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
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
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.
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