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Best Programs & Deals to Save Money on Coaster Trips


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I've got to be honest, I'm sort of shocked that there's no topic about this but I've found nothing using the search function so here goes...

 

Obviously Brit and I take tons of coaster trips (usually road trips but sometimes we fly also) and I know that applies to basically everyone here too. Lately I've been doing a lot of research into how to do this more cost effectively without compromising the quality of our trips and I've come across a few cool things in the process.

 

Since most of us travel for theme parks I'm sure most of us have come up with some helpful rewards cards / rewards programs / random deals along the way. Share your secrets. I'm not so much talking about saving money on park admission itself (because most of us are already experts on that), I'm more focused on all of the other costs that go along with coaster trips like hotels, gas, rental cars and airfare. Help us out, share your secrets.

 

Here are a few of the things I've recently come across that are helping us save a TON of money on coaster trips:

 

Get 3 to 5 free hotel stays for doing basically nothing

 

Choice Privileges is my new favorite thing. Some people may not be familiar with the name "Choice Hotels" but I'm sure you're familiar with their brands... Comfort Inn, Comfort Suites, Quality Inn, Sleep Inn, Clarion, Econo Lodge, Rodeway Inn and a few others.

 

They're running a deal right now on their Visa card where if you sign up by the end of May and spend $1000 in the first 90 days you get 40,000 bonus points, which is enough for 5 free nights at one of their cheaper hotels like Rodeway or about nights at a better hotel like a Comfort Suites. They don't expire and the card has no annual fee so there's no reason not to get this. To redeem them, all you do is book through the Choice website and changing the rate type to "Choice Privileges Reward Night"... super easy.

 

Honestly, this probably isn't a super useful card after the initial 40,000 bonus points. You should keep it and use it when you book a room at a Choice Hotel since it gives you 15 points on the dollar, but otherwise you're really just signing up for the initial offer. If you're not into credit cards, they have a regular Choice Privileges program that you should sign up for. It's free and you'll save some money. If you get the Visa (and you should), DO NOT carry a balance ever, the interest rate sucks hard.

 

PS: They have a referral program, refer your significant other / family member and get 1000 bonus points (500 each), plus then you can use this offer twice.

 

AAA (This should be obvious by now)

You can save money at basically every hotel by being a AAA member and can easily cover the cost of the membership and then some with those deals alone, it's also great to know you have Roadside Assistance in an emergency. I won't get too far into this one since it's so obvious, but seriously... get AAA.

 

Fly to the Florida Parks for basically nothing if you don't bring bags

(Or if you live in Florida, fly to basically any park in the midwest or northeast for basically nothing... lucky f*cks)

 

Some people are picky about the quality of their flying experience. Hi people... keep on scrolling.

 

For the rest of us that really don't give a crap as long as the plane doesn't crash since it's only a few hours out of your life anyway, welcome to these 2 sh*tty airlines. Allegiant and Frontier.

 

Let's talk about Allegiant first. Their route maps are limited, but if you want to go to Disney / Universal / Busch Tampa or Sea World and live near any of these places... congratulations...

 

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Go here, and have fun. If you're looking for an example of how great this is, I just entered Trenton NJ and found airfare to Orlando for 38 bucks. Remember that you can also fly to Tampa because it's 90 minutes from Orlando.

 

What's the catch? I'm glad you asked...

 

1) DO NOT, DO NOT, DO NOT bring bags. You're only allowed one carry on and it's got to be a small carry on, so bring some disposable clothes and donate them or throw them away. Travel light. This is awesome for a weekend trip though.

 

2) Most of their airports are really stupid airports. The Orlando hub is NOT MCO, it's SFB. Their Tampa hub is NOT TPA, it's PIE (mmm pie). I honestly look at this is a plus though since it usually means cheaper parking, less hassle and short security lines.

 

3) You may not sit together unless you pay extra to pick your seats. You have to pay extra for everything, so plan accordingly.

 

Also, if you live in the west or Midwest, you can fly to the California parks / Vegas Parks for basically nothing. Something like Cleveland to Vegas isn't quite as cheap as the deals I mentioned earlier, but it's still really cheap compared to other airlines.

 

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And finally, fly to a few more destinations on another cheap a** airline if you don't bring bags...

 

Welcome to Frontier Airlines, the airline that sucks just as much as Allegiant but with more destinations! Deals here are usually a little more limited than Alleigant, but keep checking this page. From Trenton (which for some reason is a major hub for these piece of crap airlines) you can fly to about 10 different cities. it's not as cheap as Allegiant (usually) but you have some options.

 

This airline is great if you live in the Northeast and want to go to the Florida parks, Six Flags Over Georgia, Carowinds or SFGA since they seem to fly to Atlanta, Charlotte and Chicago from a lot of places. You need to play around a little with dates here, and I suggest checking back in the fall for good travel deals as they're a little light right now.

 

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Alright guys, those are a few of my absolute favorite programs and deals to save money on coaster road trips, what are yours? What are your favorite travel rewards cards, rewards programs, super cheap transportation companies or other awesome travel deals for coaster road trippers? Help us out.

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Sticking with one hotel chain (we use Hilton brand of hotels), is probably the best tip. Using their rewards program will get you free nights, breakfasts, high speed, email deals, etc. I like Hilton because there is usually always a Hampton nearby any destination or a vacation property with suites for bigger family trips.

 

AAA is always good for deals, plus you can lock your keys in your car while visiting the park and be OK! I have booked a suite for Hershey Park next weekend using their rate while still getting my Hilton points.

 

I find breakfast is essential for park trips, so any hotel which includes a decent hot one can surprisingly save you a lot after multiple days.

 

I've never tried an extreme budget airline (usually stick to Southwest out of Buffalo or WestJet in Canada) and enroll in their benefit programs. The WestJet Visa has saved me hundreds, as they have $99 companion rates.

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I'm a fellow cheap-ass! I really appreciate this thread. I was planning on taking several road trips this summer for another hobby, but I really may consider cancelling all of them and taking a couple of park trips for the same price (as long as most of the parks are six flags's, as I have a season pass). Damnit coasterbill lol. You've opened my possibilities too much. I'm really not sure what to do now.

 

This isn't the first time I heard about Frontier Airlines. I stumbled on it upon independent research shortly after my SFGADv trip. However, it was too soon after my trip to care and I didn't want to bother my parents again with a trip so shortly. Thankfully for my wallet, I have forgotten about it for the past two years.

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Going along with cheap airlines.... If you don't mind a crash or two, Spirit gets you to your destination pretty cheaply. I've flown to Orlando 3 times, spending $100, $68, and $75, all roundtrip prices. I travel light, as coasterbill suggested, with just a small carry on. Last year, I took a day trip to Six Flags over Georgia because of Spirit. Flew on Spirit from Cleveland to Atlanta for $75 and arrived at about 9 am. Flew back the next day!

 

If you're looking to go international, you can look into WOW Airlines, a relatively new airline based out of Iceland. I was looking for random fares and found them as cheap as $196 RT to London, and I think it was from Pittsburgh??? It was somewhere in the Northeast, can't remember. Also, if you're fortunate enough to live within a good driving distance of Toronto, fares to Europe are super cheap out of there. I'm going to Germany this September and I'm saving about $500 by flying out of Toronto instead of Cleveland or Detroit. Totally worth the 5.5 hour drive.

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I'm really interested to hear some feedback on WOW Airlines. We're planning culture / coaster trip next year with Tivoli, Liseberg, Kolmården and Gröna Lund and they've come up on a few of my searches. We'll probably be flying into Copenhagen and out of Stockholm (unless the airfare is cheaper if you reverse it since order really doesn't matter). I don't mind a cheap airline for a 2 hour flight to Florida but a long flight like that makes me a little more cautious.

 

If you don't mind a crash or two

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Cool post.

 

Choice hotels ALWAYS has 'stay twice, get $50 worth of stuff' periods. If I'm traveling somewhere I'll usually make an extra effort to move hotels (worth it for me) between the two days to get 'seperate stays'. Sometimes it's an 8000 point bonus (good for a night at the cheaper hotels), sometimes it's a gift card. Either way, the constantly have these chunks of time periods with this awesome perk. Also you can double, triple, and quadruple up (stay 4 times get 2 free nights, etc.) You just have to remember to click the button on an email or app to register for the deal before you check out. Combined with cancelable AAA rate I have found choice hotels to be awesome and the best deals. Just stay away from the low tier rodeway inns. That will be a story for another day, lol. Just read reviews before booking and you'll be fine.

 

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flights.google.com flight price tracking. The best of them all (kayak, hopper, and a few others are not nearly as good IMO). It will tell you if you are paying too much (red is bad, green is good). Or if you are about to be super lucky. They send email alerts as well. Just always make sure you check Southwest too as they are not part of any price tracking sites. I somehow managed to get BUFFALO to LA for $137 (could have gotten cheaper but I wanted an earlier flight) and then San Jose CA to Buffalo for $165 (if I would have flown back from LAX instead I would have gotten an $89 flight back at the time I booked!!! and that was an airline I could actually bring bags on ). They also give options for flexible dates, flexible airports, time of day, number of passengers (you'd be surprised how many times it was WAY cheaper for one ticket vs two so sometimes you have to wait it out), specific flights, and you can just save them all easily and let Google do the work for you and email you when to take a look yourself. They will even warn you when it's a discount airline and they have shitty baggage policies.

 

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I can vouch for flying into PIE vs TPA . PIE is St Pete/Clearwater and TPA is Tampa. The 2 airports are only a few miles apart on a parallel flight pattern. Added bonus, flying into PIE has a more interesting view as you are over the Gulf before the approach. Good for saving a few bucks and a lot less busy airport. ( easy in and out)

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^ Thanks for sharing that, Mark....good to remember the next time we think about heading to the Tampa area.

 

As far as cheap deals and ways to save money on coaster trips, we did the tent camping thing for a few years and that was reasonable. If you decide to do something like this, I would recommend getting a Good Sam and KOA card as they can save you a little bit on rates.

 

For hotels, we have the Choice Rewards and Hilton Honors cards. HH is nice because I use it for business travel and then can get free nights to use for vacation. Unfortunately due to Michael being sick for the past seven months, I haven't done any business travel - but then again, we haven't been on any vacations either.

 

 

Off subject a bit (and might be better off in the "rant thread"), but here is an experience/warning/tip that I'd like to share with regards to IHG hotels....

 

 

We officially said "F-you" to IHG (Holiday Inn, Crown Plaza, etc) after they wouldn't reimburse the hotel that I had booked in Portland, OR last Labor Day (for a close friend's wedding) after Michael was sick and was diagnosed with cancer. I tried to cancel over two weeks in advance when we knew that he was too sick to make the trip.

 

After unsuccessful attempts to get someone to return my call from the Crown Plaza in Portland, on the 3rd try, I finally got in touch with someone that knew WTF they were talking about. They informed me that I had chosen a non-refundable rate which I didn't see in the fine print until I went back and looked later. When I told them that my partner was recently diagnosed with cancer and that he needed emergency surgery on 10/14, they apologized and said that there was nothing that they could do.

 

So in addition to dealing with everything that we were dealing with at that time, we lost over $900 to IHG because they couldn't see it in their corporate driven, greedy little f&cking minds to show a little empathy for someone in crisis.

 

And I did try escalating and even went as far to write a review of them on Trip Advisor and Yelp advising people to really pay attention to that fine print. Their response was still the same stance, "You chose the non-refundable rate".

 

So anyone that is looking at booking an IHG hotel, watch for that carefully when you book!

 

I canceled our Comfort Inn bookings in Buffalo as well as a side trip to Seattle that we were doing on the same trip and I had no trouble canceling two weeks prior. And when I had booked two nights at a Comfort Suites in Buffalo so I could be near Michael in the hospital during a snow storm, I was called from the hospital early on the 2nd morning informing me that Michael was being transferred to Erie that same day.

 

I explained the situation to the front desk and they apologized to hear of the situation and just removed the 2nd night from my bill without any charge at all. And they were kind enough to say "I hope that everything works out for you and your partner".

 

 

Yeah, f#ck IHG - f#ck them hard.

 

 

Not to sound like a crybaby because I know that this was originally my bad for not seeing the fine print, but it was a VERY hard lesson learned. Please make sure that you read all of the fine print when you make that hotel booking! This isn't a deal or program, but a tip on what to watch & look for when booking a hotel online when planning to stay near a theme park so that you don't get screwed like we did in the event of an emergency.

 

That $900+ dollars lost could have came in handy while I was out on FMLA from work (not getting paid) while trying to care for Michael throughout this horrible ordeal.

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^ Oh that is awful. Good heads up. Also, be careful with booking a flight via Hotwire. My hubs booked us a flight to DC for the march on Washington and a bonus day at Six Flags America this June, ( hey we're in the hood then, why not? ) It was a 24 hour cancellable ticket, and he found much cheaper flights on another site. No problem, cancelled the Hotwire one. But, they don't tell you, there is a $20 fee to do so. Good luck trying to dispute it. I know it is small potatoes, 20 bucks, but still, it kind of irks me.

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What I've learned from all the horror stories is always always always always book through the hotels themselves, regardless of the chain. Same for flights. You'll probably pay the same but it will save you headaches later if you need to make changes or something goes wrong or anything really.

 

Also, AAA rates with Choice Hotels usually put you at the same or better than the pay-ahead rate, but are cancelable with 24 hours notice unlike the prepay fee.

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I would recommend the Club Carlson credit card. Club Carlson is a hotel chain not as big as the others listed but they are Country Inn and Suites and the Radisson hotels. If you sign up for the credit card you can get as much as 85,000 points, 50k of those for making one purchase the other 35k for spending $2,500 in the first 90 days. The card carries a $75 annual fee but you receive 40,000 points every year plus if you spend $10k during the previous year you receive a free night certificate for any US hotel in the chain. You also get 5 points for each dollar you spend on the card.

 

The great thing is a decent number of hotels which are only 15k points a night. The hotel across the street from Carowinds for instance. There is a hotel next to Disney World, and one at the Orlando airport both 15k a night (stay at the airport it is a much nicer hotel).

 

 

 

If you visit Orlando I also recommend the Starwood Credit Card. 25,000 points sign up bonus with a $3,000 spend but there are two hotels in Orlando which are only 4k points a night during the week and 3k on weekends so you can get as many as 8 nights with the sign up bonus alone. There are plenty of other lower point hotels but none I can think of close to theme parks.

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There are forums and sites devoted to points churning. If you don't know what that is, then probably learn soon.

 

The most basic advice possible is sometimes best:

 

-If you are a healthy adult under the age of 50 and living in the United States of America, travel insurance is almost always a waste of money. Period. It is intended to protect you in the instance of cancellation based on a set of criteria that is frankly difficult to meet. If you've never spent real time reviewing contractual language in your life, spend a little before checking off "yes" on any travel site's insurance offer. The reason they love you to buy it is because it is free money and requires an enormous number of hoops to clear in order to see it pay out any sum, if they will at all.

 

-Stick to a single hotel chain if possible and not churning, and take advantage of promotions that offer free nights. No brainer.

 

-See if your employer or an organization that you're part of participates with any specific travel partners. I can't tell you how many times I've reaped the benefits of this in rental cars because of my employer's relationship with National and Enterprise. So, so many.

 

-The absolute cheapest trip you can book is the one you book and research yourself. This isn't for everyone. I know it. I get it. But there's no commission to pay on a trip you book entirely on your own. You can go anywhere anytime and eat anything because you plan it, you book it, and you pay for it. The second you have a tour guide of any kind, YOU WILL PAY A PREMIUM. You may like this a lot! You may not want to plan minutae! Lots of people don't. But if you want the cheapest trip possible, you have to throw yourself into it headlong. No two ways about it.

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I am a huge fan of Speedway Gas Stations. I'm always stopping in before/after work for food/drinks and fuel. Overall I find a good chunk of their stations are clean and well stocked. Basically, I'm doing this anyways.

 

By using their rewards card, I'm able to accumulate about 100k points/year. A $100 fuel card costs 102k points. By cashing in my points I can pay my share of fuel on 2-3 trips/year. It's also nice when I pay with the fuel card and whomever I'm traveling with pays their share in cash.

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My wife and I have recently (the last year or so) gotten into doing the whole Credit Card and points game. We got the sign on bonuses for both the Chase Sapphire Reserve and Chase Sapphire Preferred cards in the last year or so (and really, 2 cards and sign on bonuses is not that much in the credit card circles), and those sign on bonuses alone have covered 3 round trip flights (one to the Middle East and 2 to Spain) with about $500 worth of points left over. Obviously, messing around with credit cards is not for everyone, but if you have good credit and are somewhat financially responsible, the travel perks can be outstanding.

 

Also, since we're able to book the lions share of our travel through points, we've stopped getting miles for our flights because the tickets are considered discounted, meaning we've had a good amount of airline miles that have become effectively useless unless we started redeeming them - so we've been booking hotels with those, which has been a nice change. It's been well worth it to us to use our airline miles for hotels rather than waiting to rack up enough to get a free flight, which usually comes with a ton of stipulations.

 

I think budget airlines are great. Even if you start paying for extras, you're still saving boatloads.

I book a lot of flights for my job (mostly international), and the best thing you can do is keep flexible dates. If you're booking longer international flights, you can usually lower the prices by booking in multiple legs, especially if you're not near a major international hub. For instance, I live near ATL. Flights from ATL to Southeast Asia are typically pretty expensive, but every once in a while, China Southern Airlines has dirt cheap flights from Chicago to Bangkok. So booking a cheap flight from ATL to Chicago round trip, and then an additional flight from Chicago to Bangkok can potentially save you hundreds and hundreds of dollars. Look for flights between major hubs, and then tack on shorter legs to smaller or less major destinations and you can usually get some pretty great deals. It's a little more complicated but can be well worth it.

 

I haven't personally flown WOW, but I know you can get long stopovers in Iceland, which is a nice plus.

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^I ended up doing what you did by splitting up flights to save money. I needed to fly from Barcelona to Toronto, but the only available flights were SUPER expensive and usually had 1-2 long layovers. I ended up booking a cheap flight from Barcelona to Paris for about $100 or so on Iberia, then a flight on WOW from Paris to Toronto (with a layover in Iceland) for about $200. Whenever anyone asks me for help with booking airfare, I always tell them to check out multiple airports they wouldn't usually think of. Sometimes the savings is worth it!

 

As for WOW Air, I have yet to fly them, but I will in September. I have several friends who have flown on it and they love it! As long as you know what to expect beforehand (such as baggage fees, only a free personal item, etc) then you won't have issues. They said the seats were comfy, there were USB ports in their seats to power their electronics, and the service was fine. I've noticed that WOW doesn't usually have cheap fares if you do a basic search. However, they're always running promotions if you subscribe to their email newsletter. Like I said, I paid only $200 one-way, Paris > Toronto. I'm not gonna have too many complaints when the fares are that cheap. It's definitely not for everyone, but for those who wanna see the world but don't have the means to do so, the options are getting better!

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I'm a cheap-@$$, but I haven't been on any real coaster trips yet. I'll keep an eye on this thread for tips. Carry on...

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i've always booked hotels on Hotwire, Priceline, etc. i do a lot of research on what hotels i most likely will get. so, most of the time, not taking huge risks while still getting a deal much better than direct. isn't always easy though depending on where you're going.

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I'm a cheap-@$$, but I haven't been on any real coaster trips yet. I'll keep an eye on this thread for tips. Carry on...

 

Same here! With me being four hours closer to theme parks come next week, I'll probably do some small weekend trips to one or two parks

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Hey coasterbill, do the free nights expire on that Choice Hotels card? That could come in handy for next year.

 

I'm a cheap-@$$, but I haven't been on any real coaster trips yet. I'll keep an eye on this thread for tips. Carry on...

 

Same here! With me being four hours closer to theme parks come next week, I'll probably do some small weekend trips to one or two parks

I live fairly close to several parks in SoCal, but I'd like to drive up to NorCal for a few days and check out CGA and SFDK. Being the cheapskate that I am, I've been scoping out local Motel 6s.

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I'm a very frequent user of Hotwire for hotels. The rates almost always end up a lot cheaper than booking directly with the hotel. Plus, although they don't tell you the actual hotel before you commit, they do have the Tripadvisor rating on the listing (none of the specific written reviews, though). Of course you're locked in with no cancellation, so it's best to use when you're 99% certain you're going on the trip.

 

Also, I've become a huge fan of Airbnb over the past year. I always stick with places that already have at least several reviews, around 4.5 stars or above. If you're a little adventurous and don't mind staying in a stranger's home (I know....sounds creepy lol), it's an amazing budget option usually. And you end up meeting some really nice people along the way.

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Hey coasterbill, do the free nights expire on that Choice Hotels card? That could come in handy for next year.

 

Not as long as you don't go 18 months without a "qualifying activity" which just means using the credit card or staying at a Choice Hotel. That won't even come close to being an issue for us.

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  • 2 months later...

Bumping this quality thread.

 

For those who fly frequently - PNC has a credit card that gives you two miles for every dollar you spend. Living in Chicago with 2 airports, I fly Southwest, Delta, AA, United, Porter...so I can't commit to 1 airline for a credit card so this helps me out!

 

https://www.pnc.com/en/personal-banking/banking/credit-cards/benefits/premier-traveler-benefits.html

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