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How to Save Up for Travel in 2015

We are at the beginning of a brand new year! This means new resolutions, new goals, and new dream destinations. I'm going to show you how to stop dreaming, and make your trips a reality. And what is the most essential part of making a trip a happen? Budgets. 

#1. Cut back on the extras

It's true, folks. It's the little things that make a big difference.

Say you have breakfast at Starbucks three times a week when you're running late for work (don't worry, happens to the best of us).

You order a Latte ($3.50) and a muffin ($2.75). This means you are spending $18.75 per week on breakfast, giving you a grand total of $75 per month!

That's a big bulk of money. The solution? Have breakfast at home for 6 months. On-the-go smoothies, fruits, or yogurt parfaits always do the trick. This will save you $450 total! Not too shabby.

As for exercise: switch up your spin class for a run in the park every once in a while. Switching up your workouts can not only keep you motivated, but it can save you a lot of money. 
Say you take 2 spin classes a month at $20 each. That would mean you spend $240 in 6 months for spin classes.

Adjusting your breakfast and exercise habits can save you $690 in just 6 months! 

#2. Split Paycheck Account

Open up a bank account that allows you to set up a split paycheck. This will allow you to set aside a portion of your monthly paycheck and send it straight to your savings account. Let's say $200 per month.

The important thing is to put your savings in a different bucket -- that way, you can avoid all temptation. In a couple of months, you may very well have a plane ticket in your hands!

#3. Credit Card Milage Program

Use it! For every dollar that you spend, you should be earning yourself at least a mile. You can even earn double miles for certain purchases. Who wouldn't want that?

Pro Tip: Before signing up to a new card, make sure you read the fine print! Some milage programs come with annual fees. 

Now let's do the math. If you keep your extra costs on a tight leash for just 6 months, you can save up to $1,890!

And if you have been using your milage card, you might not even have to spend any of your savings on a plane ticket.

Ready, set, save!

Why You Should Consider Booking a Trip Through BJ's, Costco or Sam's Club

If you've ever shopped in a wholesale retail store like Costco, Sam's Club or BJ's Wholesale, you're probably more familiar with their barrels of cheese balls and 2-liter bottles of olive oil than you are with their vacation packages. While these membership-only warehouse clubs have cornered the market on buying groceries in bulk, they haven't made as big an impact on the travel industry ... yet. BJ's started providing travel services in 1990; Costco in 2001; while Sam's Club started in June 2014.

Offering deals on everything from cruises to rental cars, wholesale retail clubs are quickly becoming a one-stop shop for members' travel needs. So why should non-members care? Because these clubs are selling deals that are often better than what's found on popular third-party booking sites like Expedia and The bargains come attached to yearly dues that range from $45 to $55 for a basic membership, but for many current members, the discounts are worth the fee.


What they're selling
When it comes to travel services, wholesale retail clubs maintain the same approach used in-store: Provide everything a consumer could need, from mattresses to beef jerky, and offer it at a discounted price. Peruse the travel services section on the websites of CostcoSam's Club or BJ's Wholesale, and you'll see their offerings run the gamut from flights and cruises to car rentals and theme park tickets. Sam's Club even offers deals on vacation rentals and airport shuttles.

But the inventory can be restricted compared to what you might find on other travel booking sites. "We didn't use Costco for airfare in any of our trips and booked that separately," said Paige Dawson, a Costco member who has booked several vacations through the club, including trips to Hawaii and Spain. "The air options were more limited in terms of carriers, and also for some of the trips we used miles for either flights or upgrades."

For Seong Ohm, Sam's Club senior vice president of merchandise business services, the at times narrow options are the result of the company's commitment to providing only cost-effective, high-value choices for its customers. "We know members are paying to shop with us. If we can't show value, we won't offer it," Ohm said.

The deals
Costco members save 10 percent at Hyatt Hotels and Best Western properties, but beyond those discounts, Costco doesn't offer much in the way of hotels. Vacation packages, which can include extras like car rentals, breakfasts and resort credits, are Costco's specialty. For a five-night stay at Aulani, A Disney Resort & Spa, Costco offers a package starting at $1,019 per person (for travel between May 1 and May 31) and it includes a full-size rental car. Compared to a similar search on, a five-night trip to the same resort in late May costs $2,070 per room*, without the rental car.

*Search was conducted on Feb. 9, 2015.

Included extras like these were one reason Nick Valente, a five-year Costco member, decided to book his honeymoon in July 2014 to Kauai and The Big Island through the wholesale club. The vacation package he selected included a car rental, daily breakfast, complimentary upgrades and resort credits. For Ohm, who recently booked a three-night stay at Wynn Las Vegas through Sam's Club Travel, she paid a nightly rate of $210 and received a room upgrade complete with a panoramic view. According to Ohm, that was the lowest price she found when comparing several other booking sites. Indeed, a search for a three-night stay between April 16 and 21 at the Wynn turned up a nightly rate of $399, while Sam's Club offered a nightly rate of $249*, plus two free breakfast buffets.

*Search was conducted on Feb. 6, 2015.

The benefits
The prospect of resort credits and vacation add-ons isn't the only reason members are choosing to book through these retailers. "The prices were exactly the same as all of the other travel sites -- I mean, to the last penny," said Kelly Seiler, who has been a Costco member for eight years and booked a Disney cruise through the retailer in 2014. "The reason we went with Costco, though, was because, if we booked through them, we received a Costco gift card."

In Seiler's case, she and her family ended up with a $400 gift card, which translated to $400-worth of free groceries for them. BJ's also offers gift cards for cruise or vacation packages booked through the site, in addition to rebates for hotel reservations. Sam's Club offers a similar incentive for its members with its TripleDip rewards program. Through the program, members accumulate one point for every dollar spent for booking hotels, airfare, vacation packages, cruises and Hertz car rentals through the club. These points can be used to pay for future hotel reservations.

The trade-offs
Aside from inventory limitations, there are a few other compromises you must reckon with if you choose to book through a wholesale retail club. If you reserve a hotel through BJ's Wholesale or Sam's Club, you're not booking directly with the hotel like you would with Costco. As with other travel third-party booking sites, this could pose a problem if you encounter any hiccups with your trip or if you want to change or cancel your reservation. But Ohm notes that Sam's Club offers round-the-clock customer support and adds that the company is willing to "hand-hold" customers through any unexpected trip snafus. Seiler backs up Costco's customer service with her own Disney cruise experience: "The travel agents were extremely helpful and I spoke to them numerous times on the phone -- I wasn't just booking 'blindly' on a website."

Another drawback? Rebates, specifically at BJ's Wholesale Club. Part of the advertised enticements on BJ's website are its rebates, but the fact that you have to fill out a form online and wait to receive cash back (up to three weeks after booking) is enough to turn consumers away who would rather reap the benefits immediately upon booking. As with most travel booking sites, there is a hefty amount of fine print to read. Does this nightly rate include the daily resort fee? Are the government taxes, fees and fuel surcharges included in the overall cruise fare? And if you're a loyalty member with a hotel or airline, you could also be missing out on the opportunity to use or earn frequent flier miles or loyalty points by booking through a wholesale retail club, as Dawson noted above.

Still, even with the potential shortcomings, Seiler, Dawson and Valente are satisfied with their wholesale vacation, responding to the question of, "Would you book another trip this way?" with a resounding "Yes."

Seeing Green: Hotels Capitalize On Environmental Concerns

While most of us are accustomed to the sign in nearly every hotel room bathroom prompting us to reuse our towels to aid conservation efforts, millennials expect more when it comes to environmental awareness -- and they want it without a price tag attached.

"For the millennial generation, it is important that destinations are both environmentally and culturally sustainable. 'How do we preserve a place, yet share it with the world?' said Scott Lee, principal at SB Architects, a firm that has designedRitz-Carlton and Auberge properties. "For this generation, travel is part of an enhancement to their sense of self, so it is important to get that balance right."

Sam Cicero, founder of Cicero's Development Corporation, a hospitality construction company, noted that while Gen Y expects this kind of attention to sustainability, they aren't willing to pay more for it. Cicero helps his hotel clients consider what they can do to be more environmentally conscious and also please these discerning guests. It's surprisingly beneficial not just to the consumer, but to the property as well. "It almost always saves the hotel owners money when they take a look at the big picture," he said.

From alternative power sources to aluminum water bottles, here are what some hotels around the world are doing to satisfy Gen Y's need for green.

See: Top Hotel Trends to Watch in 2015

Electric generation
At an increasing number of hotels around the U.S., Tesla electric cars are becoming the main house vehicle used to escort guests around town. In December 2014,InterContinental Los Angeles Century City added a new Tesla house car along with on-site electric charging stations for guests.

Wyndham Grand Rio Mar Beach Resort & Spa also added electric car parking spots with charging stations for guests as part of a recent multi-million dollar renovation. Visitors may also choose to navigate the resort in new, eco-friendly Yamaha golf carts.

Bye bye bottles
Water bottles are a modern hotel room staple, but their environmental impact may be the reason for their demise. While budget travelers may shy away from imbibing due to the often exorbitant fees (upwards of $5 per bottle), the environmentally-conscious may be just as reluctant. Several properties are striving to tackle this issue by reducing disposable water bottle usage.

Guests of Hotel Terra in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, are offered aluminum water bottles, which they can refill at water stations and purchase at the end of their stay. Additionally, the hotel uses aluminum pump-bottles for bathroom amenities.

Meanwhile, the Hilton San Francisco Union Square recently installed "hydration stations" in all three of its hotel towers and its health club, and removed plastic water bottles from guest rooms. Each hydration station, which is filled with water from snowmelt in Yosemite National Park, has a small counter that shows how many plastic bottles are eliminated from landfills. At the end of 2014, more than 35,000 one-use plastic bottles were saved at the hotel.

See: 50 Best Hotels in the USA

Powering down
Hotel Santa Fe is the first property to use smart grid technology from Stay.Solar, a solar-energy distributor firm, to power all of its guest rooms with renewable energy. Its system matches the power used in guest rooms with third-party certified renewable energy that has been fed into the grid from existing and new solar installations. Hotel Santa Fe Managing Partner Paul Margetson noted that the program costs its guests nothing, yet addresses their concerns about environmental responsibility. He said they've had positive feedback from all ages, including millennials.

Hotel Terra also uses solar, hydro and wind energy and has installed a combination of fluorescent light bulbs that use 75 percent less energy than traditional incandescent bulbs in many fixtures.

A keycard energy management system at Hotel Skyler in Syracuse, New York, cuts energy flow to guests' rooms when they aren't present to reduce waste. For guests that want to power up while out of their rooms, two outlets remain charged.

Recycle, recycle, recycle
Many hotels are using recycled and repurposed materials in the building process and throughout the decor. For example, Hotel Terra used recycled tires for roof shingles, reclaimed lumber in lobby pillars, recycled glass in bathroom countertops and soap dishes, and recycled seatbelts in cafe chairs.

When building the W Retreat & Spa, Vieques Island, builders repurposed two existing hotels already on-site. The W's main entrance is constructed with wood from those buildings' decks, and even the previous hotels' doorknobs were reused as coat hangers for guest rooms. Designers also reused local art that once hung in the previous properties.

Nurturing nature
Some properties are not only open to these green initiatives, but they're actually giving guests a reward for helping Mother Nature. At the Los Suenos Marriott Ocean & Golf Resort, which is set in a 1,100-acre rainforest in Costa Rica, guests can plant an almond tree as part of the hotel's "Reforest the Rainforest" initiative. Almond trees, a habitat for the area's scarlet macaw population, were in decline after the area went through a construction boom. Hotel staff say some guests are so moved by the initiative, they sometimes return to visit their tree.

And if the environmental incentive alone isn't enough, San Francisco's Hotel Abrioffers guests some "green" to go green. Each day hotel guests conserve and decline to have their room cleaned and towels changed, they receive a $5 Starbucks gift card.

How Hotels are Capitalizing on What Business Travelers Value Most

Hotels have long catered to business travelers, and for good reason. According to a U.S. Travel Association report, direct spending by domestic and international business travelers in the U.S. totaled $266.5 billion in 2013, representing almost a third of all money spent by travelers in the country that year. Considering this amount and the frequency with which these individuals travel -- an average of 21 to 30 times per year, according to a report from American Express Global Business Travel -- hotels need to promise more than just a business center to appease this discerning group of frequent travelers.

To shed some light on the latest business traveler trends and how properties are adapting, U.S. News spoke with Pedro Paredes, vice president, global business consulting for American Express Global Business Travel. But if you're not a business traveler, why should you care? Because this group of globe-trotters is changing the hospitality industry in a way that affects leisure travelers, too.

See: Top Hotel Trends to Watch in 2015

Brand names are king
According to the GBT survey, business travelers consider a hotel's brand to be the most important factor in booking a hotel. Aside from the fact that established brands offer the opportunity to rack up rewards points across their various loyalty programs, brands also promise consistency in all their properties, regardless of the location. And, according to Paredes, consistency is critical.

This is true in part because brand names eliminate the element of surprise -- you're familiar with room layouts, food options, and the amenities and services offered. But also, as Paredes explained, the sense of familiarity is especially important to business travelers who want to bring some comforts from home with them as they travel. Paredes said he's noticed a growing trend of business travelers bringing along pets and loved ones when traveling for work.

"[Business travelers] are including a little bit more of their personal lives," Paredes said. "I think that's a trend that will continue. You want to feel like you're at home."

Free connectivity for all
Much like with leisure travelers, those jet-setting for business particularly appreciate free Wi-Fi access. In a 2014 survey conducted by Fortune Magazine and Travel + Leisure, 55 percent of the business travelers polled listed free Wi-Fi as their most valued amenity, and those surveyed in the GBT survey ranked free Wi-Fi as the second most important factor when selecting a hotel for a business trip.

"[Most high-end hotel chains] recognize the importance of it, and they're betting that by offering Wi-Fi, it's going to give them that much of an edge," Paredes said. He went on to explain that, in addition to costing more money, having to purchase Internet access on the company's dime encumbers business travelers with yet another expense to add to their ledgers.

Some brands have taken notice of travelers' wishes and offer free in-room Wi-Fi to all guests, including Joie De Vivre, La Quinta and Loews (Hyatt will offer free Wi-Fi to all guests starting Feb. 14). Others, including brands like OmniMarriott andKimpton also offer free Wi-Fi access, but only to members of their rewards programs (which are free to join).

Besides cost, the strength and reliability of a hotel's Wi-Fi services might be equally important. As more travelers conduct their business (and plan leisure activities) on an array of devices -- laptops, tablets, smartphones -- the limited amount of bandwidth a hotel has to offer can become a problem.

Paredes said that if you're accustomed to high-speed Internet at home or work, a hotel room with slow or unreliable connectivity is something you'll notice immediately. "[Hotels] have to invest to make sure the experience is what people would experience at home," he said. And while properties are usually happy to invest in bolstering their Internet services, sometimes poor connectivity is a result of a local Internet provider lacking adequate bandwidth, Paredes added. In terms of Internet speed, the United States is ranked just No. 26 for highest average download speed in the world, according to

See: Millennial Appeal: 5 Ways Hotels are Engaging Gen Y

A nontraditional check-in experience
In addition to fast, reliable and (perhaps most importantly) free Wi-Fi, some hotels are making strides to offer new technological amenities that can make business travelers' stays more productive and seamless.

One new amenity that travelers can soon expect to see from several major hotel chains is a smartphone app that allows you to check in, obtain a room number and enter your room, all without ever dealing with the front desk or touching a keycard.

"Being able to go to the room, bypass the front desk -- that's something that will change the way we do everything," Paredes said.

In November 2014, Starwood Hotels & Resorts became the first major hotel chain to roll out this amenity for Starwood Preferred Guest members, though it's only been implemented at a select number of Aloft, W and Element brand hotels so far. Hilton Hotels & Resorts announced plans to start implementing keyless entry programs in select properties in 2015. Marriott's mobile app already allows you to use your phone to check in and check out, however the brand does not yet offer keyless entry.

Trendy designs and unconventional lodging requests
One perhaps surprising discovery the GBT survey reported was that business travelers consider a number of unconventional lodging options for work trips, including bed and breakfasts, apartments, cabins, lodges, castles and tree houses.

Paredes said that though he's noticed more of these unusual lodging requests, he doesn't think it represents significantly increased demand. "At least in the business travel space, there's going to be consistent demand for traditional hotel rooms."

Still, some major brands, including Aloft, are focusing on atypical hotel designs in an effort to appeal to the next generation of business travelers: millennials. This branch of Starwood is known for its open-air lobbies and modern interiors and bars, though you might not notice the brand affiliation until you realize you can earn points as a Starwood Preferred Guest.

It's difficult to know exactly how hotel brands will adapt to the influx of younger generations joining the business traveler ranks. "Travel preferences change," Paredes said. "They're kind of hedging their bets, on the border between the two generations and their habits."

4 Ways to Prevent Your Miles From Expiring

How long do frequent flier miles last? Unfortunately, not long enough. Among U.S. airlines, only Delta and JetBlue promise that your miles will never expire. A few hotel chains also offer no-expiration loyalty program points, but most airlines and hotels have timeframes that essentially force you to use your miles or forfeit their value.

But there are a few tricks you can employ to extend those expiration dates with little-to-no-cost. In fact, with a bit of planning, keeping miles alive is so easy that there's almost never an excuse to let a single one expire.

See: Best Airline Rewards Programs

Determine your expiration dates
If you have multiple loyalty accounts with different airline and hotel programs, it may seem challenging to keep track of all the varying expiration dates. But you can use a tool called AwardWallet to help organize all of them. This site will not only track the miles in all your loyalty accounts, but it will also keep tabs on your expiration dates and even warn you via e-mail when an expiration date is approaching. You can sign up for a free basic account on the AwardWallet site, but if you want more advanced features, such as an ongoing history of your mileage balances or the option to export the data to Microsoft Excel, you'll have to pay.

Now that you know when your miles are going to expire, how can maintain their value? To keep your miles alive, most loyalty programs require that you have some sort of activity in your mileage account every 18 to 24 months. The good news is that this clock can be constantly reset. Each time you either spend miles or earn them, you start that 18 to 24 month period all over again, not just on any new miles earned, but on all the miles in your loyalty account.

People often assume "account activity" is restricted to travel, but just a single mile of activity in your mileage account will restart the clock. Hotels and airlines have vastly expanded the number of ways you can acquire or use miles or points aside from flying or staying at a hotel, which means there are plenty of ways to earn and burn miles.

Consider loyalty program partners
The easiest way to find a list of partners for any airline or hotel is to go to its website and explore its loyalty program, where you'll inevitably find resources on how you can both earn and redeem miles. For instance, if the 18-month expiration deadline is approaching on your American Airlines AAdvantage miles, a quick trip to the airline's website reveals a number of retail partners with whom you can earn AAdvantage miles, including flower delivery services, DirecTV and a half-dozen rental car companies. Or, if you wanted to spend a few miles, you could buy gift cards to use at popular retailers, such as Macy's or Sears, purchase a magazine subscription or even donate your miles to charity.

Remember that most of these redemptions are not the best use of your miles, as you can get much greater value by using them for travel. Your only goal with these particular redemptions is to extend the expiration date. Since any activity in your mileage account will reset the clock, you're likely better off spending just 300 miles on a 12-month subscription to Travel + Leisure instead of thousands of miles on retail gift cards.

See: Shop Your Way to Free Flights and Travel Perks

Earn when you shop
Shopping portals are another way to create activity in your mileage account. If you've got an online purchase to make at a mainstream retailer, consider doing it through an airline or hotel shopping portal. You'll not only pick up additional miles, but also create activity in your mileage account, all without spending a penny more than you would have otherwise.

The same is true of dining programs, which are partnerships between major U.S. airlines and restaurants that reward you with extra loyalty miles when you dine out. By signing up for these programs and linking your credit cards to them, you'll find yourself earning extra miles without any additional effort and pushing those expiration dates further down the road every time you grab a meal.

Remember: Credit card miles count too
To circle back to the previous example, if you were concerned about keeping your AAdvantage miles from expiring, you could apply for an American Airlines-affiliated credit card. For each month you spent money on the card and earned miles, the expiration date on all your AAdvantage miles would reset.

Or, if you participate in one of the bank rewards programs that allow direct transfers to airline and hotel loyalty programs, such as Chase Ultimate Rewards or American Express Membership Rewards, a transfer of points to your airline or hotel account is also considered activity. Although you usually have to transfer a minimum of 1,000 points, in some cases it's possible to transfer as little as one mile from these programs, meaning just one mile could extend the expiration date on all your miles by more than a year.

Transfer your miles to another program
If all else fails, it is possible to transfer points and miles from one loyalty program to another using, which is an exchange for loyalty currencies where people can buy, sell and trade airline and hotel points. The transfer rates are terrible, so it's not advisable to do this on a regular basis. But if you've exhausted all other options and are desperate to keep your miles alive, it's better to lose a few miles by transferring them versus losing a ton of miles by letting them expire. If you do choose this option, keep the number of points you exchange to a minimum.

As a last resort, you can either buy miles directly from the airline or pay to get your miles reactivated after they've expired. In certain extreme cases, these options may be worthwhile, but both of these methods will likely cost you more than the miles are worth.

See: 5 Ways to Earn Miles Without Flying

About the author: Julian Mark Kheel learned the ins and outs of travel loyalty programs while flying more than 200,000 miles a year as a TV producer and director. He takes a contrarian view on travel wisdom in his "Devil's Advocate" series every Thursday at the blog Travel Codex. You can also reach him on Twitter@dvlsadvcate.

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