My wife and I are planning an extended vacation that includes hotel stays for about three weeks. While I know some tricks of the trade, what tips can you offer to help me save money and to protect us and our belongings? Terrance Travel
Dear Mr. Travel: You're a smart cookie to be thinking ahead about protection in many areas. With the aid of Bottom Line Personal, I can offer suggestions to help you along your traveling way. Let's start with hotels and how to save a buck or two.
Always call the hotel's local number rather than its toll-free one. Further, ask to speak with the manager on duty or the general manager, both of whom have the wherewithal to negotiate rates. Sometimes you can get a better price by checking online with Expedia or Hotels.com. But what happens if the hotel you like best has no vacancies? The truth of the matter is they usually do, even if advertised differently. Many large hotels list some rooms as "out of order."
This term defines a room that has a stain on the carpet, for example, or a chair has been sent out for repairs; nothing really is wrong with the room. Tell the manager you're willing to take an out of order room that has only a minor problem (and find out what that problem is). You may be able to negotiate a better rate, since the room would otherwise sit empty.
Some folks travel with fine jewelry, and most of us carry more than one credit card. Both need protection. Accomplished thieves have some tricks that we really need to watch for. For instance, a smart thief takes only one credit card from your wallet, rather than the whole kit and caboodle. (You won't miss a single one quite as quickly, which gives Tom Thief the chance to shop till he drops.) The answer is to travel with one card -- perhaps the Mrs. has a separate one -- and check your wallet all along.
Most hotels have either a front desk or an in-room combination safe. Use it. Jewelry, cash, traveler's checks, passports or anything valuable should be locked up on a daily basis rather than carrying it all on your person.
Watch your bags. Even in elite hotels, bags can be stolen right off the luggage cart with the bellhop standing right there, AND the hotel assumes no legal responsibility for the loss. If your bags will sit for more than a few minutes, ask the bellhop to place them in a secure room until he's ready to take them to your own room. (Be sure to tip him accordingly.) Also, high-end luggage may tempt a robber so be sure to leave the good stuff at home. The older and less attractive the suitcase, the more likely the chance a thief will pass it by and target someone else.
n Tax Tip: Charitable donations are always a good source for deductions. Even working in a soup kitchen, for example, is deductible. Write off the miles to and from; expenses, such as buying plastic bowls and spoons; ingredients; and so forth. Just remember you can't put a value on your time volunteering.
Ellen Phillips is a retired English teacher who has written two consumer-oriented books. Her Consumer Watch column appears every Saturday.