Arts & Culture » Culture

Cheap trips

Got an itch to travel but not a lot of scratch? Discounts abound if you know where to look. Metro Times sought out several options to make your vacation more affordable.

BEST FARES

More than a million people a month visit Best Fares, Tom Parsons’ online magazine. The guru of discount travel, he’s got a huge collection of continually updated bargains, strategies and route information.

You don’t need the $59.95 annual subscription to access the site’s news desk, which lists countless sales, coupons and promotions; but membership gets you access to specials such as a $239 London round-trip or a $168 Seattle round-trip.

Subscribing also nets a $99.95 Quest discount directory, which offers 2,100 half-off hotel coupons and 25 percent dining discounts, as well as four Northwest coupons, each good for up to $125 off a round-trip.

TRAVELOCITY

Several Internet travel sites let you play travel agent, probing reservations systems for the cheapest airfare, lodging and rental cars.

Travelocity is the only travel site to my knowledge that includes Southwest Airlines’ rock-bottom fares (if you don’t mind connecting flights, consider them). Travelocity’s Fare Watcher monitors airfares for up to 5 city pairs you choose, and e-mails you with any sales in those markets. It also highlights last-minute deals on airfare, hotels, cruises and vacation packages.

DIFFERENT DEPARTURES

Try alternate airports for cheaper fares. Flint’s Bishop Airport is ultraconvenient for Oakland County residents, and often shaves $50-$100 from the cost of a trip, as well as avoiding the hassle of parking and getting around Metro Airport.

VIRTUAL DISCOUNTS

Eight major airlines offer Internet-only fares, most for the following weekend. Northwest’s Cyberfares usually require a Saturday departure with return the following Monday or Tuesday. They’re posted after 1 a.m. every Wednesday. To receive a weekly e-mail alert, register at Northwest’s cyber site.

Cyberfares from Detroit range from $69 for Louisville to $199 for Los Angeles or Seattle. Hotel and rental car discounts are also offered. European destinations are occasionally offered, with a little more time to book tickets, and longer stays are allowed. Paris, Berlin and London were recently about $300. Cyberfares can be booked on-line or, for an additional charge, over the phone.

Bestfares.com lists all airlines weekend specials by city.

BE YOUR OWN AGENT

Travel agents and airline personnel qualify for deeply discounted rates at hotels worldwide, and hotels and airlines also frequently upgrade them. You, too, can qualify for these travel industry perks.

Global Travel International (GTI) will accredit you as a legitimate travel agent right down to your IATA picture ID card. You’ll even get 2 percent- 5 percent commission on any travel you or family and friends book through GTI’s reservation center.

The Wall Street Journal and Fortune have raved about GTI. As a journalist traveling hundreds of days a year, I signed up with GTI several years ago and haven’t regretted it. Call 800-716-4440, ext. 22.

DO THE DISCOUNTS

Entertainment’s Hotel & Travel Ultimate Savings Directory, at $62.95, is a top source for deep hotel discounts. The Ultimate Directory offers 50 percent off rates at more than 5,600 hotels worldwide, and has more than $4,000 in airfare, rental car, RV, motorcycle and other discount coupons. You can also use the Entertainment ’99 Detroit 2-for-1 passbook – or any of the other local editions - which list hundreds of hotels offering the same 50 percent discounts and similar additional coupons. The Entertainment card that comes with the local editions is also good at thousands of additional hotels worldwide that aren’t in your local passbook. When planning travel, always ask if the hotel offers the Entertainment discount. Some central reservations centers may refer you to the hotel itself for the discount, it’s worth a few calls to save $50 or more nightly.

Don’t stop there, ask about AAA, AARP and other discounts you might qualify for.

Finally, ask what the hotel’s absolute lowest rate is. It’s not unusual to save 50 percent to 70 percent over the first rate quoted. Call 800-445-4137 to order Entertainment directories.

Getting malled

Hop the shopper's shuttle.

Shopping, for some, is a necessity, a sport, an addiction and maybe even a religion. No wonder thousands of people took advantage of Northwest Airlines’ latest one-day whirlwind trip to Minneapolis’s Mall of America, America’s largest shopping Mecca.

What kind of people would spend three and a half hours round-trip in the friendly skies, just to hit the mall?

Metro Times had to know, so we tagged along with shoppers from 41 Northwest cities who plopped down $99 to fly to Minneapolis on a recent Saturday.

The mall, a quick bus ride from the Minneapolis airport, has more than 520 stores, an indoor golf course, a walk-through aquarium and the Camp Snoopy theme park, complete with indoor roller coaster.

Lori Uyttebroeck of Dearborn made the pilgrimage with boyfriend Francisco Salazar of Rockwood.

"I’m an everything shopper," Uyttebroeck proudly declared. "Clothes, shoes, jewelry, sometimes clothes for Francisco, if I have time. I shop at Fairlane and Southland, I live at Lord & Taylor."

But she also admits that she combs the clearance racks. "You’ve got to pick your time, you’ve got to go when the sales are right."

At the end of the day, on the return flight to Detroit, Uyttebroeck proudly calculated her purchases. "We bought $700 worth of clothes, most of it was for me," she said.

"It was mostly from Macy’s. We got 10 percent off and the clerk gave us credit for a 10 percent newspaper coupon because Francisco fell asleep in a chair, she felt sorry for him."

It’s probably my imagination, but the overhead bins on the plane sure seemed more crowded on the trip home.

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