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Travel on the cheap

Think you have to settle for a summer in staycation mode? Here are some savvy tips to stretch your budget in surprising ways.

August 02, 2009|Judy Mandell

Until recently, frugality just wasn't something you bragged about. But with the economic meltdown, Americans are searching for ways to travel without blowing their budgets.

Here are some techniques to keep more cash in your wallet.

Use low-cost hotels

LastMinuteTravel.com recently launched $10 Tuesdays in major cities around the world, including Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Orlando, Fla., and Amsterdam.

"These amazing rates at name-brand hotels afford savvy travelers great escapes without breaking their budgets," says Lauren Volcheff, director of marketing for LastMinuteTravel.com. "It's because we purchase our rooms from hotel companies in advance that we are able to offer the unsold inventory at such an affordable rate."

How does it work? New hotel deals are unveiled on LastMinuteTravel.com every Tuesday. Each listing will include specifics on the property, including the description, star rating, amenities, location and proximity to popular attractions -- all but the proper name. Travel dates for most offerings will be within four weeks. Facebook and Twitter followers will be alerted each week once the official listing sells out. Twitter fans can follow at @LMTtweets, and Facebook fans can visit Last Minute Travel.

Negotiate a better price

As sales manager for Gilchrist & Soames toiletries, Derek Michael Hunter works with hotel owners, managers and staff every day. They've taught him invaluable lessons about the hotel game.

"Every hotel has a rate that they hope they can get for a room," Hunter says. "When times were good, the rate was the rate and there were hardly any discounts available. . . . Now, if you're polite and straightforward, hotels will often come down on their price just by asking. You could say, 'I've heard nothing but great things about your hotel, and I hear the restaurant is fantastic. I know you're asking $200 per room. Is there any way to make this more cost-effective?'

"It may not work every time, but these days, hotels want heads on beds, especially if the market is saturated with rooms," Hunter says.

If no discount is available, Hunter suggests trying a different angle. Instead, ask whether a complimentary upgrade is available -- and always have a reason.

"I never lie, but I do find reasons to celebrate or concentrate," he says.

For example:

"Could you provide me with a complimentary upgrade? I'm meeting my best friend for the first time in years";

"I have a huge meeting tomorrow, and the extra space will help me de-stress."

"I hear the view of downtown from your 18th floor is just tremendous, and I've been dying to see it."

Hunter says: "Sometimes the upgrade is better than a discount."

Stay at a hostel

Once viewed as places for twentysomething backpackers to crash, hostels are now drawing many 40-plus travelers. Hostels are transforming from bleak to chic, evolving as a mainstream travel option.

There are hundreds of hostels in major cities, often near popular vacation spots. Many offer private rooms, en suite bathrooms, free Internet and WiFi, along with bars, restaurants and swimming pools. Some have their own chefs, who provide good, inexpensive meals. Virtually all have fully equipped kitchens

Orange Drive Manor Hostel in Los Angeles is a two-minute walk to Grauman's Chinese Theatre, the Kodak Theatre, Walk of Fame and the Hollywood Heritage Museum. Rates start at $25 a person.

Free late checkout

Ask for a free late checkout at your hotel -- what have you got to lose?

Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel's "Double Your Sunset" package allows guests to depart at 6 p.m. -- with no added charge.

"When you're on vacation or a business trip, every minute counts," says general manager Bill Doak. "This package allows travelers to enjoy their visit on their own terms, whe- ther that means having more time to work, play or simply relax in their room."

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travel@latimes.com

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