I love staying in luxury hotels, but don’t particularly like paying five-star prices. That’s why I stick my husband, Dan, with the bill.
On a recent holiday trip to Ireland, the hubs booked us into Ballynahinch, a romantic castle hotel in County Galway. Our trip to the rugged and chilly Connemara countryside — and the stay at the incredible castle built in 1756 — was a highlight on the last leg of our journey after visiting Waterford, Kerry and Dingle. The historic estate is nestled in the Twelve Bens mountains beside a salmon river. It was sublime.
While still expensive, we got an excellent rate at the castle because we traveled during the off season, which is a great way to save. Needless to say, Ireland was not crawling with tourists in December, so the rate was nearly half of what it would cost in the spring.
Dan is really good at digging out travel deals on everything from car rentals to accommodations, which is especially necessary when taking a European vacation. We started out in a financial hole because the Euro exchange rate was 80 cents on the dollar, and rising daily.
The bargain hunt for accommodations begins on hotel websites to get a baseline rate. Look for the “offers” tab, which is usually prominently displayed on homepages. Then, check published prices against those on travel aggregators, such as Expedia.com and Hotels.com. Don’t assume they are always cheapest, because they’re not. Dan found the best hotel rates on Booking.com. He also scoured the internet looking for value-added perks such as free breakfast and free shuttles to airports.
If you’re thinking of planning a luxurious romantic getaway for Valentine’s Day or later this spring, you won’t have to travel far. AAA has revealed its 2018 list of Five Diamond hotels in America, and South Florida is home to six of the 10 luxury resorts in the Sunshine State.
AAA bestowed its exclusive award on the Ritz-Carlton in Fort Lauderdale, the Ritz-Carlton Palm Beach, St. Regis Bal Harbour Resort, Acqualina Resort & Spa in Miami Beach, The Breakers Palm Beach, The Four Seasons Palm Beach and Eau Palm Beach Resort & Spa in Manalapan.
These hotels are offering savings and package deals for lovers. Go to SunSentinel.com/TopHotels to see a gallery of hotels with links to offers. Also, go to AAA.com/Hotels to see which hotels offer free internet, free parking, free breakfast and free airport shuttles.
Of 27,000 hotels reviewed in the United States, Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean, only 121 got AAA’s coveted Five Diamond rating, according to the Auto Club Group's news release.
AAA, which has 58 million members, sends professional inspectors to hotels and restaurants each year and rates them on a scale of one to five diamonds. Guidelines include cleanliness, comfort and hospitality.
"Diamond ratings are an invaluable resource to both travelers and business owners," said Vicky Evans, an assistant vice president for AAA. "Since annual inspections are unannounced, our inspectors get the truest representation of the traveler experience at each property. Our unbiased review allows hotel managers to make improvements, and helps travelers choose a hotel that fits their needs for any occasion."
Florida also is home to 145 Four Diamond hotels. More than 60 are in South Florida.
Another way to pocket savings is with AAA and AARP membership cards. Mention them when booking or show at check-in. Also, check South Florida convention and visitors bureau websites at Sunny.org, ThePalmBeaches.com and MiamiandBeaches.com to find sweet deals to pamper your sweetheart.
Wal-Mart vs. Amazon
Wal-Mart has Amazon beat on most prices for common goods, except when it comes to food, says a new study.
The LendEDU study compared prices of 50 products in five categories — from paper towels to toaster ovens to TVs and toothpaste — and Wal-Mart was the overall winner, coming in on average up to 34 percent cheaper than Amazon.
LendEDU, an online marketplace for student loan refinancing, found that Amazon's Fresh food prices were 23 percent less than Wal-Mart in-store prices. (Wal-Mart doesn’t deliver food — yet.)
In the home goods category, Amazon priced a 12-pack of Bounty Super Rolls paper towels at $35. Wal-Mart's price was $22; in the small appliances category, a Black & Decker toaster oven was $54 with Wal-Mart's price being $43, a 20 percent savings. Amazon priced miscellaneous items like razors and tape between 16 percent and 28 percent more. Margins were slimmer in the technology and entertainment category. Amazon was just 4 percent more overall, with Amazon being cheaper for cameras and fitness wearables. Wal-Mart had Amazon beat on HDTVs and headphone prices.
When it came to grocery prices, however, Amazon trounced Wal-Mart. Prices on coffee, pasta sauce, bottled water, soda and cereal were an average of 22.51 percent less, the survey found. Plus, Amazon offers more convenience with free home delivery through Amazon Fresh, the survey noted.
Amazon charges $99 a year for a membership and offers free two-day shipping. Wal-Mart charges no membership fee for web purchases and ships most goods for free with a $35 purchase.
Consumers will continue to score savings as the two retailers battle for supremacy in stores and online. But as the survey shows, it’s necessary to constantly check prices and do cost comparisons to ensure you’re paying the lowest price.