Need an excuse for a trip? How about, the sun will be gone from the sky at 2:43 pm EST on August 21, in the year of our Lord 2017? That was our excuse this week. If we traveled about 100 miles north of Savanah Georgia we could see the total eclipse of the sun! For Charlene and I and millions of other travelers that excuse was all we needed.
Like most trips for the irresponsible, retired Geezer the main question will always be, “how do I pay for this little adventure?”
10 years ago if someone would have said, “Tom your going to take a trip, during that trip you will pay 10 cents a gallon for gas, you will stay at premium hotels for free, you will get a discount on all your meals plus you will earn the ability to get two more free hotel rooms in the future,” I would have said, “sure, when the sun is gone in the middle of the day!” Well here we are.
This is how Charlene and I will pay for our trip to South Carolina to explore the total eclipse of the Sun for a fraction of the cost that other travelers will pay:
First, using the Speedway Rewards Rollback Program we paid 9.9 cents/gallon for our gas. Then utilizing our free bonus points form the IHG credit card we got a free room in Savannah Georgia. Using an offer from the Choice Motel Group and Blue Green Resorts were got 3 free nights at the Blue Green Resort in St. Augustine, Florida. Using Groupon, restaurants.com, Chase Saphire Reserve credit card, the AA dining club, and opentable.com we can get discounts on every meal we eat. Finally we’ll get 15,000 Choice Hotel Points for checking out the Blue Green Resorts and get to watch the sun disappear from the sky in the middle of the day.
Check out this sun blocking gas price on the left, yes that says 9.9 cents a gallon. For the month of August Speedway Gas Stations offered a 10 cent Rollback Program. The way the program worked is for every time to made a purchase of $3 or more at a Speedway convenience store you got 10 cents off you next tank of gas up to 25 gallons. I like simple math and 10 cents a gallon times my 25 gallons of gas is $2.50 savings every time we buy $3 worth of gas. So this month every time we needed a small item like some Soda, some nuts, or a small bottle of aspirin we stopped at Speedways convenience store and bought it. After stoping 21 times we had rolled our gas bill back $2.10 cents a gallon and the cost of filling both my car and Charlene’s car with 25 gallons of gas was $2.48. The Roll Back Program is not available everywhere but check out your area and if it’s available you still have some time till it expires. I spoke to a Speedway employee and she said the program is available two or three months a year so keep your eyes open because this is a great deal.
After Charlene and I managed to get the gas we needed for our trip for $2.48 our next mission was to not pay for lodging for the four days we planned to be up North. We got our rooms for our trip two different ways. First for the day we were in Savannah Georgia we used 15,000 IHG loyalty points that we got from their credit card bonus. Second, we received three nights of lodging for participating in a two hour timeshare presentation in St. Augustine, Florida.
Our room in Savannah was at the 4 star Staybridge Suites located in Old Town Savannah one block from the bustling River Front. The Hotel is situated in a renovated old red brick building and offered a full set of amenities including free WiFi, a hot breakfast and an on site concierge to help with any of your plans while you were in Savannah. The room offered two queen size beds, a midsize refrigerator and a view of Bay Street that overlooked historic Old Town Savannah all the way down to the waterfront. To enjoy Old Town Savannah you have to walk and the Staybridge Suites were right in the middle of some of the best restaurants, clubs and shopping in Old Town. Rooms in the historical district of Savannah at the Staybridge cost in excess of $140 a night but we enjoyed our rooms for 15,000 loyalty points which was part of a 50,000 loyalty bonus we received when we qualified for the IHG Chase credit card.
For the three days we stayed in St. Augustine we stayed at the Renaissance, a Marriott Lifestyle Hotel. At this hotel we were able to get a King size room with a balcony overlooking a small lake, acres of rolling golf courses and the World Golf Hall of Fame. There is something special about a deck and a beautiful view and a nice glass of wine that adds to the joy of any journey. The Renaissance is a full service hotel offering a restaurant, bar and coffee shop but also offered special amenities like a free shuttle to and from St. Augustines historic district. We were given our amazing room at the Renaissance for participating in a 2 hour timeshare presentation at the Blue Green resort. In addition to our three free nights at the Renaissance we also received 15,000 Choice Rewards loyalty points which we can use to get two more free nights at Choice Hotels world wide.
We got the offer to participate in the Blue Green Resort presentation when we called to book a Choice Hotel room. Choice and Blue Green have formed a partnership. Any Choice member will be given the same offer we were when they call Choice Hotels to book a room (I’m sure there is a time limit on this offer). For the two hours Charlene and I spent at Blue Green being introduced to their timeshare program we netted five nights of lodging. That’s a deal a Geezer has to take. If you decide to try the Blue Green offer out make sure you read the article we have on buying a timeshare and maximizing your timeshare before you go to any presentation.
On a road like this little four day trip the expense that is hard to control is eating out. The military, it is said travels on it’s belly, Charlene and I are no different. If we are paying for our rooms we will stay in two and three star hotels. If we are paying for our flights we will fly economy with discount carriers and give up the comfort to save money but when it come to food we love a good meal. In some future articles we will discuss some of the amazing meals we enjoyed on this trip but for now you have to understand how we are able to afford to eat at some of the finest restaurants while we are traveling.
First, because we don’t know where the best restaurants are we rely heavily on websites like Yelp, Trip Advisor, and Zagat to advise us on the best restaurants. After we have found a restaurants we want to try, we then start looking for ways to make our meal more reasonable. First you need a really good credit card that you use to pay for your dinner. Charlene and I use our Chase Saphire Reserve to pay for our dinning because we get 3 points for every dollar we spend. The Chase Reward Points are worth about 2 cents apiece so for every dollar we spend on eating out if we use the Chase Saphire Reserve card to pay for our meal we get a solid 6% return on our purchase in very flexible travel loyalty points.
Second we utilize an amazing website called Opentable.com to book our reservations. By using opentable.com you can get between 100 and 1000 points for each reservation and the reservations are worth about a penny apiece. This isn’t a huge deal but over time your opentable.com points will add up.
Third look for restaurants that belong to dining clubs. Airline dining clubs often offer as much as 5 points per dollar spent if you qualify for their dinning club loyalty program. We use American Airlines and we value our AAdvantage points at 1.7 cents per point or 8.5 cents worth of air miles per dollar spent on dinner. At a participating dining club restaurant all you have to do to qualify for a dinning club bonus is use the credit card designated with the dining club and the bonus will be automatic. Check out the blog on Shopping Portals and Dinning Clubs and the article on Dining like a Geezer.
The fourth trick to maximizing restaurant discounts we used on this trip was to use the deeply discounted offers that are available on websites like restaurant.com and groupon.com it is not unusual for these two sites to offer deals that will take as much as 40% off of meals.
The fifth tool to get discounts on dining is to join AARP. We enjoyed our 10% AARP discounts at Denny’s. Around 56 major restaurant chains offer AARP discounts. So don’t forget your AARP card when you travel.
The next trick to fine dining and staying on your budget is to find deals in tourist publications. In both Savannah and St. Augustine there were pages of discounts that offered everything from a free bottle of wine with an entree to 20% off your entire check. We took advantage to these good old fashion coupon discounts in Savannah and St. Augustine.
The last way to keep your dining budget down is to try to stay in hotels that offer a free breakfast. In Savannah the Staybridge Suites had a great hot breakfast with hot eggs, sausages, and waffles and cold cut cheeses, juice, and yogurt. The crazy thing about free breakfast is that many time the least expensive hotels will have the hot breakfast and the $400 suite will want $20 for their breakfast buffet. Not to worry it’s the $400 suite that will charge your for parking, room service, and WiFi too! The world is weird.
So on this trip we have enjoyed gas for less than ten cents a gallon, we have enjoyed free lodging at 4 star hotels, we have been given 15,000 loyalty points that will get us two more free rooms and we have enjoyed fine dining at significant discounts. I guess it was time for the sun to be gone in the middle of the day!
Charlene and I want to thank our son in law Jeff Goetz for the amazing eclipse photos in this article. Without Jeff’s photos it would have been hard to demonstrate to the disbelievers that the sun can and at times will, disappear in the middle of the day.
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The opinions expressed in this article are shared with the belief of the author that they are accurate but the author is unable to guarantee the offers expressed herein. Geezerswithpassports.com at the time of the writing of this article receives no compensation from any of the businesses mentioned above the businesses mentioned above are listed because they are businesses the author has found to be helpful in saving money while traveling.