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Steering the Way to Savings : A membership in the Auto Club offers peace of mind on the road as well as hotel, retail and travel discounts.

August 18, 1995|GERI COOK

Recently, a somewhat skeptical shopper asked--partly in jest, no doubt--"OK, Ms. Bar gain Lady, what's the best bargain in L.A.?"

Recent discoveries came to mind, such as the clothing store in Venice called DNA; Deals in Studio City for all kinds of stuff; a Glendale source aptly named Lighting Liquidators; and Comfort Cocoon in Northridge for bed linens.

Then there are longtime favorites: Designer Bloopers in Culver City for dynamite home furnishings; for shoes, Window Italy in Westwood, and just about all the apparel consignment stores. There are so many truly great spots for bargains, it's hard to come up with just one that's the best.

But there is one bargain I've been taking advantage of for 27 years, and I never cease to be amazed at how much you get for your money. Just help in smoothing out tortuous dealings with the Department of Motor Vehicles would be worth the $39 a year or the security in knowing that no matter where you are when your car breaks down, someone will come along in a matter of minutes to either tow, battery-jump, bring gas or change a tire.

Because the average rate for towing services is $71.25 plus $4.25 for each mile over five, that $39 investment has saved you $32.25 on just one tow, and you are allowed four free tows a year, which if you're keeping track, would come to $285. And they don't even give you a funny look when you've locked the keys in the car--again.

Any time you don't know how to get someplace, they'll give directions or maps or information on the accommodations along the route: where your dog will be welcome, or where you can save more money by staying at some motels or hotels (Hilton, Hyatt, Days Inn, Marriott) that will deduct a percentage of the bill when you present your membership card.

They will even plan the entire trip--the Triptik program--and issue American Express Travelers Cheques free. All this for $39 a year.

Of course, you know by now I'm talking about the Automobile Club of Southern California, which has the largest membership of any of the AAA auto clubs in the United States.

Its Travel Saver program offers discounts from 10% for the Magic Bus Nature Tours or 20% for the Los Angeles Philharmonic through September, all the way up to 100% for the Festival of Arts in Laguna Beach through Aug. 28. Also through September, four adults will realize a 30% savings at the San Diego Zoo, worth $22.80, by calling (619) 675-7904 two weeks in advance.

The new Show Your Card and Save program offers discounts from 10% to 25% on a growing number of retailers, including Winchell's, Supercuts and Pearle Vision.

So the next wiseacre who asks me, "What's the best bargain in L.A.?" won't have to wait while I ponder. In a heartbeat, that person will get my answer: the Auto Club.

Geri Cook's Bargains column runs every week in the Valley edition. Beginning next week, it will appear in Thursday Calendar. Questions about shopping may be sent to her, in care of Valley Edition, Los Angeles Times, 20000 Prairie St., Chatsworth 91311. Letters will not be answered individually, but topics of general interest will be discussed in future columns. Geri Cook can be heard from 9 to 10 a.m. on Saturdays on KIEV 870-AM.

Where to Shop

What: Automobile Club of Southern California.

Price: Annual membership, $39 individual, additional $17 for spouse; sign-up fee of $10 to $20 (depending on when you join).

Call: (800) 799-JOIN or (800) 424-6589.

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