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Friday, December 19, 2014
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Published: Sunday, 3/12/2000

Travel coupons drive her to distraction

Travel is educational. It's fun. It's the thing to do when you're on vacation from work. It's an interest to expand when you retire and have more time to travel but less money.

If you believe all that Irish blarney, you are probably also stashing discount coupons that are regularly found in the envelopes with your credit card bills. Placing hope in coupons, whether they are for deals on rental cars, hotels, or airline travel, is like gambling. You think you will win, but chances are you end up the loser.

After extensive travel over several years, I have decided to settle on this slogan: Just pay the price and forget about trying to cut costs through coupons.

With the new attitude, I won't have to scratch around in the left hand drawer of the sideboard, looking for the coupon that offers anything from a 30 per cent discount to an upgrade to a free room.

I won't have to remember to add the coupons to my luggage in the unlikely event that just one from the pack may be honored.

Best of all, I won't have to stand at a car rental or hotel registration counter with what I believe is a qualifying discount brochure, only to be embarrassed as I hold up the line of customers behind me while begging for what is stated on the coupon.

My decision to abandon travel savings coupons - including those with four-color artwork of exotic faraway places and full size automobiles - came after a recent West Coast sojourn.

After a flight from Los Angeles to San Francisco that had been delayed, and put in a 20-minute holding pattern because of traffic congestion high in the sky, I had to take a $30 cab ride to the hotel, where I had a two-night reservation.

So I wasn't in the best of moods. It got worse at the registration desk.

Because the airline ticket included two money-saving hotel offers, I had asked about them when I called for the reservation. One was that if you pay one night, the second night is free. The other offer was 25 per cent off. It was agreed when I made the reservation that when I registered the discount would be handled. Of course, we never think to find out the name of the person we spoke to when making a reservation.

At the registration desk, I was told immediately that the hotel never had a buy-one-get-one-free special, but they would honor the 25 per cent discount.

"But let's see which is the cheaper for you, " the clerk said. As it turned out, the 25 per cent was only allowed on the $289 rooms that are designated as corporate, which would bring a $289 room to $217. At the clerk's suggestion I was money ahead just paying the regular $199 room rate.

I considered tearing the coupon into bits and stomping on them on the shiny marble floor. Is there a difference in the size or quality of the rooms? I asked. No, he said.

I mentioned that if he were on the other side of the counter he might agree that it was a rip-off, but no comment came from the immaculately groomed man. I took the $199 room and for about two seconds actually thought it was a bargain.

The key line on hotel discount coupons is "at participating hotels." It's amazing how many units within the same chain are not participants in a discount offering. More than once I have waved my membership card when checking into one hotel chain, only to be told at that particular unit a discount is not given.

Despite a longtime membership in the chain's discount club, it just never seems to be available at the inns where I stop.

Car-rental coupons are often disappointing too. No matter how diligently we hang on to coupons that offer a size upgrade for an automobile, a free day on weekends, or a discount for the rental period, it just never seems to work. out. The best bet, generally, is an AAA or AARP card, which have a higher recognition rate.

My most recent battle with a car rental agency was a disagreement over a $50 drop charge in Los Angeles, because I was told in San Diego there wouldn't be an added cost.

I won that one. The $50 was subtracted from the total.

Mary Alice Powell is a former Blade food editor.



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