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Tuesday, November 17

A Frugal Miser Attends a Conference in Orlando

Last week I spent 5 days and 4 nights in Tampa, Florida and Orlando. I am a member of the American Association of Individual Investors, which holds this annual conference. It was my first year attending. I planned the trip prior to losing my job, and had paid the $295 conference fee already as well as three of the four nights lodging (the fourth night I used reward points). There was no way I was going to walk away from this opportunity, especially since the only major expense not already paid was the rental car.

Below are my expenses. Generally I have included the cost for two people since my partner traveled with me but did not attend the conference.

Our flights were free - I only paid $10 for the 9/11 Terrorist Fee. I used a Rapid Rewards voucher and my partner used the Companion Pass I receive for being a frequent flier on Southwest. I used Hilton Honors points to get a free room at the Hilton Clearwater Beach. This made the room, Internet access, bottled water and breakfast free. The only expense was $5.35 for parking. We also had a late lunch at Columbia, a must have when in the Tampa area. This was the "treat" of the trip as we had a pitcher of table-prepared Mojitos, Cuban sandwiches and the 1905 salad, as well as a side of black bean soup and the complimentary hot Cuban bread. There was enough left over that there was no need for another meal. Total spent: $54 for food for two.

I spent nothing on Thursday. We ate the free continental breakfast at the Hilton Clearwater Beach. For the evening, I had prepaid the hotel room back in July. Two nights at the Homewood Suites in Lake Buena Vista, just 1.9 miles from the Hilton where the conference was held, for $160. This rate included dinner Thursday night and breakfast both Friday and Saturday mornings. The Hilton would have cost in excess of $200 per night and included neither. I ate "refreshments" for lunch Thursday - a Whatchamacallit bar and a bag of popcorn - plus I took extras for later. Dinner included the light meal at the Homewood Suites of BBQ pork and some sort of corn and mixed vegetables.

This was the full day of the conference, which meant that all my meals were included in the registration fee. Note that my definition of "meal" is more liberal that most people. Dinner consisted of red wine and hors d'oeuvres. I don't have a problem calling dinner a couple Swedish meatballs and some sort of spinach pastry, as long as it's free.

The conference wrapped up this morning, so back to Tampa for the night. We had a free breakfast at the hotel and a late afternoon lunch/dinner consisting of unlimited soup, salad and breadsticks from Olive Garden ($24.00). I could have selected something less expensive but wanted to use up a gift card I'd had in my wallet for some time. We checked into a Best Western which I paid for with gift cards ($78.96). There wasn't any shampoo in the room and when I requested some at the front desk I was given several, so I added that to the stash from the prior three nights. I'll have enough soap and shampoo for 2 or 3 weeks once I return home. Saturday night we went to the Ybor District, where I spent a total of $20 on drinks and tips.

So maybe I should scratch "frugal" and "miser" from the title. Rental cars aren't cheap in Tampa. I did rent the lowest price option I could find, but I should have paid $43.31 less than I did. I returned the car 21 minutes after the 24 hour rental block. The additional hour fee was nearly as much as if I had kept it another full day. Total price for the rental: $287.00. I also goofed by not objecting to the free upgrade. We were given a Saturn Outlook, which is an SUV that averages just 19 miles per gallon. I spent $59.82 for 22.8 gallons of gas. If I had selected a car that got 10 mpg more, I would have saved $20.65 in fuel expense. Finally, we spent a meager $4.28 at the Burger King dollar menu for a late lunch. When we arrived home, I paid $32 for parking. By using an offsite lot I saved $23 off the least expensive airport lot.

Total Spent: $1,030.41

My only solace is that most of this amount was either prepaid before my job loss of was paid with gift cards. This certainly doesn't qualify as frugal travel, especially considering it doesn't include what my flight or the first night's hotel would have cost since I used loyalty points.

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