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Perks and pointers for spending less

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Here are some tips to add to your storehouse of money-saving knowledge. For instance, you can get money back when a hotel room rate drops. Or you may be able to get free airline lounge passes or a hotel upgrade. Here's how.

Getting money back if the price goes down: If your hotel lowers your room rate between the time you buy and check in, which happens about 20% of the time, you can usually rebook at the lower rate, or get a refund automatically. Tingo.com checks and rechecks your hotel rate almost until the hour of check-in and automatically refunds the price drop to your credit card. It also alerts you if a room upgrade is available at the original price you paid.

Orbitz (www.lat.ms/10eeB99) will give you 110% of the price difference if another Orbitz customer rebooks the exact same dates and room type. Orbitz also works with airfares and packages. But you no longer get cash back; now you get Orbucks, which can be spent on future travel on Orbitz. Orbucks expire a year from issue.

Yapta.com will alert you to airfare price drops, but it only works with a relatively small number of airlines, and all but three airlines will charge a change fee (typically $150 on a domestic fare). The three domestic U.S. airlines that will refund a price drop in the form of a future travel voucher without charging a fee: Southwest, Alaska, and JetBlue.

Airline frequent-flier credit cards with perks: Several fairly new airline-affiliated credit cards offer unusual perks formerly reserved for uber-fliers. The United Explorer Card, for instance, has no annual fee for the first year; 30,000 bonus miles with a $1,000 spend; and then the perks kick in, including first checked bag free, priority boarding privileges and two lounge passes per year.

The American Airlines Platinum Select Signature Card is similar.

Coupon codes: Many airlines, travel agencies such as Expedia, and other travel vendors offer coupon code discounts on flights or packages, which can be substantial. You can find these coupon codes by signing up for the airlines' email lists, or just Googling the name of the vendor and coupon codes. Southwest has had 50% off coupon codes in the past. Rental car agencies and hotels have these too.

Hotel upgrades: It's always wise to sign up for every hotel's frequent-stay program, even if you're staying just once. Kimpton Hotels gives you a $10 mini-bar credit for each stay plus free Wi-Fi, just for signing up. Fairmont gives you free Internet access. And hotels offer upgrades, promos and other perks, even at the lowest membership levels.

Rental cars: Sign up for frequent-user programs, such as Hertz Gold Plus. It's free to join, and there are discounts, upgrades and extra perks. A site called Autoslash.com will check your car rental reservation and alert you if the price has gone down since the time you originally booked.

Frequent-flier program "hacks": One insider secret is how to get "Gold" status on the Star Alliance airline group, which has 27 member airlines. Gold status gives you a lot of perks, such as lounge access, even when flying on cheap fares, and priority boarding. Aegean Airlines has the easiest path to Gold status with a low threshold of 20,000 miles. (Most other programs require 50,000 miles before the flier earns this top-tier status).

This article explains more: http://www.lat.ms/10efEGi. It's a little-known shortcut to this important benefit.

travel@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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