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Destination Guide

It's not the airfares that will break your budget this year, it's the hotel

bills " That's been my mantra for several years, and it will likely re-

main so for quite a few more. Travelers who fixate on airfares and

ignore their accommodation costs will ultimately pay a stiff penalty for

their tunnel vision.

You don't have to look far for examples.During much of the winter

of 1999 and the early spring of 2000, you could fly round-trip from the

United States to London-even from the West Coast-for less than the

asking price for one night's lodging in the Dorchester or one of London s

other famous hotels. Clearly, lodging costs deserve at least as much atten-

tion as airfares-maybe more-especially when you head for an expensive

destination.

 

The accommodation marketplace is very different from that in which

the airlines operate:

Location doesn't matter much with airlines. True, the destination

city's location often impacts fares, but you don't have to decide if you

want a beachfront airport, or one near a golf course. Many cities have

just one airport, and even the largest metro areas give you only a few

airport options. Not so with hotels: You find them scattered through-

out metro areas, in small towns, and along Interstates and other ma]or

highways Even a difference of a few blocks in proximity to your

ultimate destination-city center, beach, theater, or relatives' house-

can be very important when you choose where to stay.

 

When you fly, you have only two or three real product choices. And

to move up to a roomier seat and a better meal service costs you from

4 to 20 times more than the airlines' rock-bottom economy products.

Hotel suppliers, on the other hand, offer you a broad range of price

and quality, extending in small increments from a minimal budget

product to a money-is-no-object one. If you want something a little

better than the hotel industry's rock-bottom economy options, you

move up a step, pay a little more, and get a slightly better room. In

that respect, the hotel marketplace is much more user-friendly than

that of the airlines.

 

For the reasons I just described, most travelers don't approach hotels

with the same price-is-everything paradigm they apply to airline tickets.

Sure, if you've decided to stay in a big-city hotel, price is critical: The

published asking prices (rack rates, in hotel-ese) can be very high, and dis-

counts are widely available. While the full-price-to-discount range is nar-

rower than the range you find among airlines, it's big enough to warrant

some real effort to buy at the bottom of the price range, not the top. For-

tunately, you'll find plenty of discounters on the Internet.

Where Senior Starts at 50

Most hotel-chain Web sites allow you to ask for senior deals, although,

with some, you must call either the chain's nationwide reservation

system or the individual hotel for a senior rate. At many hotel chains,

you're eligible for senior rates starting at the relatively young age of

50. That's because 50 is the minimum age for membership in AARP

(American Association of Retired Persons; www.aarp.org, $8 per year),

and AARP insists that any benefit offered be available to all qualified

members.

AARP has official deals with more than three dozen hotel

chains. Specific chains and their discount percentages can be found

on the "Member Services & Discounts" page of the AARP Web site;

other chains unofficially honor AARP cards, as well. And many oth-

ers offer their own senior deals, although the minimum age might be

higher than 50.

Rather than hook up with AARP, Hilton runs its own senior club,

Senior HHonors (www.hilton.com/hhonors/seniors/). The minimum

age is 60, but if one spouse qualifies, the other can be any age. Deals

are quite good, often exceeding 50 percent off, but you have to pay

to belong—$55 the first year, $40 for annual renewals. Once you have

your Senior HHonors ID number, Hilton's Web site will automatically

include special senior deals that might be available at each hotel. Days

Inn (www.daysinn.cow) also operates its own senior club, September

Days Club; $15 for one year to $50 for five years.

 

But you might well prefer a budget motel, bed & breakfast, or vacation

rental to a big-city hotel, even if you don't get much of a discount—or any

discount at all. The Internet can be a big help in locating that sort of

accommodation, too.