal finance specialists, BankRate.com.

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We Bring You: FRONTLINE’S “The Card Game”

SpendLessTV.com is pleased to be bringing our viewers “The Card Game” Wizards of Consumer Lending” which originally aired, on PBS,on Novebmer 24, 2009.

FRONTLINE and The New York Times have teamed up to create a program covering the consumer credit business . New government regulations and new guidelines are coming, and along with those, banks will offer customers new incentives, terms, and products. From exploring the evolution of the business, to exposing their manipulative tactics, to arming consumers with insight to avoid potential new credit pitfalls, this program is not-to-be missed.

“Investigating the massive consumer loan industry and what’s ahead for consumers and banks — a FRONTLINE-New York Times co-production.”

View the video: The Card Game: Wizards of Consumer Lending

Below is a re-print of  PBS followup pointers: Seven Things To KNow About “The Card Game”.  We are bringing this to you here for your convenience, and because we feel the information is so vital. For further information, interviews and background analysis, visit The Card Game website.

Seven Things To Know About “The Card Game”

1. Cardholders Have New Protections

The Credit CARD Act of 2009 curtails many of the most abusive practices. New rules must take effect by February 2010:

• no retroactive rate hikes;

• statements must be mailed 21 days before payment due date;

• payment dates can’t suddenly be shifted;

• statements must say how long it will take to pay off balances and the total interest costs if paying just the monthly minimum;

• 45 days notice required for changes in terms and conditions.

For debit cards — now more popular than credit cards — the Federal Reserve issued new rules (effective summer 2010) on overdraft fees. So have some large banks:

• card issuers can’t charge fees for debit card overdrafts at stores and ATMs unless the cardholder has agreed;

• some large banks (see list) are limiting the number of debit card overdraft fees that can be charged in a day, and changing other policies.

2. Fee Traps Are Still Out There

The new rules and policies do not cover

• the tricks in late fees;

• fees involving prepaid debit cards;

• inactivity fees, foreign exchange fees, gift cards, etc. Read the full list.

In addition, there’s no ceiling on interest rates nor on penalty/service fees for debit, credit and prepaid cards. And small business credit cards aren’t covered by the new regulations; their credit limits are being slashed.

Warning to consumers: Stay vigilant. The banks are scrambling to get ahead of the new regulations coming in 2010. Watch out for higher interest rates, old annual fees returning and other tactics.

3. Credit Unions — A Better Borrowing Option?

Here’s a Q&A on how they work and pros and cons in turning to them for credit/debit cards. One “pro”– a 18 percent interest rate cap at credit unions that are federally chartered.

You might want to check out the credit unions near you, and read some helpful tips about them from New York Times reporter Ron Lieber.

4. Be Careful About Those “Free” Credit Scores

It sounds like a good idea, but you could be signing up to get a monthly bill.

5. Interchange Fees Are Part of “The Card Game,” Too

Merchants say they’re hurting because of the 1.8 percent they must pay on every credit/debit card transaction in order to have payments cleared by the bank. The issue is pitting retailers against banks and interchange fees could be facing tougher regulation.

6. Compare Cards/Best Terms

The New York Times’ Ron Lieber offers advice if you’re interested in changing credit cards in these tough times. And a good site for comparing benefits, particularly for reward cards, is fatwallet.com.

7. More Changes Are Coming and There Will Be Winners and Losers

Pending federal legislation could put far more regulation on consumer credit. The hottest debate is over a new consumer protection agency.

Meanwhile, the landscape for the consumer has fundamentally changed — it’s simply harder to get a loan of any kind of loan and consumers are being called on to be more responsible in making financial decisions.

As for the banks, experts like Shailesh Mehta, who as CEO of Providian helped turn the card business into a multibillion-dollar bonanza, believes banks will always figure out how to comply with the new rules and yet still outsmart the regulators.

Link to this article: http://is.gd/GbHH87


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