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Driving down the freeways of America
or jetting off to Rome may give you a taste of freedom, but the
hotel and restaurant prices of dream vacations can make you feel
like you're headed to debtor's prison.
The good news is that price relief can be as easy
as a club membership. A slim plastic card from a travel club can
get you hefty hotel discounts, free second-night stays, reduced
restaurant bills and cheaper museum admissions. If you plan carefully,
and travel for more than a day or two a year, you can easily shave
20 percent to 50 percent off your annual travel costs.
Pearl Kagan of Highland Park, Ill., expected to save
between $2,000 and $3,000 on her family's vacation through a club
"When we booked our Hawaii trip for last winter
at the Maui Hyatt, I found a AAA rate on the hotel's Web site that
was over $100 cheaper per room per night," says Kagan. "So
we joined AAA to get the room rate."
The membership easily paid for itself.
"Our membership was $53 for a primary membership,"
Kagan says. "The hotel told us that we only needed one membership
for all of the rooms. We're staying for 10 nights and we have at
least two rooms -- maybe three. So that $53 saved us a huge amount
Different clubs for different
The key, though, is to match your travel style to your club
choice. Motel discounts won't help if you like five-star luxury
hotels. You can find a club with discounts for bed-and-breakfasts,
family-style motels, bicycle riders, eco-friendly travelers, students,
seniors and big-city theatergoers.
Another consideration is how often you travel. If
you're looking at five days or more annually away from home, a travel
club will usually make sense for you. On the other hand, if you
stand to save $100 on one night at a hotel with an AARP membership
that costs $12.50, that's clearly a steal. Sometimes, the best deal
for you will be a general club, like AARP, that throws in travel
How you prefer to get where you're going can help
you pick the right club. If you fly, check out the club's air fare
discounts. If you drive, you may want a club with a 24-hour customer
service line that can find you a hotel near any highway exit in
America within a few minutes.
Encore Discount Travel Club offers an 800 number that you can
call to get a discounted room for that night -- perfect for cross-country
drivers. For $59.95 a year, you get up to 50 percent off 5,000 hotels
around the country, along with a second-night-free program. Discounts
at motels like Comfort Inn are usually 30 percent, and Best Westerns
grant a 10 percent to 20 percent reduction to Encore members. You'll
also get airline savings, rental-car breaks and travel insurance.
Sometimes, the club gives new members vouchers for one or two free
hotel nights, too.