Is it the same hotel room?

 

I had the opportunity to answer a great question at work today.

“If Air Canada and WestJet and the other travel companies are selling the same hotel at different prices is it the same hotel room or different rooms?

My answer came in the form of an analogy. If you were buying a jar of Kraft peanut butter from Safeway or Sobeys, No Frills or Giant Tiger  it would be exactly the same Kraft peanut butter from the same Kraft factory. So it is also quite likely the same hotel room just being sold by two different vacation retailers.

Of course, different companies will feature or advertise that jar of peanut butter using different words (marketing descriptions). And each grocery store will put it on sale at different times or in different ways that suit their marketing agenda. But it would still be the same jar of peanut butter.

For example, a $1 off coupon, or buy 3 get 1 free promotion. Same peanut butter, and essentially the same savings, just presented to the consumer differently.

However there are some cases where hotels will block off a certain section of rooms and give them to one company to sell, exclusively.  Those rooms might have a unique view or exclusive proximity to the pool or entertainment area or something like that.  A privilege of this exclusivity is the airline/vacation provider can claim they have something to sell/feature that no other company has. So, yes, it absolutely could be a (slightly) different hotel room.

Ultimately the more buying power a company has the better deal they can negotiate with the hotel provider. So it does pay to shop around and focus on your own personal needs and situation when buying a vacation package. Prices can vary for exactly the same room. Or rooms could vary based on exclusivity rights.

To sum up with the analogy….you may not need four jars of peanut butter, even thought the deal seems attractive. The better deal for you personally, might be $1  off ONE jar of peanut butter.

So my advice is to not get hung up on the marketing words in the hotel description, but in fact analyze the description based on amenities and compare that way. “600 sq feet, balcony, king bed, mini fridge, and garden view.” That tells me what I am getting in the hotel room.

Whereas “modern, island oasis, perfect for your family, sleeps 4 and features unique herbal rainforest shower products” does NOT allow me the same insight. Yet both could be describing the exact same room.

Marketing and price are two ways that retailers can differentiate themselves in an attempt to earn your business. What YOU can do is to research, fact check, and enlist the help of an experience travel agent in order to wade through the marketing and online verbiage to get to the vacation best suited to you, at the best price.

How to buy a plane ticket without a credit card

So how DO YOU buy a plane ticket without a credit card?

Easy.  Visit a travel agent at a bricks and mortar store in your city/town.   You will be able to pay at the travel agency with cash or debit card. (No cheques)

The plane ticket, in your name, will be issued to you within minutes.   You will get an email copy, and a print copy if you request it,  of your ticket.

Most airlines also offer an app for your phone. Your last name and the ticket locator code can be entered into the app and you will see the ticket there on your phone.  You can even complete check in and receive a boarding pass on your phone.

In addition to the plane ticket you will need a drivers license or passport to board the plane with the matching name and identical spelling to the name on your ticket.  For example if your driver’s license says “Robert” your plane ticket must also say “Robert.” Even if the rest of the world knows you as “Bobby.”

Is there a fee for this service at a travel agent? Typically yes, a $25 ticketing fee will be charged to print & issue the ticket. However, some tickets might already have that fee included.  When in doubt, just ask.

 

 

Baseball in Milwaukee

If you’re going to travel to baseball stadiums and collect baseball souvenirs eventually you’ll have to go to Milwaukee.

This past Easter weekend Riley and I travelled to Milwaukee to watch the Brewers play the LA Dodgers.

We picked up tickets online at StubHub for $35 a piece. It’s early in the season so I think that’s a pretty fair price. We sat in the club section front row, which is prime area for catching a foul ball. During our game there were 4 fouls into our section, Riley narrowly missed catching one. So in this instance, we had to buy our souvenir ball from the gift shop.

Some of the perks of sitting in the club seats is that there is that waitress service to your seat, but there is also specialty food kiosks on the concourse. Things like carved meat sandwiches, and cheesecake, things that you wouldn’t get in the regular seating.

One of the other perks of sitting in club is that there are more washrooms per capita.

There are less crowded souvenir stands in addition to comfy chairs and big screen TVs on the concourse. There were even phone charging stations.

I will say that every baseball stadium I’ve been to there are good seats and there are great seats but there are truly no “bad seats.” So whenever you sit, you’ll still have a fabulous time!

There can however be bad weather, but not a big deal in Milwaukee because they have a covered stadium. So no worries about a rain delay in Milwaukee.   But if the weather is sunny and fabulous, it has a retractable roof so they can open the dome and let the sunshine in.

In terms of ballpark food, I had a bratwurst dog and local craft beer at a cost of $17.  Riley had chicken fingers, waffle fries, a bag of peanuts and a Pepsi For about $22.

Miller Field is about 10 minutes from Downtown Milwaukee and most of the hotels or restaurants have free shuttles to the ball park. That was awesome! I love a free shuttle!  Our driver, Steve, had lots of personality and it was a fun little shuttle drive. (Don’t forget to tip your shuttle drivers!)

If you’re looking for a great ballpark don’t overlook Milwaukee!  Great city, great time.

Harley Davidson Museum of Milwaukee

 

The Harley Davidson Museum in Milwaukee wasn’t my reason for the trip, but it certainly was an added bonus.

We were there to see the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park & add another baseball to our collection.

To get to the museum, we easily walked over the bridge from our downtown Hilton hotel  in less than five minutes.

The museum itself cost $20 for adults and $10 for my teenager. We also opted to stay and have lunch on the property which cost us another $35. The food was excellent! I had mini sliders and Riley had macaroni and cheese which was topped with smoked brisket. I think you could safely recommend any of the smoked meat or barbeque on their menu. Everyone around us seemed to be eating BBQ & loving it.

The museum itself took us about two hours. There were a number of interactive displays including the engine room where you could listen to the different engine models & sounds. Riley Thought that was pretty great. I enjoyed the colour gas tanks on display which showed all of the different years and the paint colours.

The museum had bikes from the past hundred years and a lot of the stories  behind the craftsmanship.

I could see a motorcycle enthusiast spending twice the amount of time that we did and loving every minute.

If you happen to be in Milwaukee visiting the Harley Davidson Museum would be an afternoon well spent .

Rock star travel deal for families

I’m actually so excited to share this tip, I can hardly type fast enough. Travelling with your kids gets more expensive as they get older. But it doesn’t have to be prohibitive, you just have to pick the right resort.

The vast majority of all inclusive resorts in hot destinations offer a reduced price for children 12 and under, but charge full adult fare for teenagers.

I recently learned that Hard Rock Resorts and Moon Palace resorts both offer dramatically reduced fares for teens 13 to 17.  These are the gems that can save you literally $1000 or more over other resort chains.

For example, I will say the average adult package fare at Hard Rock is about $2500 per person. That’s a pretty standard price for a  luxury resort for a week in Mexico.  So at a resort where 13 year olds pay adult fare, you will pay $10,000 for a family vacation of 2 adults and 2 teenagers.

On the other hand, Hard Rock Resorts will charge you about $7000 for the same people during the same week.  So not only will you save enough money to pay your hockey fees for next season, your teens will be thrilled with the luxury amenities and non-stop activities offered by the iconic Hard Rock chain.

Hard Rock has resorts in (Mexico) Cancun, Puerto Vallarta and Los Cabos, in addition to a resort in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic.

Moon Palace has resorts in Cancun, Mexico as well as Ocho Rios, Jamaica.

Sunwing, Transat, Westjet and Air Canada each offer these resorts in their vacation packages.

Prices will vary by the dates you travel, and the type of room you select. However, for travel with teens age 13 to 17 you absolutely can’t beat this savings and the top quality vacation experience.  You’ll definitely be the Rock Star Mom when you book this one.

Air Canada pricing to Puerto Vallarta. The fee per teen is the same as the adults for this resort.

 

This resort is less expensive per passenger, but all fares are equal in price.

 

This is pricing for the Hard Rock Puerto Vallarta December 7-14th, 2020. Cost per each teen is $499 plus tax. $2000 less than each adult fare!! See the savings?

If you love this tip as much as I do, and this will save you money, please consider booking your next vacation package to a Hard Rock (or Moon Palace) resort with me.

Baseball Weekend

This was opening weekend for Major League Baseball. If you knew that already, you’re probably already a big fan of the game. But have you had a chance to sit in the outfield, watch your kids run the bases or sit in the sunshine and enjoy a bag of peanuts and a lemonade?

If it sounds like something you’d enjoy maybe this is your year?  Toronto Blue Jays are Canada’s team and with the addition of the UP train from the airport to the base of the CN Tower, it’s MUCH easier than ever before to hit Toronto for the weekend and catch a couple games.

Step 1) Find the days on the schedule that work for you.

Step 2) Find flights. Or a flight and hotel package (There are several hotels within a few blocks. We stayed at the Hilton Garden last time. The Fairmont Royal York is right next to the UP train station making it VERY convenient. Or the Marriott City Centre is attached right to the baseball stadium.) The Intercontinental is nearby, as is the Holiday Inn Express)  The UP train is $13 per ride and takes you right from the airport, directly to the Entertainment District in Toronto. You’ll arrive in 25 minutes and be right at the heart of the action. Baseball, hockey, CN Tower, Ripley’s Aquarium, shopping and more. Absolutely no need to rent a car to catch a ballgame in Toronto.

Step 3) Pick up tickets to the game(s). You could use Ticketmaster, or authorized re-sellers like Stubhub.com. My tip for buying tickets is to divide up your budget 25% – 75%. Spend the least amount on tickets for your first game, and splurge on tickets for the 2nd game. Why? Well, your first day in the ballpark is a little overwhelming anyway. It takes a bit to figure out where you are going and where you want to be. Every ballpark is different. For example, I knew that we would be tired from travelling and my son’s attention span wouldn’t likely last the game on Saturday night. So I bought the $14 outfield tickets. So when he was bored by the 6th inning and asking to go, I was ok with it.  The next day, a beautiful 1pm game, we were pumped to enjoy a day in the sun hoping to catch a foul ball. So that day, we had $70 tickets on the 3rd baseline. It was a much better strategy that spending $40 each game and having the same mediocre view twice.

Step 4) Bring your ball glove and a sharpie. Leave your phone in your pocket. Lots of people bring gloves to the game. There IS definitely a chance that a player will throw a ball into the crowd between innings, or pre-game.  A kid with a glove, is like a magnet. Players are always throwing souvenirs to fans who are engaged and enthusiastic.  There is also a chance of getting that ball signed if you’re on the baseline. IF you spend your whole event with your phone in your hand, you are missing out on the experience AND you could be putting yourself at risk of harm if a ball is hit in your direction while in play.

If you’re ready to go beyond Toronto for a game, but still looking for a ballpark that’s easy to get to from the airport, definitely consider Arizona, San Diego and Denver. I loved all 3 of those parks. Great fan experience. Of those three, I would rate Arizona best for younger kids. The neighbouring hotels are inexpensive and there is the Arizona Children’s museum within about 2 blocks of the ballpark. It was safe to walk in the neighbourhood and most area hotels offered free airport shuttles.

I’ve also been to Cleveland, Anaheim, Kansas City, Minneapolis, and my son has been to Chicago without me. Next up for us, is Milwaukee and Miller Park. If you have a question or want to leave a suggestion for our next ballpark trip, please leave a comment!

My estimate for  a Blue Jay’s weekend is $750 per person.  Flights and hotels, for 2 people, 2 nights $1000. Tickets to 2 games, $100 per person. Meals, train and a souvenir $150 more. You can knock down that cost if you can subsidize your flight or hotels with Air Miles or rewards points.

Flights from Winnipeg, to Phoenix to catch a game in Arizona with hotels, tickets, and meals should come in about $550 per person – BUT then you have to take in the USD-CDN exchange, so it’s about the same.