Just about anywhere you look you see "tips" on how to "save" money on the big-ticket travel services: air tickets, hotel accommodations, rental cars and cruises. But if you're really being careful, you will want to take advantage of ways to cut the costs of daily activities at your destination, notably restaurant food and entertainment. And, as you might expect, some folks are eager to help you there, as well.
Coupons. The big online coupon outfits offer deals from local suppliers throughout the U.S., including lots of restaurants, fast-food outlets and visitor attractions:
-- Groupon offers a long list of restaurant options in its featured cities, in a broad range of cuisines and price ranges. In Chicago, for example, Groupon's current list (February 20) includes more than 400 restaurants in and near the city, with deals, including 45 percent off at AL's Char-House, half-off at Tutto Italiano, "up to" half off at Cafe Absinthe and lots of deals at pizza and Mexican eateries. The "Things to do" category offers more than 700 deals, including theater, movie, sporting event (including "skyboxes" for Cubs games at Wrigley Field), concert and amusement tickets. You log onto Groupon.com, indicate a destination you plan to visit, and run through the menu of offers. Although many are of interest mainly to local residents -- not many visitors need air duct cleaning -- hundreds are of potential use by out-of-town visitors. Typically, you buy a coupon or voucher for the service and then use it when you arrive. As with many such deals, some may be subject to blackouts and other fine print, and most have expiration dates -- be sure to check the details before you buy. Groupon also features hotel accommodations, as well, in its Groupon Getaways.
-- Livingsocial.com offers some similar coupons, but it's not as easy to navigate as Groupon and offers a smaller percentage of restaurant coupons.
Entertainment Book. Although this may come as a surprise to some long-term readers, the venerable Entertainment books are still going strong. Back in the 1970s, Entertainment's key feature was its half-price hotel program, and while opaque agencies such as Hotwire and Priceline have long since eclipsed Entertainment for hotel discounts, Entertainment still offers a long list of restaurant and attraction deals to visitors. You buy a book for each destination you plan to visit -- many people also buy their own home area book -- from a list of more than 100 destination cities and areas in the U.S. and Canada. Currently books cost $19 each through Entertainment.com, including access to online updates.
Each book includes hundreds of restaurant deals, usually either a twofer of some sort or a dollars-off discount, and the options run from moderately upscale to fast-food and snack outlets. Most deals are based on coupons you tear out of the book, but a few are based on showing the plastic membership card fastened to the inside front cover of each book. The food list is heavily tilted toward Mexican and Pizza joints, but you can find a reasonable selection of other cuisines.
Activity deals range from symphony to wild animal parks. Again, although the extensive activity and services sections may be of more interest to locals than visitors, there's plenty for visitors, as well.
Entertainment also includes some hotel and travel deals. As far as I can tell, they're either very limited ($10 off an airline ticket) or about the same as deals through AAA and AARP.
iDine. Register up to three credit or debit cards at iDine.com -- no charge -- then when you use one of those cards at any of more than 10,000 participating restaurants throughout the U.S., iDine takes 5 percent to 15 percent off your total bill, including tax and tip. Locate restaurants online. But you have to agree to accept "marketing" emails and the return is based on how much you spend: 5 percent to start, 10 percent after you spend $250 during a 12-month period, and 15 percent after you spend more than $750. And you have to file a report for each use. Most of the participating restaurants are midrange to upscale.
(Send e-mail to Ed Perkins at eperkins(at)mind.net. Perkins' new book for small business and independent professionals, "Business Travel When It's Your Money," is now available through http://www.mybusinesstravel.com or http://www.amazon.com)
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