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