Savings

Important Changes to Hotel Cancellation Policies

Three major hotel chains have changed their cancellation policies over the summer. The changes were rolled out rather suddenly and with very little to no notice. We've certainly had plans change at the last minute or flights cancelled, and it's good to know one's options in these situations. The changes only affect new reservations, though they are worth remembering when booking hotels either with cash or points in the future. 

IHG -Changed from 6:00 p.m. day of cancellation (local time to hotel) to current language that shows 24 hours cancellation; currently it's very vague from IHG as to when the 24 hour mark is measured. Some regions like China will still continue to have same-day cancellations.

Hilton- Changed from 24 hours to 48 - 72 hours. Check your exact time at booking, the Hilton website will display the cutoff time for free cancellation. Most properties are going to 48 hours, a few will have the (more draconian) 72 hour policy.

Marriott- Changed from one day to two days. You used to be able to cancel up until midnight (hotel local time) the day before your arrival. Now, you'll need to do so at least two days by midnight in advance.

H/T to Travelweekly

One Way Car Rentals are Back!

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Like the swallows returning to San Juan Capistrano Mission, the rental cars must return to Florida for the winter. To help out this yearly migration, Hertz is once again offering one of the greatest travel deals in the USA, the $5 a day one way car rental.

A one way car rentals usually runs around $80-$150 a day, so this is a great deal if you're interested in road-tripping from one of select cities on the east coast down to select cities in Florida, for a fraction of what this journey usually costs. This is a phenomenal opportunity to drive the 469 miles of the Blue Ridge Parkway and to see Shenandoah National Park during peak fall foliage season, without doubling back to your starting point, as the Parkway ends less than a 7 hour drive from both the Jacksonville and Tallahassee airports.

Florida airports in which you will have to drop off the car:

Miami International Airport (MIA) - Miami, FL
Tallahassee International Airport (TLH) - Tallahassee, FL
Jacksonville International Airport (JAX) - Jacksonville, FL
Lauderdale International Airport (FLL) – Ft. Lauderdale, FL
Ft. Myers Southwest International Airport (RSW) – Ft. Myers, FL
Orlando International Airport (MCO) – Orlando, FL
Palm Beach International Airport (PBI) – West Palm Beach, FL
Sarasota Bradenton Airport (SRQ) – Sarasota, FL
Tampa International Airport (TPA) – Tampa, FL

Dates for Pick Up and Pickup Locations:

09/04/2017 – 12/10/2017

Albany International Airport (ALB) – Albany, NY
Syracuse Hancock Airport (SYR) – Syracuse, NY
Yeager Airport (CRW) – Charleston, WV
Buffalo Niagara International Airport (BUF) – Buffalo, NY
Greater Rochester International Airport (ROC) – Rochester, NY

10/10/2017 – 12/10/2017

Ronald Reagan National Airport (DCA) - Washington DC
Islip MacArthur Airport (ISP) – Islip, NY
Portland International Jetport(PWM) - Portland, ME
Philadelphia International Airport (PHL) – Philadelphia, PA
T F Green Airport (PVD) – Providence, RI
Norfolk Airport Counter (ORF) – Norfolk, VA
Baltimore Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI) – Baltimore, MD
Boston Logan International Airport (BOS) – Boston, MA
Bradley International Airport (BDL) – Hartford, CT
Burlington Airport (BTV) – Burlington, VT
Dulles International Airport (IAD) – Dulles, VA
New York City JFK Airport (JFK) – New York City, NY
New York City LaGuardia Airport (LGA) – New York City, NY
Newark International Airport (EWR) – Newark, NJ
Pittsburgh International Airport (PIT) – Pittsburgh, PA
Richmond International Airport (RIC) – Richmond, VA
Westchester County Airport (HPN) – White Plains, NY
Blacksburg Regional Airport (ROA) - Roanoke, VA

10/23/2017 – 12/10/2017
Raleigh-Durham International Airport (RDU) – Raleigh, NC
Douglas International Airport - (CLT) Charlotte, NC

Official Hertz page is here

"Back to School" Shopping Portal Bonuses

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Four of the major airline shopping portals are running what has become a yearly “back to school” promotion. It’s a great time to get some easy bonus miles, by shopping now for items that you’ve planned to purchase for fall. Use these four portals for your everyday online shopping. If you’re interested in learning more about shopping portals, take a look at our quick guide here. We use them as a way to get extra miles buying things we’d otherwise purchase.

Here’s a quick run what’s available on the portals, with most of the deals good until August 18th, except for Delta's bonus which ends on August 3. See below for the details on each airline's offering.

Southwest

American

United

Delta

You could end up with 8,000 bonus miles if you maxed out the promos, these are on top of the miles you are already earning through the portal and also on top of the miles from your credit card. It's a triple dip!

Banner image, Weir Farm National Historic Site, by Derek Wright.

Canada's National Parks are Free in 2017

It’s Canada’s 150th birthday next year, and Parks Canada is hosting quite a celebration. All are invited to check out Canada's majestic national parks for FREE! Yes, the Canadian government is waiving admissions throughout 2017 to all national parks, historic sites, and marine conservation areas operated by Parks Canada. A uniform entry fee for each park is typically $9.80 per person or $19.60 per family. Each adult must purchase his or her own Discovery Pass at $67.70 per person, or $136.40 for a family pass. (Luckily, Parks Canada considers a family as up to 7 people in a car.)

It’s going to be a popular year for Parks Canada — the website to order the Discovery Pass crashed hours after it launched at the start of December. Fear not, though, as beginning on January 1, passes will also be available at park entry gates and visitor centers, as well as at Parks Canada partners like Mountain Equipment Co-op. And, there’s no limit in terms of the number of passes Parks Canada will hand out. You can order more than one pass and there are no shipping fees or credit card information required. A pass can be shipped to anywhere in the world. Click here to order.

We also think this is very exciting: "Beginning in 2018, Parks Canada will ensure that admission for children under 18 is free, and provide any adult who has become a Canadian citizen in the previous 12 months one year's free admission.”

We’re absolutely planning a trip (or two!) to celebrate Canada and Parks Canada this year and thinking of Banff, Forillon, Glacier, Jasper, Terra Nova and Rouge Urban National Parks, how about you?

Banner photo from Vermilion Lake at Banff National Park, by Dylan Emmons.

Every Kid in a Park Annual Pass Offer for Grade 4 Students

And so, another school year begins.  

There is a wonderful opportunity that we want to be sure it on your radar, if there is a fourth grade student in your family! As of September 1st, all students entering fourth grade have access to their own Every Kid in a Park pass at www.everykidinapark.gov. The “Every Kid in a Park” promotion is offered by the Department of the Interior and the White House, and brings with it tremendous value, providing free access to fee based federal lands for the student as well as the family.

Free entry is not only to all National Parks Service units, but other fee-based federal lands like national forests, national wildlife refuges, and land overseen by the Bureau of Land Management, for example Red Rock Canyon outside of Las Vegas or Chincoteague Island in Virginia. The pass is good for a full year, from the date of issue to Aug 31, 2017.  

This pass is nearly identical in benefits to the America the Beautiful pass (which is $80/year) and exists to encourage the entire family to tour our varied publics lands. These passes eliminate the cost of NPS sites like Yellowstone, Zion and Grand Canyon, where entry is between $25 and $30/car. If you visit a site that charges entrance fees per person, the pass admits all children under 16 and up to three adults for free. If your group visits a site that charges vehicle entrance fees, the pass admits all children under 16 and all adults in one passenger vehicle.

At www.everykidinapark.gov, children take a short fun quiz, and the pass is available for printout. The paper pass can later be exchanged at NPS fee sites for a plastic version, based on availability.

We are thrilled that the Department of Interior is nurturing the next generation’s enthusiasm for our protected lands, and as always appreciative of the great value of the annual passes; we bought our America the Beautiful pass in February of this year, and by April it had paid for itself park fees. As of August, six month later, it had essentially tripled its value! And we have more parks on our list for this year…how about you?

Saving Time and Money on Car Rentals

UPDATE!

Hertz is now live with their fall rental promo. One way car rentals to Florida (from points north) at $9 a day. This year you can also drop off in Atlanta in addition to the usual Florida cities, see this link for more info.

Note that more northern cities come into the promo on Oct 9, and then even more on Nov 27. You have until Dec. 10 to drop off the car in Florida or Atlanta.

We have distilled our top money-saving strategies for saving significantly on car rentals in a reference list for our readers in our Tips and Tricks page. Do let us know what tips you have used to get a great deal on car rentals, as well !

10 Tips for Touring National Parks Sites During Peak Season

Mesa Arch, Canyonlands National Park.

Mesa Arch, Canyonlands National Park.

America’s national parks system is the focus of a profound celebration in its centennial year, and increases in tourism to all NPS sites — parks, memorials, historic sites, monuments, recreation areas, and seashores — are marked. Acadia National Park saw 198,549 visits in May of 2016 — an increase of 13% compared to May of 2015. Yosemite National Park has already seen 1,433,428 visits since the start of 2016. By comparison, consider that the first data that tracked tourism to nationally protected sites was collected in 1904, and recorded 120,690 visits to six national parks.  

During National Park Birthday week, August 25-28, 2016, all NPS sites will be fee-free. When we visited Utah’s mighty five national parks in April, we considered some strategies for touring during what is sure to be a busy summer season.

1. Check the local school calendar.

By the time of the National Park Service’s 100th birthday in August, many public schools in the U.S. will already be back in session. We visited Zion during the New York City public school break, but locals with children, who value time in the parks just as much as visitors, were not on spring vacation. East Coast school districts tend to end the school year in late June, and many districts throughout the country are back in session in August.
 

2. Consider a range of national sites, not just parks.

Canaveral National Seashore.

Canaveral National Seashore.

Yellowstone National Park is number five on the NPS’s list of visited national park sites, while Zion, a park that is only 7% the size of Yellowstone, is right behind at six. Selecting less visited NPS sites to complement your itinerary can be very keen logistically, with less crowds. Cedar Breaks National Monument is approximately one hour’s drive from both Bryce and Zion and has similar geologic features to both; Dixie National Forest is a unique concentration of hoodoos in a range of desert pinks and oranges with a fraction of the number of visitors. Consider starting the day at a less populous site and arriving at a busier one in the later afternoon. For NPS Visitor Use statistics, click here.

3.  Consider lodging within the park.

The Bryce Canyon Lodge, Bryce Canyon National Park.

The Bryce Canyon Lodge, Bryce Canyon National Park.

This tip involves planning ahead, as many of the park lodges sell out months in advance. Also, in terms of a points earning strategy, maximize by booking your stay with a points earning credit card, as you won't be staying at a points earning chain hotel. This option supports beginning the day early and affords more natural wonder after dark, when the stars emerge, become infinitesimal and discernible, and glisten like sugar.  

4. Use the America the Beautiful Parks pass.

The annual NPS visitors pass is a time saver at the entry gate, and an asset for the budget as well. Read more about the benefits here.

While There…

5. Emphasize an early start.

Landscape Arch, Arches National Park.

Landscape Arch, Arches National Park.

Our itineraries encourage an early start to the day. We arrived at Arches at eight in the morning, and were of the first visitors on the Devils’ Garden trail; by ten in the morning we already been to Tunnel and Pine Tree Arches, Landscape Arch, and the Navajo and Partition Arches. Several arriving cars were interested in our parking spot when we completed our hike.

6. Begin at the end.

With our early start at Arches we cruised past the Courthouse Towers, The Windows, Rock Pinnacles, and Fiery Furnace, and parked in the empty lot at the Devil’s Garden trailhead, at the north end of the park. We worked our way back toward the entry after lunch, finding parking more advantageous.  

Park shuttle, Zion National Park.

Park shuttle, Zion National Park.

7. Avail yourself of park shuttles, when available.

It might mean relinquishing some autonomy, but the tradeoff is a greater immersion in the extraordinary environment and infrastructure of the park, and less concern over parking throughout the day.

8. Linger, or return, in early evening.

Especially if you are touring several parks in one trip, we recommend building in some early evening time, when the dusk works magic. We spontaneously decided to stop at Arches when we first arrived in Moab, at 6:30 p.m. The sun began to set as we, and a few lone photographers, studied Balanced Rock. The clouds were silvery satin pillows, the blue sky intensified by contrast, underneath. Isolate juniper trees became multitudes of silhouettes. Our next day was that much more leisurely, as we were ahead of schedule. And, there was no line for entry!

9. Study the sunset.

Cadillac Mountain, Acadia National Park.

Cadillac Mountain, Acadia National Park.

We watched the sunset atop Cadillac Mountain at Acadia National Park with a sizable group of visitors, yet all seemed to intuitively inhabit their own isolation pods, entranced by the changing light. Thoughts clarify during the sunset hour. Introspection is intuitive, and even when they are nearby and great in number, the tourists seem to disperse organically.

10. Loosen the itinerary.

At any point on our itinerary, if we couldn’t park, or felt the trail too crowded for comfort, we had alternatives in mind. We were prepared to let things go. Ranger Frank Barrows is quoted, “It’s okay if you don’t make it to a summit or get the perfect Instagram photo, just being outside and exploring can be the memory your child cherishes.” For adults as well, it can be liberating to just be there, keeping the itinerary loose. It seems unimaginable, but we did not see Delicate Arch when we went to Arches!   

An Easy and Free 700 American Airlines Miles

American Airlines is running a contest to celebrate 35 years of their AAdvantage program.  Thirty-five lucky people will win 350,000 miles! While your odds of winning are slim, you can earn 700 miles by just entering the contest.

Click through here or the picture above, to enter, and automatically get 350 miles deposited to your account in 6-8 weeks. From there, the site will invite you to post about a trip you are saving up miles for on social media; you can choose to email AAdvantage instead. This second step gets you another 350 miles, and 700 miles is almost 10% of the way to an AA Reduced Mileage free one way flight. Figuring these miles to be worth $0.02 per mile, that's $14 of free travel for 2 minutes of work, it doesn't come easier than this.

The contest officially runs until June 1st, but the terms and conditions for this contest state that there are a finite amount of free miles to be handed out...so enter soon!