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Traveling on a Shoestring

By CAROL A. JONES

© St. Petersburg Times


Mention coupons to people, and they are likely to think of saving 50 cents on a box of cereal. When I think of coupons, I think of saving hundreds of dollars each year on our family vacation -- more than $800 on the last vacation, for instance. You can save just as much.

Planning is key when using coupons to save on everything from meals to air fare. I am always on the lookout for a travel or entertainment offer. Here is a sampling of the travel and entertainment offers that I recently used, some of which are still available. Air fare

Sometimes it's a wise idea to spend a little money to save a lot. One of my favorite travel and entertainment coupon books is Entertainment 97. At a cost of about $30, this book likely will pay for itself the first time you use it: It has several coupons for American Airlines and Continental airlines that can save you up to $125 per ticket.

One of the best coupon deals is offered separately by Continental. The first step is to join Continental's One Pass frequent-flyer program. When you receive your membership package, you will also receive an offer to order an "Executive Pack" for $49. The package includes: 5,000 One Pass Miles; four one-segment upgrades that you can use to upgrade any fare (we have flown first class many times using these upgrade coupons); a $99 companion-ticket certificate, a National rental-car upgrade coupon and a few other features.

The $99 companion ticket coupon alone is worth twice the cost of the package. By buying the package for $49 and buying the $99 ticket, your companion can fly round-trip within or between the mainland United States, Alaska or Canada for just $148. This alone is a potential savings of hundreds of dollars.

Last summer, Exxon offered customers $50 to $100 off Continental air fares with the purchase of gasoline. These vouchers could be applied toward even a super-saver fare. After getting my Exxon vouchers, I bought four super-saver fares and then saved an additional $75 per ticket with my vouchers. Total savings on air fare for that trip: $300. Hotels

There are several hotel offers available if you know where to look. The first place to look is in the Sunday Travel newspaper section. Several months ago, Holiday Inn had a "Stay One Night/Get One Free" coupon in the Sunday paper. This coupon saved me $65 on my last trip.

Another source of hotel savings is in the Entertainment 97 book. Using the membership card that comes with the book, you can receive 50 percent off the published rates at more than 1,600 hotels, motels and resorts nationwide, listed with addresses and telephone numbers in the coupon book. These room discounts are generally available to cardholders when the hotels predict their occupancy to be less than 80 percent. This offer saved us $150 on our last trip.

If you are a AAA member, be sure to pick up a Tourbook for the area you will be visiting. In addition to the many special AAA discount offers, you will find coupons for additional savings on hotels and area attractions. Many other guides, such as Mobil's Frequent Traveler's Guide to Major Cities, offer discount coupons that can be used at major hotel chains.

Using the travel coupons I found in the newspaper and using the Entertainment 97 half-price offer saved me $215 on hotels on my last trip. Car rentals

Rental discounts are a dime a dozen. Major companies from bank cards to airlines to AAA offer some sort of car-rental discount to customers. Club member savings are offered through most motorist clubs and also through many buyer's clubs such as Sam's Club. When using your coupon discounts, the trick is to find out which offer is the best.

You might think that a double upgrade -- which allows you to pay for a compact and get a two-door full-size car -- is a better deal than a coupon that saves you 15 percent off the price of any rental. Not necessarily. On my last trip, I rented a full-size car for $6 a week less than the price of a compact car, by using a 15 percent coupon.

Another way to save money on your car rental is by using certain "Gold" cards or an American Express card to pay for your rental. American Express and several "Gold" card providers allow you to avoid the expense of the collision-damage waiver charge; at a cost of up to $15 a day, this savings alone will amount to as much as $100 a week. Between using the 15-percent-off coupon and charging my rental to American Express, I saved $130 on a week's car rental on my last trip. Extra savings

Additional coupon savings can be found in many places. Pick up a local newspaper every day during your trip to find local dining and entertainment offers. On my last trip, I found coupons for free meals (buy one/get one free) worth $30, a free Sunday brunch worth $18 and a free show ticket worth $25.

And Entertainment 97 is issued in local versions for more than 150 cities in the United States and abroad, for $28 including shipping and handling. I always buy my local edition so that I can take advantage of the airline/hotel and car rental offers when planning a trip, but the local dining coupons I make use of every week. Carol A. Jones is a freelance writer living in Port Richey. Numbers to call

For information on where to order the Entertainment 97 book, call (800) 374-4464. Similar discount books are published by Encore (800) 638-0930, Great American Traveler (800) 331-8867, ITC-50 (800) 342-0558, Privilege Card International (800) 236-9732 and Quest k(800) 638-9819. For information on becoming a Continental One Pass member, call (800) 525-0280.

Originally published June 8, 1997


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