Saturday, May 4, 2013

AAA Membership has its Benefits

The new "trick" my father started using was to sign up for a American Automobile Association (AAA) membership.

For $58 fee ($48 base fee + $10 enrollment fee), he gets AAA membership which includes free paper maps whenever you want and emergency road service when you need. Even though we rarely take driving road trips, AAA is exceptionally useful for us because it also allows us to officially access hotel's AAA rates.

Hotel's have a few different cash pay rates. But in general, you can book the (a) Regular Refundable Rate, (b) the cheaper Pre-paid/Non Refundable Rate or (c) Special Rates including AAA and Government. As you can guess, pre-paid rates are cheaper and available to anyone willing to lock in their stay. However, because things change constantly, you will need to strike a balance between committing months out but guaranteeing you'll have a room vs. taking the chance that the hotel will still have availability a few days/week before your arrival.

My father HATES uncertainty (and is frugal with money) so he's generally on the side of locking in the pre-paid rate, but we do run into situations where we want to change our arrival or departure date but can't because we've already pre-paid. But now, with the AAA rate he can book at the lower pre-paid rate BUT ALSO have flexibility with cancellations allowed up to the normal hotel's rules (usually 24-48 hrs before arrival time). Win-win!

But you say, "It costs you $58 just to have that option!"

Well, true, because we like to play this game by the rules, though they haven't asked to see our AAA card at check in yet. But even if we had to show the card, the $58 investment is worth it.

To give you a real example, here's how much a night at the Westin Grande Vancouver costs for next Friday night, May 10 based on the 3 primary rates for a basic room.
  • Regular - $299 (cancellations up to 24 hrs before)
  • Prepaid - $299 (no cancellations allowed)
  • AAA - $239 (cancellations up to 24 hrs before)
But looking at a Friday night on June 7, you get a slightly different dynamic. In this case the AAA rate is not the lowest, but you'll have to decide if saving $40 is worth committing or if you want to take a chance that you can book at a comparable rate as the date gets closer.
  • Regular - $403 (cancellations up to 24 hrs before)
  • Non Refundable - $351 (no cancellations allowed)
  • Prepaid - $390 (no cancellations allowed)
  • AAA - $393 (cancellations up to 24 hrs before)
So the takeaway is that the AAA rate offers a very attractive option many times, but it's not always the best rate so check and compare all rates. Personally, though, I just want a hotel that will give me free Kids Club goodies like this Westin Grande Vancouver hat.

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