Peter Greenberg travels 420,000 miles a year so you don't have to. In the course of all those miles logged, the travel editor of CBS News has amassed an arsenal of tips to stretch your travel dollar. Greenberg (at right), who was in St. Petersburg this month for a presentation at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies, says he prefers to travel like regular folks, coach instead of first class, for example, so he can report on the ups and downs of the common experience. Still, he enjoys perks that the rest of us don't get. Like homes and a few boats at his four bases — New York, Los Angeles, London and Bangkok. And here's the part of his job that would make any frequent flier jealous: He not only doesn't check bags, he has them FedExed to his next stop. They are waiting for him in his hotel. Sweet. "There is only two kinds of luggage — carry-on and lost," he says. Here are five tips from Greenberg to help shave your travel budget and improve your travel experience.
Know how cruise lines make their money.
You can get a tremendous rate on a cabin, especially at the last minute, but cruise lines make most of their money from on-board purchases. The spa and shore excursions, plus specialty dining and bar tabs are the big moneymakers. "Multiply your cabin rate by 3 and that's what you'll realistically spend on a cruise," says Greenberg, who believes cruising is still a good value. To keep costs down, stay out of the spa, avoid the "drink of the day" and stick to food included in the basic rate.
Make hotel reservations with a human being.
When you book on the Internet, you have limited choices about rooms. There is no opportunity to request extras or find out if your room is next to the elevators or overlooking air-conditioning units. Greenberg suggests calling the hotel to make reservations, but don't ask for "Reservations" if you're dealing with a chain. That, he says, will send you to a person several states away. Request the "manager on duty." Make your reservations with that person, then ask for something like free parking or free breakfasts for your children. The manager will likely say yes. Remember, the hotel wants you to come back.
Don't book airline tickets online.
Greenberg, like many travel experts, praises the Internet for its research capabilities, but he's not so high on using it as a booking agent. "All the inventory is not on your screen; it's just what they want you to see." For instance, he says, if you need a last-minute one-way flight, call the airlines and ask if they have a "positioning" flight, which moves a plane from one airport to another (sort of like a repositioning cruise to get a ship to another base port). These fares are often cheaper, he says. You won't know that unless you call.
Be cagey with airlines about when you want to travel.
When you call the airline reservation number, tell the agent where you want to go but not when. For example, say you want to travel from Tampa to Chicago. Ask the representative to bring up all the fares on the computer. "This will take them a couple of seconds," Greenberg says. Then ask for the rep to tell you the lowest fare, usually at the bottom of the list. When he says, it's $75 at 6 a.m. Wednesdays, tell him that's when you want to go.
Know where the germs are in hotel rooms.
Getting sick while traveling is costly in two ways: medical attention and lost time. While stories about out-of-control bedbugs are getting a lot of coverage, Greenberg says there are bigger worries. The filthiest article in a hotel room is the TV remote control. Clean it with an antibacterial wipe ASAP. Next, he says, remove the bedspread, "put it in the corner and never touch it again." Use another wipe to clean the telephone receiver and then run bathroom glasses under very hot water for a couple of minutes. Doing these four things should keep you from searching for a drugstore at midnight and missing that nonrefundable tour of the Sistine Chapel.
Janet K. Keeler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8586.