Archive for the ‘Discounts and Deals’ Category

Eat Like a Local

October 1, 2015

Getting ready to visit another city?  Groupon and Living Social are great ways to take advantage of deals in your destination city.  Using either your computer or the phone app, change the location using the zip code of where you are staying.  You can search for restaurant or activity deals to stretch your travel budget.

Groupon is a little more user friendly by letting you show the deals on a map rather than just a list but the few minutes of research you need to do using either is more than made up for by the bargains you’ll find.  The app makes it so you don’t have to print out anything so you can even grab a deal on your way out the door!

Here in Scottsdale, I’ve so far taken advantage of deals at:

Thirsty Lion Gastropub & Grill – Fashion Square Mall location
We went for Happy Hour and tried a number of their food offerings including Pulled Pork Sliders, Bacon Cheddar Potato Cakes, Sauteed Brussell Sprouts Pretzeland the Oven baked hot pretzel with beer cheese dip.  Off the Seasonal Menu I had the Pan Seared Shishito Peppers – a favorite of mine.  The table agreed that everything was great EXCEPT the hot pretzel which was dry and the ale cheese dip that looked unappealing and lacked flavor.  The manager was quick to take it off our bill though and even gave us coupons for a free appetizer when we return – and yes, we will!

Bink’s Kitchen + Bar – 6107 N Scottsdale Rd.
Bink'sWith all the accolades Chef Binkley has received we had high expectations and were disappointed.  The food certainly tasted fine, but both the Baby Beets Ceviche and the Heirloom Tomatoes were such tiny portions – certainly not worth their $9 and $11 price tags respectively.  It almost felt as though they were running low in the kitchen and we got what was left – certainly neither item matched pictures on the web of those dishes.  The Gazpacho and Fried Shishito Peppers were more appropriately sized to their prices and the Moroccan Fried Chicken was the hit of the table.  Part of our disappointment was in the extremely slow service.  We were there on a Tuesday night early – hardly the middle of a busy weekend evening and the food took an exceptionally long time to get to the table.  When we inquired with our server, he acted as though we had personally insulted him!

 

Rosati’s Pizza – N. Scottsdale -10989 E Dynamite Blvd
We love pizza.  Just not THIS pizza.  I try to say something positive in every review but in this case, I can’t.  We ordered the “Double Dough”, a medium thicknessCholula crust with a hand-rolled edge.  The dough is the foundation of every great pizza and this dough was just bland.  It had no flavor what so ever!  The sauce was okay and the toppings (Pepperoni, Bacon, Black Olives and Fresh Tomato slices) were equally bland.  To add insult to injury – it took forever!  We looked surprised when another table that had been seated at least 30 minutes after us received their pizza first and the customer explained they had phoned in their order 15-20 minutes before they arrived!  Yes, it took nearly an hour to get a marginal pizza.  Thank goodness we had ordered the fried zucchini to tide us over!  We took most of the pizza home with us and using heavy doses of Cholula Hot Sauce we were able to make it more edible.

One of the great things about getting a deal, it takes some of the sting out of the lackluster experiences whether it is small portions, bland food, slow service or all of the above!

Advertisements

Chocolate Lovers Dream

August 23, 2013

Name your favorite food.  For so many people the answer is chocolate.  Those who regularly eat chocolate like to justify it with “health benefits” but let’s face it – it’s chocolate!  Did you really need a good excuse to indulge?

Chocolate TastingHow about a weekend of indulgence?  How about indulging at a discount?  Home Run, one of the daily discount sites is offering admission for 2 on Sunday, September 22nd to the Northwest Chocolate Festival.  Sample chocolate from over 50 artisan chocolate and pastry artists plus learn more about your favorite food.  I’m sure you can find lots more reasons to justify your love of chocolate!  Sounds like a great way to spend a weekend with someone you love – or a fellow chocolate lover and for only $35 – that’s HALF-OFF!  Have an odd number of friends (3, 5 or more?) Living Social has the same value on single tickets!

Can’t make that Chocolate Festival?  There are LOTS of chocolate festivals to choose from.  Type “Chocolate Festival” into your favorite search engine and be prepared to be amazed – I certainly was!  February is “off season” at the beaches of Washington so you can book a reasonable priced room for the 7th Annual Chocolate on the Beach Festival.

Portland has Chocolate Fest in January.  Enumclaw paired wines with Chocolate for their festival.  Port Orchard will have their first Chocolate Festival in November which opens with a Chocolate Ball followed by 2 days of chocolate fun!

Tasty Chocolate Festivals are not limited to the Pacific Northwest.  You can make a Chocolate Festival part of your travels to placeschocolate_fest ranging from Mobile, Alabama to Belize to Hawaii and beyond!  Communities both large and small are hosting Chocolate Festivals – many as fundraisers for worthy charities (see, another good excuse to indulge).

hershey-kisseesOf course, the “ultimate” for chocolate lovers could be “Chocolate-Covered February” in the home of Chocolate here in the USA, Hershey, Pennsylvania.

Great memories often center around great food.  Take a girl friend, your sister, your lover, your spouse and indulge in a little chocolate.  Life is so much sweeter – with chocolate!

Sip Around the World

June 7, 2013

image

We went to Australia last night. Best part, this journey ” down under” came with no jet lag!  Martin Gorman of Red Earth Wines and the team at Wine World in Seattle poured tastings of 9 Australian wines from various regions giving us a bit of education too.

WineWorld.jpgLooking for a fun way to spend a couple of hours somewhere in the world without the need for a passport?  Consider a wine tasting in one of your neighborhood wine stores.  Many, like the one we just attended at Wine World, were free.  Others that offer food usually have a nominal fee.

 

TastingWineWorld.jpg

If you are new to wine, or just want to branch out and try something new, wine tastings from various parts of the world is a great way.  Wine World features wines from all over the globe; Chile, Spain, Italy, Greece, Argentina along with the expected France and USA.  Find something you like?  Use your discount card (free) and save 10% on the treasures you take home to share with friends and family.

WineWorld.jpg

Wine World (I-5 at the 45th St exit)  has wine tastings every day of the week and special events several times a month.  Their website is the source for the most up-to-date information on store events.  You can also sign up for emails to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.

TastingWineWorld.jpg

Love to eat and drink?  Sign up for a wine/food pairing seminar featuring food and wines of Germany and Austria later in June for only $50.  Sure a lot less expensive than a plane ticket to Europe!

No matter where you live, your local wine store likely offers tasting events.  If you normally just pick up a bottle of wine at your grocery store, it would be worth seeking out the wine specialty retailers in your area to find out about their events.  You not only get a unique experience, but you support a local business at the same time.

In addition to the extensive programs at Wine World,  Esquin (4th & Lander, a little south of the stadiums) also has a  calendar of events where you can taste wines from near and far.  Sign up for their newsletter or visit their website for the current list of events.  In addition to wines, they also have beer events if that’s more your taste.

Food and wine is part of the culture and an enrichment of travel.  Your local wine store brings the world to your neighborhood.  Bring your friends and take a  trip without packing a bag, we did!  G’Day!

Exotic and Inexpensive

October 25, 2012

Want to learn a lot about how people live?  Pay a visit to the grocery store.  Whether in another part of the country or another part of the world, the grocery store is full of fascinating insights.

 

On my recent trip to Thailand I found unusual fruits; Dragon Fruit, Pomelo and Chinese Oranges (shown in that order left to right) to name a few.  Pick up a couple that look interesting and take them back to your hotel room to try them.

They can make an inexpensive meal or just a bit of an adventure, but don’t try to take foreign fruits or vegetables back home to the States.  There are restrictions designed to protect our food chain and always be sure to thoroughly rinse what you buy to eat.

Need some exotic but inexpensive souvenirs?  The grocery store is the place for those as well.

Interesting teas, salts, spices, nuts, candy make great gifts for those back home.  Macadamia nuts are a lot less expensive in the Maui Safeway than they are in the gift shop!

image

You’ll also find products not available at home.  I brought back Pimento Salt from Portugal and vacuum packed olives (easy to pack – no glass, no liquids) from Greece.

I’m a chip junkie so I’m always trying different flavors of chips.  In Thailand I found flavors such as Hot Chili Squid and Nori Seaweed.  If you have teens at home, this is an easy and fun gift to bring home from your next business trip out of the country.  Imagine the fun they would have with their friends trying these unusual flavors – way to be the “cool parent”!

These exotic taste treats are a fun way to share your travels and you’ll quickly learn why the grocery store is my favorite place to shop when I travel!

Push the Reset Button

July 20, 2012

I don’t think I’ve ever checked into a hotel planning to spend 7 nights and then checked out after 1.  Certainly I’ve asked for a different or better room,  some properties I wouldn’t choose to stay at again and several I wouldn’t recommend but I had never been so disappointed as to actually MOVE until now.

We honeymoon every year for our anniversary.  This year we went to Kauai.   With both friends and family in the hospitality business, we get great discounts on what are typically great hotels.  However,  the Sheraton Kauai was a disappointment.  From the lack of landscaping,  the tiny pool, the restaurants, even the elevator and hallway to our room – everything felt like a budget hotel.  Not what we would have chosen for our “honeymoon ” even our 12th!

image

However,  this is not a hotel review but rather a “Now what?”  If it were just our room, we would have asked for a different one but the room itself was the best part (okay, except for the tub) – our disappointment was with the property.

image

I had done some restaurant research prior to our arrival and a couple of the nicer restaurants were 2 miles down the beach at the Grand Hyatt.  We made a reservation and went there early enough to walk the grounds.  From the waterfall, black swans and other interesting waterfowl out front to the beautiful grounds and extensive pools – including a quiet adult pool – we were envious!

image

At dinner I used my smartphone and got room rates.  A deluxe ocean view room was $600/night.  Yikes!  Our current ocean view room with the “friends/family” discount was only $240.

At my husband’s suggestion, I tried some of the highly advertised discount hotel websites.  I’ve never been a fan of the “blind hotel” sites such as Priceline or Hotwire.  I am uncomfortable paying for something before I know exactly what I’m getting even though I have friends who regularly use them.  In this instance,  I’d already had one hotel disappointment – I wasn’t willing to chance a second.

Before resigning ourselves to a lackluster week at our current property,  I tried Hotels.com.  I’ve used them in the past with success.  In fact, they listed the room level we wanted for our dates at $399 – $600 a night for future dates.  The $399 was a non-refundable, prepaid price listed as “limited time offer”. 

I went to the hotel front desk with smartphone in hand and asked if they could match the rate.  The Manager explained that their contract with these other sites gives them an allocation of rooms on dates they historically are not full.   As time gets short (checking in tomorrow versus 2 months from now) they will sell their inventory for whatever they can get – in this case, nearly $200/night less than the hotel itself because it’s the discounter taking the profit hit – not the hotel itself, they already sold the room to Hotels.com at the contract price.

The front desk management said they’d love to have us move over and encouraged me to “grab that deal”, which we did.  Yes, we prepaid on the spot but this time we knew exactly what we were buying.  Yes, it was $150/night more but we are not exclusively a “price customer “.  We’ve paid a lot more per night plenty of times!

Not only is the property lovely, our room has a lovely ocean view and even at our discount rate, they sent champagne to our room, gave us comp desserts and a cabana on the beach for a day in honor of our anniversary.

image

The moral of the story is: Don’t be afraid to push the reset button!  When your room has issues but the property is fine – ask for a change.   When the property itself is the problem,  shop others nearby and then use the discount sites for last minute deals.  It’s your vacation – make it a great memory!

Let’s Drink on It

July 6, 2012

My husband and I just got back from a 12 day cruise.  Cruises have a lot of pluses; you can visit a lot of places and only unpack once, you can eat whatever you want and not have to cook or clean, there are always interesting people to talk to and since you typically booked months in advance, the vacation is already paid for so you can just relax and enjoy.

With rare exceptions, cruise lines do not include a couple of items which can get pricey in a hurry.  

Internet (which I’ll cover in another blog upcoming), shore excursions (also a future blog topic) tips and drinks.

Some cruise lines now include the tips, others allow you to “pre-pay” them.  Tipping can add an average of $500 to the price of your cruise but the real “incidental” you will find is your bar tab which includes not only the price of the drink, but a mandatory 15-18% “tip” as well.  Many cruise lines charge for soft drinks as well!

Very few cruise line include the alcohol and those that do are the most expensive lines such as Silver Seas, Seabourn, Crystal and Regent Seven Seas Cruises.  River cruises typically include wine with meals as does Azamara.

So how can you save some money and not resort to just drinking water, coffee and tea on your cruise vacation?

Soft drinks:  Many cruise lines offer a package that allows unlimited soft drinks for a flat rate.  This can be a real savings if traveling with kids or other heavy soda consumers.

Drink of the Day:  Most cruise lines promote a drink of the day.  The trip we just completed had 3 options each day for $5 each.  They were listed in the newsletter left in our cabin each day and we found this to be a great way to try some new things and save some money.

Happy Hour:  Yes, some boats even have happy hour.  Ours had 2 for 1 drinks.  Check the hours in the newsletter and plan accordingly.  Maybe you can have dinner a little later and drink your cocktails in the lounge with some live musical entertainment rather than having your before dinner drink at the table in the dining room.  Again, both a fun experience and a cost savings.

Tastings:  During the length of a cruise, some ships will offer events such as “Martini tastings” or “Wine tastings”.  My husband did the martini tasting on our cruise for $15 (no tip added because it was an “activity).

Wine:  Buy a bottle.  It’s less expensive than the “by the glass” price and what you don’t drink tonight, they will store for you and bring to your table tomorrow night for you to enjoy the rest.

Before you decide to just buy alcohol at the first port of call to save some money make sure you know your cruise lines rules.  All cruise ships make you go through airport type security as you reboard the ship so they see the bottles you purchased ashore.  MANY will ask your cabin number and then “store it for you” until you get off at your final port.  Others will charge a per bottle “consumption fee”.  Most have a “corkage” fee to open and serve the bottle in one of the dining rooms.

If your ship does allow you to bring outside alcohol on board to “consume in your cabin” for little or no fee and you drink something simple (no blender required) you can save some money by pouring your own drink in the room and then taking it with you around the ship.  No one blinks an eye at someone walking down the hall, into the showroom, casino or dining room with a full glass.   Of course that also means going back to your cabin every time you want another round which I guess is one way to burn a few extra calories as your cruise!

When evaluating cruises for your next vacation, consider your beverage consumption and be sure to factor in the costs before you book.  Check the FAQ section of your cruise website or call their representative for specific information so you can budget – or book – accordingly.

Don’t Drink the Water!

June 8, 2012

Those who know me will attest that I rarely drink water.  I do drink gallons of “water-based beverage” – specifically no calorie iced tea – every single day.  One of the ways to eliminate a lot of calories while on vacation is to switch to water over sugary soft drinks.

In a previous post, I suggested going to a grocery store as soon as you arrive at your destination and stocking up on water.  Even in places where the water is “safe to drink” you may find the taste not to your liking.  Plus if you are in a warmer climate you will likely need to hydrate more.  Same if you are more active on vacation.

This is also true for your children.  Most families see an increase in soda consumption (or at least requests for more) while on vacation.  Often wanting a holiday from the whining, parents give in more than they would at home.  Given the increasing instances of childhood obesity – an alternative is clearly needed.

I don’t like water.  Chances are your kids don’t like it either.  To save both money and calories, consider some of the packaged mixes for your bottled water.  Our family likes Propel so we bought a couple of boxes of different flavors of Propel mix.  No calories.  Simply open a packet, add to plain water and shake.  At the store, a 10 pack box was right about $2.00.  (There is even a free sample offer on their Facebook Page which you an access with this link.)

That means you can buy the least expensive bottled water at the grocery store, add this 20 cent flavoring and make water something special.  

Sometimes rather than use a flavored mix, my husband will simply add a packet of Splenda to plain water.  This little bit of sweetner satisfies his sweet tooth without the calories.

Many places will let you bring in bottled water even when they don’t allow “outside food or beverages”.  So you can take your flavored water just about anywhere with you (except through airport security).

If you do like the taste of the water where you are, you can always refill the empty water bottles from the tap and use them over again.  Just be sure to use a Sharpie marker to write each person’s name on their bottle!

Try this on your next trip to get your crew to drink more water while not adding to their calorie consumption.

Group “A” – Home For The Holidays Part 1

October 7, 2011

Home for the Holidays.  Nice concept and popular in movies and music.  In reality, getting there can be a hassle.  But since Travel Queen Tips is all about more fun and less hassles when you travel, the next few weeks will be devoted to getting YOU home for the holidays with minimum fuss.

Do you need to take a plane to your destination?   Flights are always oversold around Thanksgiving and Christmas.  The closer you get to the day of departure, the more expensive and scarcer airline tickets typically become.

So if you plan to fly over one of the major travel holidays, buy your airline tickets now!  You will likely get the lowest fare and by absorbing the cost in October, you reduce the impact on your budget in December.

Southwest Airlines is a popular airline of choice for many holiday travelers.  They are known for lower fares and they don’t charge to check a bag – an unexpected cost inexperienced travelers often do not factor into their ticket purchase decision.  They are also the most flexible should your plans unexpectedly change.

The downside to Southwest, particularly over the holidays when every flight is jam packed is that they do not allow you to pre-assign seats.  Instead, they board by “Groups” and then in numerical order within the group.  Example:  A1, A2, etc.

Getting a low boarding number is always preferred – over the holidays it’s essential!

  • A low boarding number increases the odds your group will be able to sit together.
  • It also will give you more choices in seat selection – aisle, window or middle.
  • Those on the plane first also find it easier to stow their carry-ons because the bins are not yet full.  If you don’t plan to check a bag – or even if you do but will have a tote bag or shopping bag of gifts you will carry on with you – overhead space is not guaranteed by ANY airline.  A low boarding number on Southwest makes it far more likely you will find a space for your items.
How do you get one of these prized “A” Group boarding numbers?  You pay for it!
When on the Southwest Airlines website booking your flight, select the lowest fare available for your destination and preferred travel time.  This is the price in the FAR RIGHT column of their page.  If you book now, you may get one of their low “Wanna Get Away” fares and will often say “Web Only”.
As you move to the next screen where you put in the travelers’ names, you will see an option for “Earlybird Check-In”.  SELECT IT!!!!!  Yes, it will increase the price of your ticket $10 each way – $20 total on a round-trip but trust me, over the holidays it’s a small price to pay to preserve your sanity!
The sooner you do this, the lower the number you will get because they check you in automatically and assign a boarding number.
This weekend, call the people  you want to visit over the holidays and make a plan.  Request time off at work (if necessary) and then book your flight.  Regardless of the airline – the sooner the better when it comes to holiday travel!

Planning Ahead Can Save Big

August 19, 2011

We all know to buy our airline tickets at least 2 weeks in advance in order to save some money and often, the further ahead you purchase, the better chance you have for snagging the lowest fare.

If you are planning a visit to another major city sometime during the next few months, sign up for both Living Social and Groupon for that city.  Do this for cities you visit regularly whether it’s for business to because you have family or friends there.

Create a new email address for your “out of area” offers so you can easily distinguish between the local and out of town offers.

While you probably look for great deals on manicures, dining or even car services in your local offers, keep an eye out for more tourist type activities in your other city.  

Recently, Living Social offered a significant discount on a 30 minute scenic flight for 3 or 5 with Seattle Scenic Flights.  Groupon had a bargain on a “Ghost Tour” of the Market and Post Alley – a “Top 10” of national ghost tours.

Previously there have been discounts on a trip to observation deck on the Smith Tower and Segway sightseeing tours of downtown and West Seattle among many others.

Of course, there are always great deals on restaurants and lodging too.

To be sure you don’t buy “bargains” you can’t really use, use the map and directions feature so you don’t buy something for a location too far from where you will be staying.  It’s not a bargain if you spend what you saved on taxi fare to get there!

Also, don’t buy unless your trip is definite!  If you buy deals in a city where you have family or friends, you can always offer it to them if something should change but these deals are non-refundable so buy wisely!

Lastly, read the small print.  You don’t want to get a deal that’s only good during the week if you are only going to be there on the weekend.

These daily deal sites are a great way to save money both in your home city and in major cities you visit.  Sign up today (they’re free!) and start saving!

Vegas on a Shoestring

June 10, 2011

You don’t have to spend big bucks to enjoy “Sin City”.  I went to Vegas for years without ever spending a dime gambling.  The economy has hit this adult playground hard so now is the time to visit!

Assuming you went on line and got your Players Club cards suggested in last week’s post, you may have already gotten an email with a great rate on a hotel room.  Current occupancy rates make it affordable to stay at one of the great hotels right on the Strip for what you used to pay for a less desirable hotel not as conveniently located.

Most of the major resorts on the Strip have sometime to offer that’s FREE.  Here are some of my personal favorites:

The pool.  I don’t spend all day out by the pool but it’s a great way to start the day.  I like early morning when it’s not crowded and isn’t as hot.  Regardless of when you go though, the landscaping – and the people-watching are worth a daily visit!  I’m especially partial to the pool at Caesar’s Palace!

MGM Grand.  This resort is part of the MGM film family which also owns CBS, Showtime and a couple of other television networks.  They do FREE screenings of new programs several times a day.  

Their logo is also “Leo the Lion” and in their glass enclosure habitat, you can watch lions play every day.

Bellagio.  Known for their fountains, the displays set to music every 30 minutes always draw a crowd along the fence to watch.  But don’t forget to go INSIDE the resort as well.  They have a ceiling of Chihuly glass in the lobby where you check in and an elaborate garden they change seasonally.  Right behind the garden in the row of shops is Jean-Philippe’s world’s largest chocolate fountain – all FREE to see and enjoy!

In addition to the discounts that come with your Players Club card, there are lots of coupons for discounts on just about everything.  Keep your eyes open – we even found coupons on our tray liner when we stopped for a Nathan’s hot dog at a resort  food court that let us save on the Haagen-dazs ice cream we had for dessert!

There is so much more to see and do than I could possibly cover in one blog post – all for little or no cost.  Later in the month I’ll share things for those who love architecture, armchair travelers and even adventure lovers!  


%d bloggers like this: