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Money-saving tips for the wealthy

Everyone loves a deal, especially the rich.

Why pay full-price for a weekend jaunt to the Caribbean or be subject to retail pricing on a case of exquisite French Bordeaux? Surely, you can do better.

We've gathered some frugal-living-for-the-upper-crust tips from travel agents, wine sommeliers and other experts around the country to guide the bargain-hunters with a little extra in their wallets.

And don't worry. Even if your annual income is equal to the yearly "mad money" budget of a CEO, you can travel or dine in style if you're willing to be flexible and plan ahead.

Don't mark your calendar, just yet
The more flexible your window of travel -- when your trip starts and how long it lasts -- the more options there are for savings. Supply and demand affect travel costs, says Fred Snow, a travel associate with TravelWizard.com. For instance, if you want to take a cruise and insist on traveling in June, you'll pay more. Cruises that cater to families will be more expensive in June when school breaks for the summer. But if you can go in May instead, it's less expensive and the weather is the same. The same principle follows the winter and spring breaks.

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Let the professionals be your guide
Take advantage of services offered by travel agencies. Their contacts and professional knowledge allow them to custom-build your itinerary and set a smooth course.

But don't assume that an agent's services are free. Traditionally, travel agencies made their money through suppliers, not from consumers, but that is changing. Airlines have cut travel agent fees, so an increasing number have responded by charging fees directly to travelers.

Plus, travel agencies that belong to a travel consortium have increased buying power and can offer complimentary tours, room upgrades and extra amenities at no additional cost. Remember, if you plan on your own, you're on your own if glitches take place or you have questions.

Time is of the essence
Every region has a peak season and a shoulder season. For the best deal, travel off-season. Typically, the peak season for Europe and the Mediterranean is summer. Winter and summer are peak for the Caribbean. Expect prices to be inflated as much as 30 percent to 60 percent in peak seasons, says Shel Horowitz, owner of FrugalFun.com and author of The Penny-Pinching Hedonist: How to Live Like Royalty with a Peasant's Pocketbook.

Likewise, it's cheaper to travel midweek than over the weekend.

Early bird gets the deals
Cruise lines offer many early-booking specials, and you'll save more on air fare if you book early to get to the port city. While you may be able to net a low-priced, last-minute cruise deal, the last-minute air fare is more expensive, Snow says.

Stay, eat, play -- for one price
Check out an all-inclusive resort for savings. One price includes your accommodations, meals, snacks and entertainment. This is a great family deal, especially if complimentary lessons and kid's activities are part of the package deal.

Cash in on credit card air miles
Use your credit card to make monthly purchases and pay that balance off every month. The benefit: You'll accrue air miles faster. Cash them in for ticket upgrades and free travel.

Try the art of negotiation
Travel with the principle that it never hurts to ask for a little more. You can always ask for upgrades, whether it's a hotel or transportation costs. Often you'll actually pay less for the upgrade than you would had you bought first class originally, according to Horowitz. Save your negotiating for those in management; you'll be more successful.

Rental cars for less
Shop early over the Internet. You can book a rental car in the low season for less, even if you'll be using it in the peak season, Horowitz says.

Calling home
Avoid using your hotel long-distance service, as up to $3 to $4 can be tacked on to each call.

Avoid tourist traps
Research places of interest to visit before your trip, or visit the local visitors' center. By traveling off the beaten track, you'll avoid the money-consuming tourist traps. Plus, you're often treated to a more interesting vacation, highlighted with personal glimpses of the local culture.

Online travel agency cautions
Many online travel agencies offer great last-minute deals for cruises and other vacation packages. Before you purchase a package deal, shop and compare.

Verify the information by speaking directly to a representative at the travel agency to confirm all the details. If you're unable to get someone on the phone, forget it. The potential for frustration is not worth the potential savings.

Other online travel agency tips include -- watch for restrictions in the fine print and budget for hidden expenses, such as taxes, surcharges, valet service and gratuity not included in the package price. Finally, make sure the online agency is licensed to operate in its state and belongs to a travel association.

Dining deals on the town
Enjoy fine cuisine without forking over your bank account. Peruse the food sections of the local newspaper to find weekly restaurant promotions and specials. Take advantage of two-for-one dining deals and coupons. Check out new restaurants. Often, the new eatery will offer special pricing during its first few days of business.

When you're traveling or even in your own town, take advantage of the visitors center. You'll find great restaurant discount coupons.

Enjoy Florida's state bird -- the early bird special!
While the "early bird special" is predominantly a Floridian special, it's starting to migrate to other U.S. cities. Restaurants encourage patrons to eat dinner before the evening rush by offering a special, although more limited, menu for a cheaper price. Generally, the special pricing includes an entire meal from salad to dessert.

Time to eat
Do lunch. Go to the lovely French bistro or seafood cafe you've been longing to check out. Lunch menus usually offer the same entrees as dinner, just smaller portions and a smaller check.

Another cost-cutting palate pleaser: Dine out during the week, rather than the weekends. Often, the menu prices climb over the weekend.

Share an appetizer
Normally it's too much food for one individual to enjoy both an appetizer and an entree, so share the appetizer. A good rule of thumb is to buy one fewer appetizers than dinners, or to buy a combination appetizer for the table.

A frequent diner?
Join a diner's club, and save on more than meals. The International Diners Club lets you accumulate points for airline, hotel, car rental, merchandise, retail and restaurant expenses. And redeem these points for the same expenses, plus U.S. savings bonds or charitable contributions.

Picnic on local fare
"One of my most memorable meals was when traveling to Mexico," says Horowitz. "My wife and I purchased freshly made tortillas still warm from a local vendor, bought perfectly ripened avocados from the market, and had a picnic. The total cost was about $1.50 per meal. Not to mention the relaxing, fresh atmosphere is free."

Prix-fixe when abroad
Make lunch your big meal of the day with the prix-fixe -- a fixed-price menu. This meal includes up to four courses for one price, lower than meals on the regular menu. When traveling abroad, this is a great deal. In America, it tends to be higher priced.

And, for the wine connoisseur ...
Shop regularly with a retailer that you like and trust. Retailers will give long-term customers good deals on great wines. Plus you'll develop a "taste rapport" with the retailer, says master sommelier Evan Goldstein of Diageo Chateau & Estate Wines in Napa, Calif. The retailer will carry wines that satisfy your tastes.

Guard your liquid investment
Proper storage of fine wines is a must. Goldstein recommends placing your wines in a cool, dark place where the air temperature is between 55 to 60 degrees. Wine thrives best in an area with little vibration, balanced humidity and consistent temperatures. If you enjoy collecting or buying cases, you may want to consider a wine storage appliance unit such as those from Subzero and Viking to preserve your investment.

Buy what you like, like what you buy
Experiment with red and white wines of different varieties from different regions to discover the types of wines you like. Buy to your taste, Goldstein encourages. Don't stock your wine cellar with wines just because they're reputed to be collector bottles.

-- Updated: May 2, 2005

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