How I Book Really Cheap Travel

Everyday Cheapskate

EverydayCheapskate 1 Recently, while packing up files and expense records I came across a file for a business trip that could have been very expensive but was so cheap. I am still amazed.

I traveled from Los Angeles to Denver to be the speaker for the Department of Interior Employee Book Forum. I had plenty of notice, making it possible to book everything well in advance. Check out how I cut the cost of airfare, hotel and rental car by more than half.

FLIGHT: I try to travel with the same airline to build up my frequent-flier miles, and usually that works pretty well. I’ve found that American Airlines is very competitive. But the cheapest American Airlines fare for roundtrip flights that fit my schedule for this particular trip was $755. Wow. At first I was sure I’d made a mistake. But no, that was indeed the airline’s best price. I put the reservation on hold to give me time to shop around. Most airlines will do this for 24 hours.
I went straight to and input the very same flight information. Within 30 seconds the site pulled up many options. The cheapest rate was $196 roundtrip on United Airlines, including all fees and taxes, with just one small twist. I would have to depart from Los Angeles International, but return to John Wayne Airport in Orange County, California. That was perfect for me given that at the time I worked closer to LAX, but lived closer to John Wayne. Realizing I was about to spend $559 less on these tickets, I booked the reservation on the spot.

HOTEL: I mostly rely on the name-your-own-price option from for hotels. It’s so easy to use. I input “Denver,” and it pulled up a map showing regions of the Denver metropolitan area. I selected the region closest to the Federal Center, where I would be speaking, and chose the 2.5-star hotel. (I know that Courtyard by Marriott, Homewood Suites and the Country Inn are all considered 2.5 stars in Priceline’s world, and that is my favorite kind of accommodation when I travel on business.)
Next, I named my own price. Here’s the tricky part: Priceline hinted that I’d better input $70 per night or more to have a prayer of my deal being accepted. Phooey. I know better. Fifty dollars is my target (knowing they will add tax and other fees on top of whatever price I name).
I decided to lowball my usual $50 and typed in $40. Of course I got a pop-up message from William Shatner saying I must be out of my mind with such a low offer and needed to increase my bid. I laughed and hit submit. Ten seconds later a message appeared: “Congratulations, your offer has been accepted!” The site revealed which hotel I would be staying at. Bingo! My favorite hotel for $55 per night, all inclusive.

CAR: I thought if Priceline is good enough to name my own price for a hotel, it’s gotta be great for a rental car. And, yes, it is. My boldness now surging, I went straight to Priceline Rental Car (the name-your-own-price option) and opted for an economy model for—get this—$20 a day. Poor William. At this point he was very put out by my low bids. Did I care? No! All it took for him to see things my way is another 10 seconds! Yep, I got the car, too. With fees, it cost $32 a day.


Mary invites questions, comments and tips at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., or c/o Everyday Cheapskate, 12340 Seal Beach Blvd., Suite B-416, Seal Beach, CA 90740. This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually. Mary Hunt is the founder of, a personal finance member website and the author of “Debt-Proof Living,” released in 2014.


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