While Budget Travel has a wealth of tips that are timely right now, here are five that feel particularly newsy.
1. Cash in those bank rewards travel points! Citibank, Chase, and Capital One* have been hit hard with the financial crisis, and they're watering down the value of credit card rewards points as a result. If you have 20,000 or fewer points (or miles) in any of the major credit-cards rewards programs, consider cashing then in before they're devalued further. *SEE CLARIFICATION BELOW
2. Save money on fancy restaurants. Go to Restaurant.com and buy a $25 gift certificate for a fine restaurant near you (or at your destination) for only $10. Hundreds of eateries are willing to sell $25 gift certificates for only $10 because it helps encourage customers to dine at their establishments.
3. Packages can offer the best savings, but a new website helps verify the quality of any given deal. To fill rooms and seats, hotels and airlines will resort to rock-bottom prices, but they don't want to publicize these discounts. So they sell a certain number of rooms or seats to companies that bundle them in packages. How good of a deal are these packages? Dealbase.com trawls the Internet for package deals. Its computers then figure out how much it would cost to book the component parts of the package (such as the hotel room and spa credit) separately, estimating for you how much you will (or won't) save by booking the package.
4. Use envelopes for easy budgeting during a trip. If you have trouble sticking to your budget or keeping track of numbers, try putting cash into different envelopes marked for each day. Only spend the cash in your envelope. Use your debit card for emergencies only.
5. Try a "supermarket souvenir." Instead of loading up on $20 t-shirts nobody likes, seek out local supermarket staples that may seem exotic back home. Examples include chocolate-covered macadamia nuts from a Safeway in Hawaii or a nicely-packaged box of tea from a Tesco supermarket in Britain. Check out our gallery of inspiring supermarket souvenirs from our staff and our readers.
CLARIFICATION: A representative from Capital One says it is not correct that it is among the credit card issuers that have 'watered down' their rewards programs. The spokeswoman says,
“Capital One has not made changes to existing cardholders' programs. We did launch a new card last year that offers double miles and is coupled with a simplified redemption schedule. We feel that Budget Travel’s author mischaracterized this new schedule as a step back for consumers. In fact, the new card/program is a positive move...offering a higher earn rate and a simpler redemption formula and schedule. The other (older) redemption schedule is still attached to many of our other card offers."
Sean O’Neill responds: I, for one, thank Capital One for expressing its commitment to maintaining its rewards programs and not watering them down. I had been concerned about the new No Hassle Rewards Card, which, as the Wall Street Journal has aptly summarized, “requires customers to spend at least $1,000 a month in order to earn double miles for each dollar above that threshold.” That is more stringent than for other Capital One cards, which allow customers to start earning rewards from the first dollar spent each month. However, I am delighted to hear that Capital One has no immediate plans to raise the threshold on its other cards or to water down the value of its rewards program, and I regret that I mischaracterized Capital One’s plans. As context, Budget Travel has long praised Capital One for being the only major card issuer (excepting Diner’s Club, which isn't accepted in as many places overseas) that has no currency exchange fees for purchases made overseas.