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Smart tips from those who have been there

June 15, 2003|Arthur Frommer | Special to The Times

Tips. They can be a hint from a friend. A whispered suggestion. A scrap of paper with a phone number on it. And they can make a big difference on your next vacation. Here are several, some from us, some from readers.

* When visiting any of the world's super-expensive cities, such as New York, Venice or Florence, obtain low-cost accommodations in a less expensive neighboring city. For instance, when visiting sky-high Venice, stay in Padua and take the train to Venice (no more than 20 minutes) each morning. Stay in low-cost Prato, 20 minutes away from Florence. Visit New York and stay in Hoboken, N.J., across the river, taking the PATH tube (a subway) each morning. Visit Amsterdam and stay in Haarlem, 15 minutes away by train.

* Hotel discounters specializing in a city or two often get better rates than giant firms covering the world. Thus, Polly Pancoe's Hot Rooms of Chicago, (800) 468-3500, claims to offer a price advantage over larger discounters -- $50 to $100 a night for rooms in the Windy City's most prominent hotels. Express Hotel Reservations of Boulder, Colo., (800) 356-1123,, which specializes in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, makes the same claim.

* Think Oakland. Flights to Oakland almost always cost less than flights to San Francisco, and the same is true of flights to similar cities, such as Newark, N.J., instead of New York.

* A new Web site called lists cut-rate airlines throughout the world that fly for less than the major airlines charge. The fares offered by most such airlines do not appear in the major airfare booking engines like Expedia, Travelocity and Orbitz.

* To feed a family of four in an expensive tropical location, like Hawaii or most Caribbean locations, check to see if your hotel has phone books and look up the local pizza place, wrote a reader from San Diego. Pizza restaurants usually have free or inexpensive delivery. You will end up spending no more than $20 on pizza, breadsticks and soda for a family.

* Tape your business card on the cover of your laptop, recommended a woman from New York City, passing along advice given to her by an airport security official who said he sees an average of six laptop computers left behind each day. There are so many more procedures now, the official said -- removing shoes and coats, opening suitcases, body searches -- that people get distracted and forget they sent their laptop through in a separate bin. They walk away without their computers.

* When traveling, you can save money and eat better food at family-owned local restaurants, said a mother from San Mateo, Calif. She looks for small ads in free local papers to find them.

* Before departure, call the airline you've booked to learn whether the price for the same itinerary and dates has gone down, said a Dallas man. If it has, the airline often will refund the savings in the form of a voucher for use on future travel. On his last round-trip flight on Delta (Dallas to Pensacola, Fla.), he was refunded $78, he said. It's worth a phone call to check.

* Consider traveling without hotel reservations in Europe, writes a couple from Redondo Beach. They rent a car and explore, they said. When they arrive in a large city, in their experience, the hotels are usually full and expensive. So they drive out of the city on any main road, where they find a less expensive bed-and-breakfast, guesthouse or hotel. In 25 years they have never had a problem, they said.

* For a reasonably priced lunch in any city, said a Boston student, always look for the nearest Indian restaurant. Even in his notoriously expensive hometown, he has found tasty and filling Indian buffets for $6 or $7 per person. And in London, buffet-style Indian restaurants often cost less than $5.

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