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Archive for the ‘travel’ Category

Sneaky Airline Tricks

Friday, June 26th, 2009

I always knew credit card companies were sneaky, but now the airlines seem to be copying their “best” practices. This is my conclusion after a weird encounter with Continental today.  I use a Continental mileage-reward credit card because I fly out a Newark, a hub for the airline. In the mail today I received two gift certificates for $20 off a flight in the U.S. that said “Here is your free gift. Thanks for using your credit/debit card.” Very handy, as I was just booking a flight to Chicago for August.

Now I had priced this trip a week ago, and it came up at $178 round-trip, but I didn’t book it because my plans weren’t confirmed. When I logged into Continental. com, and submitted my gift certificate promo code, it priced at $258. So I logged out and did a quick check on again, without using the promotion certificate. Price? $198.

So as you make your summer travel plans, beware of credit cards and airlines bearing gifts. This one was apparently a $60 Trojan Horse fare hike — or make that $40, as I would have “saved” $20 by using the gift certificate. It’s kind of like a corporate membership program I had with a rental car company years ago. You would price the deal, and then price it again with your membership number — and it always came out to a higher rate.

Have you run into sneaky practices by the airlines that empty your wallet? Comment here or email me at laura at

A Fishy Savings Strategy

Thursday, June 18th, 2009

My daughter Anne has been asking me for a fish, which I told her she had to purchase out of her allowance (hey, I paid for the dog — which we adopted from another family who couldn’t take care of her, not a puppy mill). Anne had about $6 left in her piggy bank and needed $10.

We talked about her alternatives — waiting two weeks for her July allowance, or figuring out how to earn extra cash. She decided she liked the extra cash idea, so we brainstormed entrepreneurial possibilities. She just turned 12 and enjoys little kids, and there are dozens of them within a two-block radius, so babysitting looked like a slam dunk.

This in turn led to a discussion about the training one needs to be a successful babysitter/entrepreneur, so we signed her up for the Red Cross Babysitter’s Training course. Since I am always happy to pay for educational stuff, I wrote the tuition check for the all-day course. Bottom line: Instead of giving her $4 to pay for the fish, I spent $65. But as they say, give a kid $4 and they’ll get a fish today, teach a kid to babysit and they can buy fish forever. Or something like that.

Anyway, while she was in the pet store picking out Thursday — the name of her new fish — I was making a deposit at Wachovia. The teller asked if I wanted to sign up for the bank’s new program, Way2Save and receive guaranteed 5% interest on the account’s balance at the end of the first year. Since my online savings account has dropped to a paltry 1.5% I took the bait.

Thursday the fish

Thursday, the Betta fish

Alas, the fine print reveals that Way2Save is not smooth sailing to the riches of Atlantis, but may be helpful, especially for people who occasionally overdraw their checking accounts. And it might be a nice way to build up a mini emergency fund, or save for an annual vacation, especially if you’re one of those spontaneous types who books a cruise at the last minute and charges the excursion to a credit card.

Here’s how it works: You link the Way2Save account to your checking, and are allowed to make an automatic transfer of $100 a month. Then, for every purchase you make with your check card and every bill you pay online, the bank will transfer $1 from your checking to savings. (Wachovia aggregates the payment at the end of the day, and if it overdraws your account, the transaction does not go through.) There’s no minimum balance, and no initial deposit required.

You can opt to use Way2Save as overdraft protection, and Wachovia will waive its usual overdraft transfer fee when funds are swept from the savings to the checking account to prevent a bounced check. A convenient backup plan, as we all make mistakes. I also like that the Way2Save program encourages the use of online bill pay, because that’s a great way to get in the habit of paying bills on time (avoiding pesky late fees), and it saves you money on stamps.

In the fine print, however, you’ll find that the maximum Way2Save “bonus” is $300 — which means you don’t get anything if you put more than $500 a month, or $6,000 a year into the savings account (5% of $6,000 = $300.) That number would be hard to reach anyway, because you’d need 400 transactions on top of the $100 you’re allowed to transfer in directly. So, for instance, let’s say I transfer $100 a month, pay 10 bills a month online, and swipe my debit card five times a month. That equals a monthly Way2Save deposit of perhaps $115, or $1380 a year. Interest earned: $69, for a total of $1,449. (As I said, a nice little cushion for overdrafts, emergencies or vacations.)

It’s worthwhile to shop around for these savings programs. Bank of America offers one called Keep the Change, in which it rounds up the purchases you make with its check card to the nearest dollar, transfers that amount from checking to savings and matches the funds up to $250 a year. Imagine you buy a bagel and coffee for $1.40; the bank rounds it up to $2, transfers 60 cents to savings and then matches it with 60 cents. (Note: It matches 100% in the first three months and 5% in the next nine months. So that 60 cents round-up would only garner a match of 3 cents in the fourth month and beyond.)

Presumably you might reach $250 over the course of a year if you had enough transactions on your check card — but this also requires using your debit card like crazy. (Even the example on B of A’s website presumes you’re swiping that sucker 40 times in a month.) That may make it difficult to stay on top of your account balance — I’m one of those old fashioned people who writes down everything in my check register — and overdraft fees are at record highs. If you’re trying to control your spending, it’s better to use cash. One study found that people overspend by a two-to-one margin when they have the opportunity to use plastic versus the green stuff in their wallets.

Gotta a good tip for earning more interest on your savings? Comment here or email me at laura at

Good Morning America: Cutting Travel Costs

Friday, June 27th, 2008

For a story on Good Morning America this morning, I worked with the Bryants, a couple who live outside Phildelphia, to help them take their annual trip to see relatives in Myrtle Beach, NC. I was able to cut their travel budget in half. Click here for the online article with all the details.

Lots of people are concerned about the economy, and thinking about abandon summer vacation plans. But we all need a break, and vacations to see family members who live far away is an important part of happiness. How are you planning to save on your summer vacation?

Bumped But Happy: The New FAA Rules

Tuesday, May 27th, 2008

My husband and I traveled to Chicago over the weekend to attend my younger brother’s wedding. We were booked on a 7:25am Continental flight out of Newark, which turned out to be oversold. Five people agreed to take later flights in exchange for $500 travel vouchers, but we just wanted to get to Chicago, so we didn’t volunteer. Unfortunately, we became what’s known in the business as “invols.” 

Luckily, the FAA’s new “bumping rule” for passengers who don’t make it on the flight went into effect this month. If the airline can’t get you on a flight that lands within two hours (or four hours for international flights) of your originally scheduled arrival time, you receive 200 percent of the value your one-way fare to your next stopover or final destination, up to $800. If they are able re-route you in that time frame, you receive 100 percent of your one-way fare up to $400. (See rule 25 here for Continental’s policy.) 

It’s a little confusing – and the agents at Gate C90, where we collected compensation, seemed to be struggling with their calculators. We ended up getting seats on the 10:45am and 2:45pm respectively. We were offered either the $500 travel voucher the volunteers had received, or 200 percent of our one-way fare, up to $800. We took the certified check. (Still wondering if that was the best idea, but cash seemed to be king in the heat of the moment.) 

We had paid about $350 for a roundtrip ticket, so I thought we would each get $350. Instead, we got twice the one-way fare to Chicago – which was $181.10, including taxes. (Our return fare was a little cheaper.) So we each received $362.20 – a little more than the $350 we had each paid round-trip.  

There are a bunch of exceptions to the new bumping rule: You get nothing if the airline can book you on another flight within 60 minutes of your scheduled arrival time; had to substitute a smaller plane because of mechanical problems; or does not fully comply with the airline’s procedures (a rather vague policy if you ask me.)  

Along with the cash, Continental gave us $16 in food vouchers and first-class seats on the later flights. It made a long journey to Chicago a little less painful.

Budgeting for Gas on Your Next Roadtrip

Friday, June 15th, 2007


Before you hit the road on vacation this summer, figure out your gas budget. Divide the cost per gallon of gas by the miles per gallon your car gets. Consider my annual road trip from New Jersey to Chicago: Assuming my minivan gets 20 miles to the gallon on the highway, and gas costs $3.15 a gallon, it costs about 16 cents a mile for the trip. That’s 1,600 miles roundtrip, so the gas budget is $256. Check out this online driving distance calculator to plan your next trip. If you don’t know how many miles per gallon your vehicle gets, here’s a government-sponsored site to help you figure it out.



You never know, your kids may get more than memories out of a cheap road trip. Earlier this year, when Michael Arndt accepted the Academy Award for best original screenplay for “Little Miss Sunshine,” he thanked his family for the inspiration. “When I was a kid, my family drove 600 miles in a VW bus with a broken clutch,” he said. “It ended up being the funnest things we did together.” What I want to know is, how does someone who uses the word “funnest” in a speech win an award for writing?


Would love to hear your ideas and stories on the best ways to save on your next family vacation. Comment here or email me at laura at laurarowley dot com.


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