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Tips From a Cheapskate: Anita Interviews Mr. Frugality

(July 2001)

Cheapskate, skinflint, penny pincher, frugalist? Call him what you will, but to Bob Jones, being called thrifty is the ultimate badge of honor. Bob is OneTravel.com's resident "frugalist," and pens the weekly column Smart Travelers' Corner, a guide to economical travel. When I met him, I learned first hand that he is a guy who truly walks his talk. As he went fetch me his business card, coupons came spilling out of his briefcase! And his ways to find deals didn't stop there.

Intrigued, I asked him, "What are the keys to the cheapskate kingdom?" Surprisingly, he said that being cheap does not mean giving up the good life.

"Opportunistic Travel"

According to Bob, finding frugal deals means

  • Watching the Sunday paper,
  • Watching the Internet, and
  • Keeping your finger on the "pulse of travel" (i.e., news and happenings).
Bob admits to setting an agenda at the beginning of each year, which focuses on areas he wishes to travel. But, if there's an offer he can't refuse, he will take advantage of it. He terms this "opportunistic travel."

"The biggest opportunity this year has been Europe with the hoof-and-mouth crisis," he says. While thumbing through the Sunday newspaper, he stumbled across a four-day, first-class French Rail pass for $129. Realizing that this was the perfect companion to his discount coupon on Northwest Airlines—which would allow him to travel from Grand Rapids to Nice for a mere $329—an itinerary began to take shape. Now all he had to do was to find a place to stay.

The Wednesday prior to his departure, he checked for Internet hotel deals. He found great deals at the Le Meridian in Lyon for $60, and the SAS Radisson in Nice for $79. "Both these properties normally go for three times the amount I paid," he says. He adds, "You can find frugal deals just about everywhere. The trick is combining them into a package you can use."

Membership Has Its Privileges

Another trick of the frugal trade is joining a travel program. Bob joined Northwest's nwa.com Club for $25. (nwa.com Club is currently closed to new membership, but you can get on the waiting list). The paltry sum allowed Bob to shave $400 off a family trip. He was able to take his wife and two children to Bangkok for one week for around $2,800 (including airfare and a week's stay the J.W. Marriott).

In addition, being a platinum member of the Marriott Rewards program really paid off with an automatic upgrade to the best suite available. However, the icing on the cake for Bob was what was earned just by taking the trip. The entire family earned over 120,000 World Perk miles, which means six off-peak, round-trip tickets in the forty-eight U.S. states (not including Alaska and Hawaii) and Canada. Bob says, "If you assign a value of just $400 for each of those tickets, they have a value of $2,400, meaning the trip actually cost us just over $100 each!" Clearly, it pays to be a member.

Where the Deals Are

"The short answer to finding the deals is simply keep your ears and eyes open," notes Bob. So what does a "frugalist" read?

He notes, "I tend to watch the foreign newsletters for trends that may impact the U.S. market." Overall, Bob estimates he reads 45 to 60 newsletters per week to stay on top to give his readers the best advice and tips.

Bob's Top Money Saving Tips

What are Bob's top tips for saving some money while traveling?

  • His number one tip is "just ask." Ask for upgrades, ask if it is the best price, and ask if they can do any better. He calls it being "pleasantly persistent."

  • Travel mid-week, with a Saturday night stay. He recommends if you have to travel midweek from the east coast to the west coast, and cannot stay a Saturday night, to go through Las Vegas. No Saturday night stay is required.

  • If you have time, he recommends adding a city on your routing, which will sometimes reduce the cost and also build miles and earn you free travel faster.

  • Stick with one alliance of airlines—use their hotel, car, and other partners. If you accrue just 25,000 miles per year, you will attain elite level status, which offers additional miles and perks.
The Frugal State of Mind

For Bob, being frugal is a state of mind and a way of living. He says, "I just hate to spend more than I have to. I work hard to ensure I get the best price and value for the dollar." He adds, "Frugality doesn't necessarily mean cheap. I do stay in Marriotts and Westins, but I know when to stay to get the best value."

Granted, staying at great places for less isn't being cheap. However, judging from the mass quantities of Pizza Hut, McDonalds, and other coupons that spilled from his briefcase, I guess it's safe to assume the issue of cheap eats is still on the table for Bob.

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