Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Reservation Roulette (travel planning on a budget)

I stare at my monitor through zombie eyes. Planning a multi-leg trip on a budget sucks the life out of one's brain.There are a gajillion inroads to choose from. Expedia, Kayak, Priceline, just to name a few, each offering their own benefits and dozens of alternatives. 

I also check in with my loyalty (hahahaha!) rewards programs, which are multiplying like dust bunnies. Because prices at my good ol' tried-and-true favorites have often eked their way up and out of my shrinking budget, I've been forced to engage with alternatives. Any and all of them.

Come directly to us, to our URL, they entice. We guarantee you the best deal! they promise. We have a terrific rewards program for which you've earned enough points to receive a free stay, I imagine.

As if.

Back when the boys were young and we only traveled once a year for vacation, it was so simple. 

  • Where’s the closest and cheapest hotel/motel to our destination?  (Likely a Super 8. BOOKED!)
  • Where is the next McDonald's? (Likely just around the corner. PARKED!)

But now that I’m a seasoned business traveler,  I expect too much, know too much, ask too many questions, have too many options. I've experienced what can happen when things run amuck, know how easy it is to be ripped off deceived taken advantage of miss a detail.

  • What does this price include? 
  • By the time they add parking and the internet charges, is that room still a good deal? 
  • Do they charge for carry-ons?
  • Is this coupon for the rental car going to save me money, or is it cheaper using AAA?
  • Wonder if that hotel still has AARP rates available?
  • If I choose this best-price set of flights, yet I’m knowingly flirting with missed connections... Hel-LO! 
  • The neighborhood has changed to not-so-safe anymore. 
  • What are my flight alternatives if/when weather turns bad? Perhaps I should choose another airport.
  • Sure, I got that super-good, uber upgraded Priceline steal on that hotel, but transportation hassles to get from their location to the book gig ruined my day and offset any savings.

With my insane version of Reservation Roulette, I’m currently holding five hotel bookings for the same dates. I think. Due to my new loyalty program  frenzy, not all chains could email me a confirmation. "After we hang up, just join our loyalty program online," they said, this after I called to inquire about a few amenities, made my reservations and THEN learned about their program. "Just give us your new loyalty number at check in." This means some of the confirmation numbers I found scribbled on the back of an envelope don't yet show a match in my new loyalty accounts.

Terrific, Charlene, you DOLT!

Knowledge is sometimes not power, but vexing, hexing and dogging crazy making. For instance, I know that various booking prices are cheapest on certain days of the week. Sometimes. I’m living with the tormenting fallout of comparing prices every day or two, switching reservations as choices appear and disappear, dollar signs excel and dip, new hotels come to my attention. It is during schemes like this I really do wish I’d won the lottery so I didn’t have to think about travel on a budget. Otherwise, who needs the headache of all that money, all those friends and relatives you don't know asking for massive amounts of  moolah so they can go someplace without all this cheapo planning torment?

But for now, budget questions prevail:
  •  Does a manager’s reception really matter to me? (Right about now, a cocktail sounds like a terrific idea, especially a free one!) 
  • What have others said about this location? Do I trust them? Maybe they're impossible people who complain about everything or are related to the owner. 
  • Do I need a restaurant nearby? Their continental breakfast might not include an ounce of protein.
  • Is there a refrigerator and/or microwave in the room? 
  • Where is that bedbug list posted again, and why didn’t I bookmark it the last time?! 
  • Okay, I never heard of this chain, but thankfully, research shows travelers did enjoy their stays ... Oh. Back in 2008. 

**She sighs.**

The only reason I haven’t locked in the Very Cheapest Prices yet is because to do that, you must pay ahead with nonrefundable bucks, and pieces of my plans are still in flux. My biggest fear is that I’ll forget to cancel the reservations I eventually leave behind, so rather than saving myself money, I’ll end up paying for three rooms in three locations for the same night because they took my credit card info to hold them, and I lost track by writing on the backs of envelopes.


At some point, I’ll run out of time to continue playing this game. To be honest, that will be a relief. But until then, although I know I can’t allow twenty bucks to overrule my safety or rob me of sleep, twenty bucks times a bunch of nights can make the difference between a few nice meals out versus another bowl of Wendy’s chili.

Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE Wendy’s chili (only 310 calories in a large with 26 grams of protein), which is why I often buy two of them at a time when I have a refrigerator and microwave in my hotel room.  Which reminds me, I need to recheck the amenities at two of those places…

And so my travel shenanigans continue. At least for now.


Out of curiosity, does anyone else play this tormenting game? Or do you just trip your trigger, make your reservations and move on, satisfied that any money saved wouldn't be worth the hassles or your time? 

Please let me know in the comments section. So I can either set up my therapy session or tell me husband, SEEEEEEE?! I'M NOT ALONE!