Yesterday we wrapped up a two night, three day getaway to New Orleans. I planned the trip around the Queen concert we attended Tuesday night. Because of the irrational exuberance in Tampa, we were able to get better seats for significantly less cost in New Orleans. Blame that on Ticketmaster's dynamic pricing algorithm.
For me, it's an exciting game to find and exploit deals and cost savings. The reason we are able to afford to splurge once in a while on things like concert tickets is because small savings have a big impact. You've heard about the "latte factor." Here's a real example of the latte factor in practice:
I booked our flight during a sale on Southwest Airlines, and I redeemed points, so our only out of pocket cost on the flight was the Terrorist Fee ($5 and change per ticket). Because we visited during August, a typically slow time for New Orleans, hotels were less expensive. I found a nice hotel in a great location for $83/night. When rates are that low, it usually doesn't make sense to redeem points for a free room. I prefer to save our points to use on more expensive hotels or during peak periods when they are worth more.
One trick that I always use for hotel and car reservations is to keep checking rates even after I make the reservation. A couple weeks before our trip, hotel rates had dropped even more. We switched to the Residence Inn New Orleans Downtown, for $67/night, saving $34 + tax. Plus, the Residence Inn offered free breakfast and an evening reception, which we were not going to have at the other hotel.
Heading to the airport, there were a couple choices I made to save money. Since this was a short trip, using Lyft wasn't practical. There's a toll road (the Selmon Expressway) that the GPS suggested, but since it was 5:30 in the morning, there was no traffic. I took Adamo Drive, which runs parallel to the Selmon. The distance was comparable and it may have added 3 minutes to our travel time at that early hour. Saved about $3 by not taking the toll road. At the airport, we parked across the street at A-1 Express. It's not the cheapest off-airport lot, but it's the best. It's $4/day less than parking at the airport, plus I get 15% of what I spend there back as a AAA rebate to offset the cost of our AAA membership. Total savings including the rebate: $15.60.
I booked the earliest flight into New Orleans on a Tuesday, and the latest flight out on a Thursday. Those tend to be the least expensive times to fly (Saturday is also cheap, but it didn't fit into our plans). Because most people don't like to save money, we had to share our flight from Tampa to New Orleans with 52 other travelers, meaning the plane was less than 1/3 full. This meant we didn't have to share our row with other travelers. The way I see things, booking the early flight meant we had an extra day to play in New Orleans.
We arrived in New Orleans before 8 AM. Now, only fools rent cars if they are staying in New Orleans. Parking is difficult and expensive. At our hotel, parking a car would cost $39/night. Taking a Lyft to the hotel was $40. But even that was stupid. The better choice: we bought a day pass for the local bus for $3 each ($34 saved). It's important to note that there are two buses that will take you from the airport into the city. Only one of those, the 202, accepts the day pass. The E2 is operated by a different company, so our pass would not be eligible for that trip. Still, either option was a fraction of the cost of rideshare or renting a car, and the additional time it took to get to our destination was negligible.
Because of my Marriott status, I'm often able to snag an early check-in as long as a room is available. Since as I mentioned, this is the slow season, there were of course rooms available. We were able to check into our room at 8 AM. This absolutely changed the quality of our day. We were traveling only with backpacks, but who wants to tote that on your back in the muggy heat all day? One unexpected benefit: the front desk agent who checked us in invited us to enjoy the complimentary breakfast.
The three days we spent in New Orleans were amazing. The joy of saving money here and there made it even more fun. During our trip, I was able to show our AAA card to save on admission to a plantation we visited. I purchased a Lyft ride pass for $5 to get $5 off each trip, which we used a couple times when public transit wasn't practical. I really wanted to bring home some pralines, so I lucked out when I found a deal on Groupon to buy a dozen for $15 (plus 9% cash back on Rakuten/Ebates). When we looked in stores, pralines were $2-$3 each. And we used our Sunken Gardens membership to get free admission to the Longue Vue House and Gardens.
Amplify this example into our daily life, and the cost savings are tremendous. As I said, it's a game that I enjoy playing. I'm sure for some people it might be stressful to think about saving a couple dollars here and there, but the opposite is true for me: the regret when I don't save ruins the experience, so I have to seek out the best deal to feel good about my choices.