The Travel Professor
Join me on a journey across the broad spectrum of interesting travel topics. We’ll discuss destinations domestic and abroad, some familiar and some off the beaten path. We take a look at suppliers like cruise lines, air carriers and tour operators and find their bargains and special offerings.
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Wednesday, December 31, 2008
More on freebies & itinerary planning
A reader sent this note on my "freebies" post: “Thanks for the tip on how I can get my family free admission to the Huntington Museum of Art. How do you find these things? Better yet how can I find them?”
A lot of experience and research time is what I rely on. Over the years I’ve discovered that many public funded not for profit organizations will waive their admission/entrance fees on a specific day. This is generally for the normal collections and any special displays and/or events have a separate fee.
For starters I browse the venue’s website for admission information and if it’s not listed I’ll either send an email or make a phone call. I also like to visit the tourism website for the city/region I’ll be visiting. They often have preplanned itinerary and sightseeing suggestions; I’ll select the attractions from these then narrow in my focus.
Another cost saving idea to check with the place you’re planning on visiting and see if they’re a member of any associations or consortiums. For a fixed fee you can purchase a pass that will admit you to partner locales around the country or the globe. For example Ashland, Kentucky’s Highlands Discovery Center (http://www.highlandsmuseum.com) has partnered with the Association of Science-Technology Centers (www.astc.org) and offers an ASTC Travel Passport program. Currently a Highlands family membership costs $58.00 a year and includes the ASTC benefits.
This passport program allows members to visit museums/science centers like Cincinnati’s Museums Center of Natural History and Science and COSI both in Columbus and Toledo Ohio. You'll discover partner places to visit across the USA and Canada.
I recently commented on not letting the current economic blues cramp your travel opportunities.
Recently I was looking for a Tri-State themed tour I started my search at www.wvvisit.org (Cabell-Huntington Convention and Visitors Bureau) website proceeded to www.visitashlandky.com (Ashland Area Convention and Visitors Bureau site0 and finished off with Lawrence County OH information. I could have expanded my search to Portsmouth OH, Charleston WV and beyond but the immediate river cities provided plenty of content. Locally we are fortunate to have some excellent places to visit that offer great tours without an entrance fee. One place that I frequently bring out of town guests to is the Huntington Museum of Art one of our regions hidden gems. It is nationally acclaimed and their permanent collections feature a nice collection of 19th & 20th century American and European art, American and European glass, Georgian silver, British portraits and antique firearms. At certain times you can view world class traveling exhibits like the recent Marilyn Monroe and Civil War in Photograph displays. There is a small admission fee but on Tuesdays they waive the charge and let you in for free.
Another treasure is the Museum of Radio and Technology. Here near Huntington’s Old Central City you can see the largest radio museum in the Eastern United States. On display are hundreds of old radios from the 1920's to the 1950's, telegraph items, early televisions, and complete recreation of a 1920's radio shop, library, gift shop, and much more. This is a favorite tour stop of River Barge Explorer and Delta Queen passengers during their port call here in Huntington. Open on weekends in the winter month’s admission is free but donations are gladly accepted.
For art enthusiasts the Birke Art Gallery is another great venue. Located on the first floor of Smith Hall on the Marshall University campus it both classroom, lab and exhibit space. It is an area that allows developing art students to display their works. Galleries and displays frequently change so check with the gallery staff for current information.
Across the river and through the woods to Ohio University’s Ironton campus I go to view their faculty and student art gallery. Located in the Dingus Technology you’ll discover wide ranging displays and exhibits. Also on display in the hallways of the various campus building are additional works created by local artists.
Crossing the Ohio River once again into Ashland KY I’ll head to the Pendleton Art Center (PAC) and explore this fascinating place. The PAC is Ashland’s home to artists and craftspeople who display a broad range of talents. This is a hands on interactive environment a place where you can see artisans working in their studios or take a class to improve your artistic talents. Time permitting the Left Bank Café located inside the PAC is a great place to stop for lunch, breakfast or a place to pick up a souvenir for those visiting from out of town.
I’ve timed my journey to depart the PAC in the early evening and then a few blocks to Ashland’s Central Park and the Winter Wonderland of Lights. This is a spectacular display of Christmas lights and sights. You’ll need to circle the area a few times to take in all that there is to see.
It’s time to head home back to Ironton but they’re one more driving tour before the PT Cruiser is parked for the night. We’ll take a swing through Coal Grove’s Paul Porter Park wonderful holiday light display before calling it a day.
Santa Tracker 2008 has been uploaded and is now fully functional. With the click of a mouse you can now access a one of a kind navigational tool and track St. Nick’s progress as he brings joy to good little girls and boys.
Don’t let the bad news about the economy ruin an opportunity for some quality family vacation, discovery and learning time. There are plenty of fun educational sightseeing opportunities for all ages that will not break the bank or your budget. Many fine arts, crafts and humanities venues offer free or a nominal admission fee. Factories and shops will conduct tours of their production facilities and factories. Sometimes they’ll even provide free samples of their wares. I’ve experienced this first hand at ice cream and chocolate factories. Just do a little research and you’ll be able to craft an interesting day trip with plenty of free or reduced priced admissions. I went to www.discoverohio.comand typed in the key word “factory tours” and received two pages of possible visits. Typing the word “free tours” at this site resulted in 245 hits.
While researching the various airlines for group airfare to New Orleans I discovered a link on AirTran Airways for AirTran U. To me “U” stood for university and in my quest for knowledge I clicked on that link. I way was off base but pleasantly surprised.
AirTran University is a program for travelers between the ages of 18 and 22. Here’s your chance to make the best years of your life even better as you get out and explore the world. Anyone between the ages of 18 and 22 can fly standby for just $69.00 per short haul segment or $99.00 for long-haul segments. Now that’s the beauty of youth. Flying standby (space available or space A) means that you do not have a reservation but if the airline has a seat free then they’ll put you on the plane. If they’re full then you wait for the next flight.
In the military and as an airline employee I’ve logged plenty of space A miles. Just be flexible, have a good book and don’t guarantee any hotel reservations.
To qualify for Air Tran U you just must be 18 to 22 years old; you don't have to be a student. But once you've reached your 23rd birthday, you're no longer eligible. You are allowed to carry an infant less than two years of age in your arms at no additional charge.
The closest gateway for Huntington, Ironton and Ashland area folks is Columbus OH. From here you can get to AirTran’s Atlanta hub and connect on their network.
It's nice to see a program for young adults. I believe that to travel is to learn and by doing so you'll develop rich rewarding life experiences.
Yesterday I mentioned that there was a slight reduction in the numbers of travelers hitting the airways and roadways this holiday season.
The analysts at AAA are also forecasting lower hotel rates (down 5-10%) but higher rental car prices (up about 8 %) this season.
Starting January 5th 2009 the travel bargains should remain for the 1st quarter of the New Year. I anticipate that rates will start to climb as we move into the spring break then summer family travel season. Once the kiddies are back in the school they dramatically drop again.
The American Automobile Association (AAA) projects a slight decline in the number of Americans traveling during the Christmas holiday period. According to their data nearly 63.9 million Americans will travel at least 50 miles or more from home during the late December through early January holiday season. This is a decrease of 1.4 million travelers (2.1 percent) from last year’s total of 65.3 million. This is the first decline in Christmas holiday travelers since 2002.
Since this is not really a significant reduction I expect the airports and highways to be packed with these holiday travelers. If flying I’d take a couple of extra books and anticipate some delays especially if we experience wintery weather conditions.
Timing and taking action are important in discovering travel bargins
Timeliness is everything in booking travel especially if you’re looking for bargains.
What exists in inventory and current pricing right now might not be available when you call or click back in a few days or even 15 minutes. That $150.00 cruise that was just available in now sold out! Or the price has increased by $100.00. It could be the last room in the hotel. You just never know.
I've been down this road too many times. That's one major reason that I always prompt you to hold space. I will quote you a price today & strongly encourage you to hold it. OK you've to check with someone else so you leave my office or end the phone call without conducting business. You're gambling that same deal will be available when you're ready to act.
You call come or click back in a few days ready to book and guess what? Yes that's it! The price has changed or the product is sold out. Sorry there are only so many cabins on a cruise ships or seats on a motor coach.
What should have you done to prevent this disappointment?
Make a courtesy reservation. A courtesy booking normally reserves the space and rate for a specific time period. This can range from 2 hours to 7 days. The date that you are traveling and other factors determine this grace period.
Go home talk it over with other travelers then contact me or travel supplier. Give us a yes and firm it up with payment or a no. Either way you’ve had some piece of mind that your great rate was still available when you were ready to book.
Earning airline miles witrh a golf course membership
I just received the invoice for my golf course dues and noticed that the invoices had been updated. The term credit had been added to the payment terms.
The thought of charging my dues to my airline affinity credit card and earning miles raced through my left handed mind. Performing a quick mental calculation I determined that I’d earn ¾ of a flight credit on Southwest or 1200 miles on either Continental or US Airways.
The next step is to log into my frequent traveler accounts review my balances and figure out where I need more miles. Maybe this purchase will push me across another threshold and earn another free ticket or upgrade.
In the past I’ve mentioned that we’re in a travel buying season with plenty of distressed pricing on most products. Cruises, tours, hotel rooms, rental car, rail passes and airfares are at all time lows to many destinations.
I discovered a 5 day Carnival Cruise Line departing from Mobile AL in the late fall of 2009 for $30.00 per person per day, taxes and cruise fee extra. This rate includes your cabin, all meals, transportation to ports of call, shipboard entertainment, free daytime babysitting and much more. Of course travel during peak periods like summer vacation season or holidays are not as attractively priced.
This fare is lower than the discounted travel industry rate.
Jena from Salt Rock asks “Hey Travel Professor when I was surfingTravelocity.com for airfares I found a display that included the same airline –Continental –and the same fare $126.33 but there were four different lines to select from. And I can’t find that fare on my travel dates!!! What’s the difference?”
Jena this is a fairly simple one to answer. I looked at the data you’re provided and here’s the breakdown-the fares are based on the days of the week that you physically travel, how far in advance you buy your ticket and when you purchase your ticket.
Your travel dates fall outside the window of these specials fares so you have two options. Change your dates or pay the higher fare.
Continental Airlines announced plans for a biofuel test flight on January 7th 2009. Departing from Houston the Boeing 737 flight will be partially powered by a special fuel blend including components derived from algae and jatropha plants.
This journey is being touted as the first by a commercial carrier using algae as a fuel source. The fuel used in one of the two engines during the demonstration flight will be a blend of 50% traditional jet fuel, and 50% biofuel from algae and jatropha, described as sustainable, second-generation fuel sources that do not impact food crops or water resources, and do not contribute to deforestation.
It’s my hope that the current “going green” trend continues and does not end up on a back burner somewhere.
Getting up and down Las Vegas Boulevard (the Strip) is easy and cheap especially if you're willing to walk and wait a little bit.
For $2 a ride or a $5 all-day (24 hour) pass, the round the clock bus service known as the Deuce runs along the length of the Strip and all the way downtown. Plus once you learn the art of transferring lines you now have access to all of the Deuces’’ route system. A small drawback is there some walking to a bus stop plus waiting for the Deuce but hey it’s cheap & convenient.
Free trams run along the Strip 24/7 between Mandalay Bay and Excalibur, and between The Mirage and Treasure Island. Harrah's runs another free shuttle for customers between its casinos, running every 30 minutes from Caesars Palace, the Rio, Harrah'sLas Vegas and Paris Las Vegas.
You can also catch a free shuttle from the Paris hotel to the Hard Rock hotel. The Hard Rock offers some interesting food & drink specials that I’ll share later.
Unexpected surprise & perk from Continental Airlines
In past posts I’ve mentioned using affinity credit cards to earn free travel. My credit cards are tied into my airline frequent traveler accounts and I was pleasantly surprised when I checked in with Continental for my last flight. As most air travelers are aware you pay a fee to check your luggage. I had my charge card out and was ready to pay the baggage fee but because I had a Continental Airlines credit card I was entitled to check one free bag in each direction.
Zero extra fees to Vegas and zero on the return no complaints here. All things being equal-the fare and schedule-because of this perk Continental has just jumped to my number 1 preferred carrier.
Hooter's Hotel & Casino-only in Lost Wages (Las Vegas)
After having spent a couple of days at the Riviera Hotel & Casino I relocated I to Hooters Hotel and Casino for the last few days of my conference. Located on Tropicana right across from the main entrance to the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino this place (Hooters) is operated by the same outrageous chicken wings restaurant gals and guys.
For years I have considered this hotel the former San Remo as one of Vegas’ hidden gems and lodging bargains.
Originally designed as a Mediterranean village with a wonderful pool area Hooters has updated the rooms and public areas with a Florida theme. Light woods breezy open areas brilliant tropical colors and fabrics are found everywhere. Other than the casino floor Hooters has the feel of an old Florida Key West small cottage hotel something right out a Hemingway story.
My room was large clean comfortable and more importantly affordable. Again the only downside was the lack of an in room coffee maker. OK I am spoiled by that feature but with what I saved on my rooms here and at the “Riv” I gladly had my morning caffeine fix in the coffee shop or restaurant.
Many of the late night food specials have disappeared from the Las Vegas landscape but Hooters continues the tradition with $0.25 chicken wings from midnight until 6:00am. Yummy!
I was very satisfied with both properties and would stay there again. For travelers looking to spend more of their own money on shows, dining and gaming experiences I recommend that they take a look at booking into these treasures of Las Vegas. After all you could stay there and play at one of the more expensive Strip resorts.
On my recent sojourn to Las Vegas I split my stay between two different hotels, Hooters and the Riviera. These are older properties that had recently completed major facelifts and sleeping room renovations so it is time for a firsthand experience.
A throw back to the glitz and glamour days of Strip hotels the “Riv” still features a glittering bright, neon-lit façade on the north end of the Strip. It offers more than 2,000 oversized rooms and mine was tastefully appointed with comfortable bedding and a convenient work station. It offered quality value priced lodging with only a few downsides. An in room coffee/tea maker would have been a wonderful addition and its location across from the Circus Circus places it a little bit outside the hot action center strip area that many Vegas travelers prefer to stay in.
For $5.00 I purchased a 24 hour unlimited ride pass on Cats the Las Vegas bus service. There is a line that just runs up and down the Strip so I easily traveled from the “Riv” to my meetings at Mandalay Bay located at the opposite end of Las Vegas Blvd. This line also runs to the “old downtown casino center so it’s a great way to explore and experience all of Las Vegas.
Yes I would definitely consider staying at here on my next trip to Sin City.
In addition to my classroom activities I took the time to conduct a few site inspections of Las Vegas hotels that I was not familiar with. There are a few new properties plus some older ones that have undergone renovations so it was time to update myself.
A site/ship inspection is a visit to a hotel, cruise ship, restaurant, attractions or any other establishment (golf course or baseball stadium) for the purpose of getting to know what it offers and to evaluate it. On this tour I looked at the sleeping rooms, meeting venues, strolled through the grounds and the pool area. I dropped a few nickels into the slots checked out the menus in the restaurants and enjoyed a buffet or two.
It is basically a familiarization tour of the hotel, resort, attraction, cruise ship and so forth. Sometimes an employee will conduct the tour but this time I went on my own. By conducting the tour independently I believe that I get to experience the real product not the one presented by the eager and enthusiastic hotel sales person. I feel that I see the hotel from the perspective of the traveler not the staff.
Please don’t get more wrong as formal escorted site inspections/feminization trips are also wonderful tools.
Yes I’m the nosey guy that sticks his head into the room when the door is open and the maid’s chart is outside. I just want to sneak a peek.
I can’t stay in every Vegas hotel but at least I can check out plenty of the local sleeping accommodations and offer my first hand opinion to the Vegas bound traveler. I'll share my findings with you in my next post. My site visits are not limited to Vegas. You may see me notebook in hand strolling through Sandals Montego Bay the Moon Palace Resort in Cancun Mexico or aboard Norwegian Cruise Lines Pride of America.
I just completed 3 days of product updates and workshops that were conducted by the major cruise lines and tour operators. The consensus among all the suppliers was that people are still traveling.
Another thing that everyone agreed on (which is rare in travel industry) is that current pricing levels are low and bargains abound everywhere. The cruise line folks mentioned more than once that cruise prices are as low as they were 20 years ago. Tour operators stated that many of their package prices have actually decreased for 2009.
Now is the time to contact your travel agent and check out the special vacation that you’ve always thought you could not afford.
OK I'm in Vegas enjoying the pleasant temperatures and surroundings. But it not all fun and games. The golf clubs were left in Ohio.
I'm out here on business. Updating my personal knowledge and business skills at the Home Based Travel Agent and Luxury Travel conference.
The cruise lines, tour operators and destinations are here and they are providing mega updates on their products. They're doing this so travel agents can return home and better inform travelers like you about the new options and offerings.
I've discovered that Europe is on sale. The dollar has made a recovery and many European products are now priced lower than 4 or 5 years ago.
Cruises are a bargain too!
I'll keep attending the seminars then update you on the new products and savings.
And yes I admit it's fun to meet and interact with people from around the country.
I'm off to participate in a home based travel agent conference & workshop in Las Vegas. There are plenty of educational sessions but I plan on hitting the streets to see what's new in "Sin City".
My room is booked at the Riviera Hotel & Casino one of the last few 1960's era Vegas properties. They have just undergone an extensive remodeling of rooms so I'm looking forward to the new Riv. I stayed here many moons ago and it was becoming a little tired especially when compared to the new mega resorts.
Depending on my Internet access -I'm typing this on very slowwww wi-fi at Port Columbus airport-I'll share my thoughts on the new improved Lost Wages.
Steve Call gets paid to tell people where to go as the director of the Travel, Tourism and Hotel Management associate degree program at Ohio University-Ironton. Professionally, he's a certified travel consultant and accredited cruise counselor and holds two college degrees. He has visited all the continents with the exception of Australia and Antarctica.