DEAL DECODER

Are Paid Travel Membership Clubs Worth It?

Turns out, sometimes spending money can actually save you money—if you know where to look.

By Brad Tuttle, Tuesday, Apr 20, 2010, 12:00 AM

ROAD TRAVEL: American Automobile Association

The Deal Starting at $38, an annual AAA membership gets you free roadside towing and lock-out services, discounts of 5 to 15 percent at thousands of hotels, and offers like $30 off weekly rentals at Hertz (which, weirdly, tops Hertz's own #1 Club Gold membership perks).

Worth It? What you're paying for is really the services, not the deals: We've found that many hotel owners are happy to float discounts comparable to AAA's even if you aren't a member. aaa.com.

AIRLINE: Spirit Airlines $9 Fare Club

The Deal For $40 a year, members have access to exclusive fares, sometimes for as low as a penny. A few recent samples: a one-way flight from Chicago to Myrtle Beach, S.C., for $16, or a Fort Lauderdale to Freeport, Bahamas, flight for a measly $9.

Worth It? Only if you're going to take more than one flight a year—which is potentially a challenge. Deals are usually last-minute and off-peak, and Spirit serves only 40 cities (biased to the East Coast, the Caribbean, and Central and South America). spiritair.com.

HOTEL: Tablet Plus

The Deal Each week, Tablet Hotels, a booking engine for boutique and luxury hotels, offers its Tablet Plus members discounts of up to 70 percent at certain properties (example: $174 vs. $249 at New York's Bryant Park Hotel). Extra bonuses: spa vouchers, upgrades, complimentary airport transfers, and late checkout.

Worth It? Sounds great, but the annual fee of $195 is a real stumbling block. It's even more insurmountable when you find out that Plus members' "exclusive" deals are exclusive for only 24 hours. tablethotels.com.

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