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Budget Tips, Newbie How-to's, Travel Advice

The Newbie’s Guide To Frequent Flier Programs – Part 1

July 25, 2011 • By

Newbie’s guide

I love to travel.  But, when you factor in the outrageous ticket prices, ridiculous junk fees, charges for checked baggage and in some instances…… carry on bags……… you will be broke before you reached your destination.  I say it’s high time for consumers to fight back!  One of the best ways to accomplish this is through the religious accumulation of Frequent Flier miles through an airline’s FF program.

What is a Frequent Flier (FF) program?

A Frequent Flier program is an airline’s loyalty program which rewards its members for their continued patronage.  Essentially, it gives the passenger a chance to earn a mile in kind for every mile that they fly on an airline.  Earn enough miles and you will eventually be able to book a free (with the exception of booking fees and taxes) domestic or international trip!  Today’s FF programs have gone through many changes over the years; so much so that you can actually earn miles without flying at all!READ MORE

Budget Tips, Reviews, Travel Advice

The Best Search Engine For Finding Lower Fares, Hotel and Car Rentals?

November 24, 2010 • By

Search Engine

While attending the Travel Bloggers’ Exchange convention in New York this past June, I was invited to a presentation for a revolutionary, but relatively new flight search aggregator called Momondo.  I was vaguely familiar with the company because innovations in the travel world are usually spread like wildfire through the social media realm.  We (my daughter and I) were running a little late because we were caught in the moment while viewing the phenomenal skyline from the top of 30 Rockefeller Center.

Luckily, we weren’t very far from our destination at 1290 Avenue of the Americas.  The company hosting the event, Kintetsu International (the Japan specialist travel agency), was kind enough to provide saki libations and crudites, fresh fruit slices, sushi and sushimi for all of the invited travel industry professionals to snack on.  It was interesting to find out that the particular brand of saki that we were served was available in 50%, 60% and 70% proof.  Knowing my low tolerance for alcohol, I decided to sample the 50%, god help me if I had tried the 70.

Search Engines

Sherry Ott from and Stephanie Butler from Fodor’s share ideas with their colleagues.

Not long after, we were called into the conference room where we were introduced to one of the partners of Momondo, Martin Lumbye, who explained the company’s mission was and still is to create the most trustworthy price comparison search engine in the world.

Martin Lumbye discusses what his vision is for his company.

Momondo, which means “My World” in old Spanish, began in 2006 as a small flight aggregator in Copenhagen, Denmark.  Their interface allows them to compare prices from more than 800 suppliers because they do not limit their searches to major carriers, they include discounters too.    Aggregators like Kayak, only have 300-400 suppliers because they have narrowed their focus to the major airlines.  Kayak steers away from discounters like Airtran, RyanAir or Priceline, so their searches are limited to major carriers.

Momondo wanted to create a search engine that could be easily used by any customer.

According to Mr. Lumbye, “Momondo’s promise to customers is powerfully simple: to provide them with the fastest and most comprehensive plane ticket search available on the Internet.  Momondo makes this possible through leveraging its comprehensive network of travel industry relationships and the most cutting-edge search technologies available.  As a result, Momondo combines searches across hundreds of websites with hundreds of different interfaces to return relevant flight options to the consumer or business traveler whether they use low-cost airlines, the well-known national airlines, online travel agencies or ticket databases.”  This means that Momondo’s searches include data from the airlines’ own websites and online travel companies, as well.

Plug in your cities of departure and arrival and your preferred travel dates.

To that end, I was sold on the product; from a budget traveler’s perspective, it is never a good idea to cherry pick options for travelers.  We need to know and have access to all booking venues, not a select (and usually more expensive) few that the aggregator limits us to.    Conversely, I would think that little known concerns would benefit as well by participating on a more level playing field.

Once your search is completed, your pricing options are displayed in ascending order.

Momondo does not buy data from the airlines.  Instead, they employ web crawlers to search the internet for the best prices.  While they do have suppliers that pay them, they decided long ago to operate from a value-added perspective instead of a revenue generating standpoint.  They reasoned that if they only focused on revenue then they would have to use larger airlines in order to realize higher revenue streams and the everyday traveler would never have access to said discounters.  They realized that they must look at the big picture and provide the traveler with as many options as possible that would give them the best price in one place.  They couldn’t do that by limiting the number of carriers.

Once your selection is made, you can specify the number of tickets needed and you will notice that the supplier’s ratings are located on the left.  Here you can gauge other customer’s perceptions before pulling the trigger.

Should you decide to continue, you will be taken directly to the vendor’s website to purchase your tickets.

To bring this concept to even greater heights, Momondo launched a fully integrated train and flight comparison component to their website.  This move comes in a time with growing awareness of the environment-friendly high-speed trains that race between many of Europe’s big cities.“By displaying trains and flights together, we provide the consumers with even greater transparency, sending a green signal at a time where climate is of highest priority”, explained Mr. Lumbye.

I don’t need to tell you how frustrating it is to find a good deal on a rail ticket.  It’s nice to know that Momondo is realizing how important the rail system has become and will continue to be to the casual and frequent traveler and is providing a unique service as a result.  Additionally, the site has a hotel and car rental search feature  which intuitively uses the parameters that were set for the flight search and applies them to their hotel and car rental search engine component.  It simplifies what can sometimes be a daunting task.

After the supplier’s website is launched in a new window, you will notice that the Momondo site will display a short survey to record your experience.  You will be allowed to rate the supplier and give honest feedback.  This is particularly helpful for buyers who may not be as familiar with some boutique suppliers because they are small and relatively unknown.  This will give them some yardstick as to what they can expect from that particular vendor.  I’m most excited about this aspect of the site because it gives the traveler a way to instantly record his/her experiences.

At this point, I believe that Momondo has a leg up on the competition.  However, it won’t be difficult for competitors to adopt the same philosophy at some point.  Therefore, it’s essential for companies like this to continue to keep the customer at the forefront of their decisions if they want to grow their business.  All, in all…..I like the fact that Momondo believes in spreading the wealth and allowing the little guy the opportunity to compete with the big boys.  I can only hope that the competition will follow their lead because that will create a win-win situation for everyone.

Here’s Momondo and welcome to it!

Please note that this review was and is uncompensated and is a report of the presentation that occurred in the offices of Kintetsu International and any conclusions drawn from it are solely mine.

Budget Tips, Travel Advice

When Your Luggage Looks As Tired As You, It’s Time For A Change!

October 26, 2010 • By

This is the first in a series of infrequent articles about Travel Gear for budget travelers

Quick….name the one thing that every serious traveler must own? If you said some form of luggage, backpack, duffel bag…you win! Unless you plan to buy everything you need at your destination, you will need some way to carry your possessions in an orderly fashion. While I am usually the first to extol the virtues of spending as little as possible when it comes to travel, I have to make an exception for luggage.

I’ve gone the discount route when it comes to luggage. There’s always some deal for a 4-5 piece set for 80 bucks or less at the local department store. If you happen to come across such a deal, walk away. OK, let me rephrase that. If you are simply taking a road trip and there will be very few people handling your bags, get the cheaper ones. But if you will need to check your luggage or if anyone will be responsible for hauling your luggage from the plane to the baggage return, invest in the sturdier pieces. I learned the hard way during my trip to Myrtle Beach. I had forgotten to prepay for my carry-on bag on Spirit airlines. As it turned out, it was actually cheaper to check my bag (25.00 vs. 30.00) so I did. Little did I know that my poor bag would be spat out of the baggage return like a kid hacking up ipecac syrup!

My formerly pristine, but cheap, Pierre Cardin carry-on looked like it had been run through a paper shredder! I was so ticked off, but what can you do? It would be my word against theirs….I just thanked my lucky stars that everything was still intact and none of our souvenirs were broken. This was my wake up call. I asked myself why I didn’t think it was important enough to invest in something that (if I took my traveling seriously) I would need to see me through seven continents? I had to make a resolution that I needed to reserve the Pierre Cardin for road-trips and INVEST in a decent set of luggage.

There! The resolution was made….now…where to start? I decided to surf the internet to determine what luggage brands rated higher than others. It was common knowledge that you couldn’t go wrong with Samsonite, but higher end product usually came with higher end prices. I decided to limit my search to the better discount stores like Marshall’s, TJ Maxx and just to make it interesting, Ross Dress for Less, which was my first stop. Surprisingly, they had a half wall of luggage in all different sizes, colors, brands, hard-side, softside….I was amazed. I was drawn to a blue soft-sided beauty that would make a perfect carry-on….as I got closer, I noticed the label: Samsonite! I was beyond stoked when I saw $39.99 on the tag. Could that be right? Yep…it was. I grabbed it, certain there was a mistake and quickly headed to the checkout counter in case it wasn’t.

Once I had safely made it out, I realized that I should still check around to see if maybe I could get a great deal on a set. Remember, I was looking to make a solid investment, so if I plan to travel a lot, I would need more than this lonely carry-on. Luckily there are three Ross stores within a seven mile radius of my house. I proceeded to check out each one, but no luck. So, my next move would be to visit my local Marshall’s. I was pleasantly surprised to see that they had a nice representation of high end luggage like Samsonite, Liz Claiborne, Travel Concepts, Victorinox, Kenneth Cole, Atlantic and American Flyer among others.

I stopped dead in my tracks when I spied candy cotton pink luggage with spinners. I looked closer and it was a Travel Concepts 29″ hard-sider. The price? $69.99! There were two smaller matching pieces that obviously added up to a three piece set. I decided that two pieces would be sufficient. I didn’t want to overdo, but I wasn’t going to deny myself the largest piece. Yes, I have extolled the virtues of traveling light, but since it’s apparent that I will be probably start checking luggage in more often…..why not?


Made with ABS, the shell on the Salisbury has a scratch resistant diamond finish, making it both durable and flexible so that when under stress, it flexes to absorb the impact and then returns back to its original shape


Front view of my 29″ suitcase

An online search found the cheapest price for the three piece set to be $202.50 and the most expensive price was $300.00 even.  Had I bought the third piece, my total would have been $180.00.   It pays to shop around!


Top side of 29″ luggage with a most excellent price point

I like the fact that the zippered pocket is plastic. Comes in handy when and if those 3 ounces decide to go all liquid on you and make a mess.

Each piece has a fully lined interior with multi-use organizational pockets that works as a zippered divider; tie-down straps provide additional support for your clothing during travel

If you are tired of being ‘led’ by your wheeled luggage, four directional spinners are the answers to your prayers.

4 wheel spinner system provides the smoothest and most effortless movement for your life on the go

I opted to go with the 21″ carry-on as my second piece, it will come in handy when I have shorter treks and won’t need to carry as much.  I left the 25″ that sold for 60.00 behind as I didn’t think I would need a third one.

Top side of the 21″ carry-on with sturdy luggage tag

Ok, even I will have to admit that if I need to start expanding this piece, I may need to stay home.  lol

Each piece is expandable for up to 25% additional packing capacity

Don’t worry guys, not only can you find this luggage set in various colors such as my dusty pink, but also in blue, black and silver.

Plus an additional 3-digit combination lock

Each piece comes with its own TSA-friendly 3-digit combination lock

Has a modern aluminum telescopic handle system, with push-down locking for easy, single-hand use, and cushioned TPR grip for comfort

After my last experience, I decided to buy the hard-side luggage because it is more durable and would protect my clothing in the event someone else’s collection of toner cartridges flooded the cargo hole. Hey, don’t say no one’s ever thought of it! Go for luggage that has several compartments and is deep enough to accommodate footwear in addition to your clothes. Be sure to invest in only the pieces you truly need if you want to stay under any semblance of a budget.

So, the moral of the story is that you get what you pay for. Even the budget conscious traveler must realize when it’s time to back off on the choke-hold and let old George Washington breathe. You can’t skimp on quality and if you think about it….you’ll save money in the long run because you won’t have to keep replacing junk!

Newbie How-to's, Travel Advice

The Newbie’s Guide To Applying For A U.S. Passport

August 27, 2010 • By
U.S. Passport

Photo credit:

Now that you’ve decided to take the plunge to do a little traveling across the border, you should know that there have been several changes regarding the issuance of U.S. Passports in recent months which will affect your travel plans.

All U.S. citizens are now required to have a Passport card in order to cross the borders to Canada or Mexico. To travel anywhere else outside the U.S., you will need a standard Passport.

When should I apply for a Passport?

My advice is to go ahead and apply for your passport if you have a reasonably good idea that you will be traveling internationally in the coming months.  You can never predict a delay of some sort happening, so don’t chance missing your flight by putting this off.

How long will it take to receive my Passport? READ MORE

Newbie How-to's, Travel Advice

The Newbie’s No-Fuss Guide to Maneuvering Your Way Through The Airport

July 4, 2010 • By

Photo credit:

Since the tragedy of 9/11, there have been numerous safeguards put into place by the US government.  Some would argue, many of them are unnecessary and only serve to create longer lines than greater security.  Whatever your position on the matter, suffice it to say that these rules are here to stay and will only become more intrusive as time goes on.  So, how do you as a new traveler deal with so many unknown variables?  First, I would recommend that you do not panic.  My advice would be to travel smart.  If you plan to do any consistent traveling, you should get into the habit of packing light.  Only bring what you know you are going to absolutely need which will bring you untold freedom as you begin to understand how heavy luggage becomes an albatross all too quickly.

Once you arrive at the terminal (You will see the signs as you are transported there) where your airline is located, you may see a counter outside of the airport terminal.  This is where you can check in your bags (if you have any) and where they will weigh them to make sure that you are not over the standard 50 pound limit.  Any overages will result in additional fees beyond their standard checked bag charges.  Be sure to use TSA approved locks on checked bags, if you use the lock and key or combination locks, be aware that they will saw them off in order to inspect them.  All inspected bags will have a TSA sticker on it indicating that they were randomly chosen for that honor.  One caveat about checked luggage.  Do not put anything that is of particular value to you in a checked bag! I can’t stress that enough.  Do not check your ipod, camera, laptop, expensive jewelry (which should be left at home anyway) or the like.  There is a very good chance that you will never see them again.

If you do not see an outside counter, you will need to go inside the terminal to check in (if you have not already done so on the airline’s website).  Most airlines make it easier to check in and print out your boarding passes if you do not have checked luggage.  Just walk over to your airline’s nearest free standing kiosk and input your info.  Your boarding passes will print out on the spot.  If you do have checked bags, you will need to stand in line and the counter agent will take your checked bags and print out a boarding pass for you.  Remember from that point on to have a piece of ID and your boarding pass in hand until you reach the gate where your flight leaves from.   The TSA (Transportation Security Administration) agents will need to review, scan and/or mark it as you go through the next step for you which is security.


Photo credit:

Make sure that everything that you are carrying through the security checkpoint that is run by TSA is legal.  At this point, you should be prepared to remove your shoes as soon as you get to the point where you can get one of the bins that you place on the conveyor belt that leads to the x-ray machine.  Place your shoes, jewelry, gloves, handbags, coats, belts, coins, hats, sunglasses and backpack in the gray bins.  Do not overcrowd the bins; use as many as you need.  If you are carrying a laptop, place that in a separate bin.  Ditto for any medical aids like a C-pap machine, which you should take all of its components apart and place in a single bin.  Once you have placed your items on the belt and they are going through x-ray, you will have to walk through their metal detector when prompted.  Be sure to keep that boarding pass and ID in hand!

Photo credit:

Once you are cleared, proceed to the area where your bins have now exited.   Do not be alarmed if security pulls you or your bin(s) aside and do another thorough check.  If a beep goes off as you walk through the x-ray, you may have forgotten a coin or something else in your pocket.  The agent will use a wand detector to figure out where the beep emanated from and once it is found you simply walk though again.   It is standard procedure and happens to almost everyone at some point, so don’t get flustered and always be polite.

Photo courtesy: www.

Do not bring any weapons (sounds obvious, huh?) because you will be surprised at how many people have done just that.  Do not bring any liquids (here are exceptions) that are over 3.4 ounces in volume which must be placed in a zip lock bag and placed in a separate bin from your carry-on.   This includes your faithful water bottle.  This will be confiscated.

Photo credit:

Once you have made it past security, you will need to locate your gate area.  This info should be located on your boarding pass right next to your seat number.  The airport signage will guide you were to go to get to your gate.  Sometimes, the terminal that you need is in an entirely different building (concourse) so an airport will provide several means of getting there.  They may have people movers that resemble escalators that move forward, not up or down.  They may have air-trains to get you from point a to b.  They may have subway type trains (or automated people movers) to get you from one concourse to the next.  The one at Hartsfield Jackson is one of the best, in my opinion.

Photo credit:

Once you have reached your designated concourse, you will need to review the overhead signs to locate which direction your gate will be.  Be sure to allow yourself some time to get there and get settled because the seats fill quickly especially if the flight is full.  If you are there early enough, look around, there are plenty of places to eat, get a beverage or take a bathroom break.  Remember to always keep your eyes on your carry-on.  You will hear plenty of warnings about keeping your luggage with you at all times over the intercom system. You will find the boarding times on your boarding pass.  Unless the plane is late showing up at the gate, the airlines attempt to hold to that schedule.  Take note of which zone you have been assigned.  Typically, the airlines will allow passengers with children under the age of two, infirmed passengers or first class passengers to board first.  Next, the people in zone 1, etc. will be called to board.

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As you go through the gate to board, have your boarding pass (not ID) ready to hand to the attendant.  Once you have given them the pass and they give you your receipt proceed to the airplane.  If your luggage is deemed to be too large to fit in the overhead bins, they may ask you to leave it at the doorway and an attendant will make sure that it is placed with the rest of the checked luggage.  Usually, they will not charge you for this service.  However, given their propensity to charge for fees at will (See Spirit Airlines new fee for CARRY-ON luggage) don’t be surprised if that changes.

Once you have located your assigned seat, place your carry-on in the bin overhead or wherever there is a space for it.  Just remember where you put it.  If you have a handbag, you may place that under the seat ahead of you.  Please be aware that if you order refreshments after the plane takes off, you will have to pay for it.  Free food is practically non-existent these days unless you count pretzels as food.  Be sure to visit one of the airport restaurants before hand  or eat before you leave home.  Now that you have taken your seat and listened to the flight attendants’ emergency instructions, sit back and enjoy the ride to your destination.  Your flight attendant will instruct you where to pick up any checked luggage once you arrive there.  Happy Travels!

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Budget Tips, Reviews, Travel Advice

A Wonderful Invention | Park Sleep Fly Packages

April 12, 2010 • By

Park Sleep and Fly | A Great Travel Option

Whenever I travel, I’ve opted to use one of the “park then get a free shuttle to the airport/pickup at airport upon return and get free soda pop on your way out” businesses. It’s convenient and you don’t have to worry about begging someone to pick you up after your flight has been delayed at an ungodly hour. Of course, this service isn’t free. You can pay as much as $9.00 for uncovered parking and $13.00 for covered parking. And if you are anything like me, flight day can be pure drama trying to fight traffic and hoping that you make it to your gate on time.

Is There A Better Way?

But there is a saner way of getting to your next destination and you may even save yourself a dollar or two. Wouldn’t it be nice to wake up, get dressed and step right outside your room into a waiting airport shuttle?   Park, Sleep and Fly allows you to do just that. You can book a room with them for at least one night and they will not only make sure that you reach your flight in time, but your room rate will allow you to park your car on-site from 7-14 days at no additional cost! How awesome is that?! You will have your pick from several hoteliers like Sleep Inn, Comfort Inn and Howard Johnson that are located close to your hometown airport. While their website offer some customer reviews, you can always check out  Trip Advisor or the hotel’s main website for more opinions.READ MORE

Budget Tips, Travel Advice

The Spendthrift’s Guide to Traveling on the Cheap – Tip #1

November 1, 2009 • By

The Spendthrifts Guide Tip One

This economy has forced most of us to step back and re-evaluate our finances, particularly when it comes to discretionary spending. Most of us have been forced to tighten our belts and carefully consider every dollar that leaves our bank accounts.   However, there is still a way to be fiscally responsible and satisfy your wanderlust.

In the coming weeks, I will be sharing tried and true tips that will help you to get the biggest bang for your traveling buck. Feel free to add your own suggestions as well.

Plan ahead!

The sooner that you decide where you want to go, the more likely you are to realize your best deals. Visit travel oriented websites like Frommers, Fodors, Priceline, Virtual Tourist, Igougo and Rick Steves among others to get solid ideas of where you want to travel. Once that has been established, start looking for airfare and hotel deals to the destination.

The further out you plan your itinerary, the more lead-time you will have to locate deals, especially during that destination’s off-season. While there are last minute deals to be had via sites like Last Minute or Last Minute Travel, it’s prudent to take a proactive approach and plan early.

Once, I missed out on a great deal to Paris because I hadn’t decided if I really wanted to go there until much later, which meant that I had missed an opportunity to save a lot of money because I was not decisive. If you take nothing else from this tip, just remember that you must be ready to pull the trigger once a cheap fare or cheap hotel rates comes along, because you will never know when a great deal will come your way.

Stay tuned for more Spendthrifts Guide Tips that can help you travel without having to drain you bank account!

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