Call first. The new airline fees for bags, meals, pillows, blankets, and rebooking flights have gotten so bad, jokes travel expert Peter Greenberg, that we could soon end up “paying to use the toilet on the airplane.” Greenberg, author of Don’t Go There! (it’s a guide to all the places you don’t want to visit), has a surprising tip: Talk to a human being at the airline. A website, whether an airline’s or a discounter’s, doesn’t always have all the cheapest flights. Call the airline’s 800 number for flight information, then compare that with what you find on the Internet. Book the best deal.
Stay up late on Tuesday. And book your flight online in the early-morning hours of Wednesday. That’s when all the deals come flooding into the airfare sites. The travel search engine kayak.com scours more than 140 sites to find the cheapest fares, even if it means you’ll fly different airlines coming and going. The site flags red-eye flights and those that are frequently late, and it often links you directly to airlines’ websites, so you avoid booking fees. In our checks, Kayak consistently found better deals than Orbitz and Travelocity.
Try alternatives. Fly into Milwaukee instead of Chicago, Long Beach instead of Los Angeles. For Thanksgiving, the most traveled holiday, don’t fly out on Wednesday. The price will likely be exorbitant and the wait at the airport ridiculously long. Take the very first flight on Thanksgiving morning instead. “Nobody is flying that day,” says Greenberg. Go home on Friday afternoon and you’ll take advantage of two of the least traveled (and less expensive) days of the year.
Book later-or not?. Airfares go up and sometimes down. Check out farecast.live.com to help you decide whether to book immediately or to wait a few days for the best rate. How do they know? The site’s predictive technology takes past trends into account.
Keep your options open. If you’re not sure where you want to go, try booking your trip backward, says Samantha Brown, host of the Travel Channel’s Passport to Great Weekends, who recommends airfarewatchdog.com. “I put in my nearest airports, and every Thursday I get an update on cheap flights to destinations around the world. Say I want to go to Florida. Miami is $200, but Orlando is $500. There are plenty of things to do in Miami.”
Drive a good bargain. Unless you’ve got a family of six, always rent the cheapest economy car. “That’s the one they run out of first; then you’re upgraded and pay the same price,” says Greenberg. Another money-saving option: Rent on a Saturday morning. People book cars for the weekend and don’t show up.
By train. Amtrak’s USA Rail Pass is good for 15 days of virtually unlimited travel for $499 (peak season) and $389 (off-peak season). For kids, it’s $250 (peak) and $195 (off-peak). “You can go across the country and back in that time,” says Greenberg. Sleeping on the train also means you’re not paying for a hotel. Go to amtrak.com and click on Hot Deals. Seats are limited, so reserve in advance each train you plan to take.
By bus. For just $1, you can catch a ride on Megabus (megabus.com), BoltBus (boltbus.com), or NeOn (neonbus.com). Megabus operates in 17 Midwestern and 8 East Coast cities. BoltBus goes to Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C. NeOn rides between New York and Toronto. The buses are new and roomy and tend to run direct. Bolt has free Wi-Fi, plus plug-ins for your laptop, DVD player, and iPod. The catch? There may be only one or two $1 seats for the day and time you want. Book as far in advance as you can.
Hotels. The best site for reserving hotel rooms, says Brown, is hotels.com, where you can often find a 10 to 20 percent discount. But before booking online, call the hotel directly-not the 800 reservation number-and ask if they can beat it.
House swapping. To avoid the cost of a hotel, try a home-swapping service. At digsville.com, you review listings in more than 55 countries to find a home you like for the dates you need, then send a message to the owners and see if they would like to swap with you. Who knows? You may find a family in Paris who would like to stay in your Virginia farmhouse. It’s free to search and contact homeowners, but you won’t be able to list your home or receive offers from other members until you pay the $44.95 annual fee. Homeexchange.com has more extensive listings, for a $99.95 membership fee.
Your Sunday paper isn’t the only place to find coupons. Thecouponclippers.com features about 1,600 coupons at any time, says founder Rachael Woodard. The only drawback? You can’t print coupons from this site. You order them for a small handling fee — 5 to 50 cents per coupon-and they arrive in the mail (look on the site Saturday mornings for the best selection).
Why on earth would you pay for coupons? Because you save big. We created an order that included Betty Crocker Warm Delights desserts, StarKist tuna pouches, Wisk laundry detergent, Ziploc bags, Pillsbury Crescent dinner rolls, and other favorites. Our total outlay to the Coupon Clippers came to $6.64, including the cost of coupons, postage, and a 50-cent administration fee. The savings came to $61.75 when we redeemed the coupons at face value. Some stores will double coupons, creating a savings of $123.50.
One site fan, Jaimie McConnell, a saleswoman from Charlotte, North Carolina, says she saves $15 per grocery trip with the Coupon Clippers. If you coordinate your coupons with store sales, you might even get a product free. There are minimum orders for many of the coupons; you may need only one, but you’ll have to buy five.
Check out mygrocerydeals.com before leaving home to find out what’s on sale in local grocery stores. Key in your zip code and select your favorite stores, everything from bare-bones Aldi to gourmet go-to Whole Foods Market.
You can view deals by store or by item.
At Harris Teeter, wild-caught tuna steaks were going for $5.99 a pound. That’s a $5-per-pound savings. And a 17.5-ounce box of Oatmeal Crisp cereal was a two-for-$5 special, a savings of $2.48.
Keep it fresh
Peter Napolitano, otherwise known as Produce Pete, of WNBC’s Weekend Today in New York, has tips.
Buy locally. It can cost 75 cents just to ship a cantaloupe from California to the East Coast, and $2 to cover the freight for a watermelon traveling from Florida to your grocery store. “You’ll get a tastier product by buying locally because it will ripen on the vine longer, and you’ll get more for your money because you’re cutting out the transportation costs,” says Napolitano.
Buy cheap. We’re accustomed to believing the higher the price, the better the quality. But with produce, the opposite is true. “When you see a cheap price on fruits and vegetables, you can bet the quality will be far superior than when the price is higher,” he says. When fruit is fresh and in season and the volume is up, the price goes down because grocers have to move perishables quickly.
At restaurant.com, browse discounts in your area. Pay $10 for a $25 certificate, select a restaurant, then print out the dining certificate and present it to your waiter. (Be sure to read the fine print for restrictions first.)
Think bargain. Compare cell phones and plans at letstalk.com. Select your preferred carrier (the major players are all here), plan (family, individual, prepaid), and features (camera, Bluetooth, GPS). You can further refine your search by specifying how much you want to spend and how many “anytime minutes” you’ll need. A search for an individual plan and a Verizon Bluetooth phone with a camera yielded 46 phones. When we checked, Verizon’s own XV6900 was $199. The LG VX5400 was free-and with a rebate, you would have made $75 on the deal.
Bundle. Save money by bundling your Internet, phone, and cable services. Compare companies in your area at bundlemyservices.com. While BundleMyServices has partnerships with over 250 service providers, it can’t find competing prices if there’s only one company in your zip code or it has a partnership with only one company in your area.
Cell phones. Get cash for your old cell phone at flipswap.com. You can get store credit from participating dealers or trade it in online for cash back to you or to a charity of your choice. One recent trade: The eight-gigabyte Apple iPhone went for $192.45. The Samsung SPH-a660? Just $4.26. This site will take “any phone from any carrier in any condition.” If your phone is really old or in bad shape, you won’t get any money for it, but it will be recycled and a tree will be planted through the site’s reLeaf initiative.
Long-distance calls. Skype’s website says it all: “Make calls from your computer-free to other people on Skype and cheap to landlines and cell phones around the world.” You’ll need a computer headset or a microphone and speakers. You can even make free video calls with a webcam. Download free software (in 28 languages) at skype.com. Now, call your mother!
Free information. Stop calling directory assistance. Call 1-800-FREE-411 (1-800-373-3411) instead for business and personal lookups. You’ll have to listen to a quick advertisement, but you’ll save $1 or more per number. Google offers a similar service, 1-800-Goog-411 (1-800-466-4411). It’s ad-free but has business numbers only.
Electronics. Techies love newegg.com for deals on computers, digital cameras, TVs, and home appliances. A Harman/Kardon CP 40 5.1 Home Theater System with DVD player was $349, a $650 savings. Many items are in limited supply.
Software. Sreenath Sreenivasan, WNBC’s technology reporter, suggests this list of free, easy-to-use introductory programs:
- OpenOffice.org (download.openoffice.org) features word processing, spreadsheets, database management, and graphics. You’ll have no problem swapping files with people using Microsoft Office.
- Techies swear by the basic free virus and spyware protection you can download at free.avg.com. It does not include firewall or spamware protection. (For fuller protection from online threats, purchase Norton Internet Security 2009 for $69.99.)
- Adobe Photoshop Express (photoshop.com/express) is a stripped-down version of the $99 Photoshop Elements. You can organize, edit, and share family photos, and the kids will get a kick out of the special effects.
Compare prescriptions. You can compare the cost of FDA-approved medications at certified pharmacies in the United States at destinationrx.com. For instance, the lowest price for a 30-day, 10-milligram Lipitor prescription was $79.22 at Wal-Mart when we checked, but it was mail-order only. The next lowest was at Costco, for $83.57. Check out the Options to Consider box for money-saving suggestions, like switching to a comparable but cheaper drug. (Even better, these prices do not take into account health insurance reimbursements.)
Don’t forget your rebate. Before you head to the drugstore, check its website to see if it offers a rebate program. Many do. The Rite Aid site (riteaid.com), for instance, helps you create a printable shopping list of rebate items. And its paperless rebate program is easy. Just log on to the site and input the required information from your receipts (save them in case you need proof). Once Rite Aid verifies the information, you’ll receive your check in a couple of weeks. Recent rebates included $3 on Claritin, $2 on Pampers, and $10 on Crest Whitestrips.
Prescription glasses. For huge savings on prescription glasses, order online. Ask your optometrist for your prescription, pupillary distance (the length between the center of your pupils), and your frame measurements. (If your doctor is unwilling to supply this information, find one who will.) Ira Mitchell, who writes the blog Glassy Eyes (glassyeyes.com), has purchased 15 pairs of glasses online. He typically spends $50 (or less) for a pair, a savings of $350 over what he has paid at LensCrafters. Have an optometrist double-check the lenses, and return them if they are not accurate. Mitchell recommends 39dollarglasses.com for its extensive selection of frames and lenses, fast turnaround time, warranty against defects, and good customer support. He also likes eyebuydirect.com for its low prices on bifocals. Slate writer Farhad Manjoo raves about goggles4u.com and zennioptical.com.
Prescription drugs. You’ve probably heard that Wal-Mart sells a 30-day supply of more than 300 drugs (mostly generics) for just $4 per order. So do Giant Eagle, Kroger Pharmacy, and Target. Wal-Mart, Kroger,Target, and Kmart sell a 90-day supply for $10. Check each store’s website or stop by your local store to see if your prescribed drug qualifies. Consumer Reports found that depending on where you have your prescriptions filled, you could pay up to $100 more for the same pills. Based on the experiences of more than 40,000 CR readers, Costco is the cheapest source. And you don’t have to pay Costco’s $50 annual fee to use its pharmacy. You can get prescriptions filled both in store and at costco.com.
Pharmaceutical deals. Check the drug company’s website for coupons and special deals. We saw savings at evista.com (a free 30-day trial of Evista, an osteoporosis drug), yaz.com (a $10 coupon for your first prescription of this birth control pill), and purplepill.com (a program to save up to $30 off your co-pay for up to six refills of Nexium, a heartburn medication). Even with coupons, some drugs will still cost more than their generic counterparts.
The Do-Everything Way to Save
Whether it’s finding a deal on vacations or V8 juice, this clip-and-save checklist will help you get the lowest price in the shortest time.
[step-list-wrapper title=”” time=””] [step-item number=”1. ” image_url=”” title=” Insider alerts.” ]Be among the first to know about sales and deals on your favorite things. Create a list of keywords-Dell computer, for instance, or Callaway golf club-by using fatwallet.com’s Topic Alert feature. You’ll receive e-mail notices when there’s a sale.
- Sign up for Daily Deals e-mails at bargainist.com to receive coupons and alerts about sales on electronics, clothing, groceries, and more.
- Create a customized shopping profile at shopittome.com by specifying your sizes and favorite brands and designers, and receive e-mail alerts for the latest in fashion deals.
[step-item number=”2. ” image_url=”” title=” Comparison sites.” ]Let these “shopbot” sites shop the Web and identify the best deals. Sort by price to find the lowest:
–Designer clothes and accessories: bluefly.com
–Cable, Internet, phone: bundlemyservices.com
–Cell phones and calling plans: letstalk.com
–Prescription drugs: destinationrx.com
[step-item number=”3. ” image_url=”” title=”Codes.” ]Discount codes on these sites can be passwords to additional online savings: currentcodes.com, keycode.com, naughtycodes.com, rather-be-shopping.com, retailmenot.com, shoppingcodes.com[/step-item]
[step-item number=”4. ” image_url=”” title=”Coupons.” ]Check out these sites, download printable coupons (or sign up to receive them via mail or e-mail), then head to the store or shop online: couponmom.com, dazzling-deals.com, dealcatcher.com, mygrocerydeals.com, thecouponclippers.com, webbyplanet.com, wow-coupons.com[/step-item]
[step-item number=”5. ” image_url=”” title=” Special deals.” ]Even if you’re committed to shopping in person instead of online, do your homework. Most retailers have their own websites, featuring coupons, rebates, and special offers, redeemable in their stores. Google them to see what they’re offering before heading to the mall.[/step-item][/step-list-wrapper]
If you’re shipping gifts to relatives, figure out the cheapest way at shipgooder.com. The site covers the major carriers, including UPS, DHL, FedEx, and the U.S. Postal Service. Key in your zip code and the zip code where your package is headed, as well as the weight and number of packages you’re shipping.