Tuesday, December 14, 2010

GET THROUGH THE HOLIDAYS WITHOUT BREAKING THE BANK


Even though we're told that things are getting better, everyone we know is still having a tough time. We've come up with some tips that we hope will get you through the holidays without breaking the bank:

1. Make a gift budget and stick to it. All that impulse buying at the mall is a thing of the past. Tighten your belt and don't let it out even one notch!

2. Make a deal with your Adult friends.......no gifts this year.

3. Focus on experiences and not things. Remember the pet rock? Where is it collecting dust in your closet? Get the family together, share a meal, take pictures, create traditions and memories.

4. Got children or grandchildren? Set up a 529 tax-sheltered college savings plan for them instead of that gift that will not be used or remembered after the holidays. They'll thank you for it later as the cost of a College education continues to skyrocket.

5. Make a charitable donation. People really like receiving that kind of gift, and you're doing some good at the same time.

6. Make a gift. Bake cookies, bake a bundt. Watch Martha Stewart and she'll show you how to make something. The cost is low and memories are high.

7. If you have to shop, shop the CHEAPIOSITY way. If you have to spend money, promise us you'll be a smart shopper and do it our way. We know we're right......don't argue with us!


Read more!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

TWEET YOUR WAY TO HOLIDAY BARGAINS


As the mobile age gets more and more advanced, why should we be surprised that now you can get holiday bargains on Twitter?

Here's how, so start tweeting:

http://www.smartmoney.com/spending/deals/4-ways-to-get-exclusive-deals/


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Thursday, December 2, 2010

TEXTING WITHOUT A CELL PHONE


Texting.....we don't get it....but then we're not in our teens or twenties any more. (We're stopping there, thank you very much.) What can we do? Texting is here, and we like to stay current. Well, current-ish. It's not like we're sporting skinny jeans and tats. But we digress.

Texting can get expensive unless you have an unlimited mobile plan. For us older folks, texting is a pain.....the typing keys are tiny, we can't read without our glasses, and we don't know all the 'cool' abbreviations...LOL....and we're klutzes.

Here's an article we found to help us text-challenged survive in a cellular world:

http://news.cnet.com/8301-1035_3-20012720-94.html


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Thursday, November 25, 2010

HAPPY THANKSGIVING

We're too busy cooking and eating to post.

Team CHEAPIOSITY wishes all our Readers a Happy Thanksgiving. Enjoy good food with friends and family and most of all, take a moment and be thankful.

Then go out on BLACK FRIDAY and save money, the CHEAPIOSITY way.


Read more!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

CAR BUYING FOR THOSE WHO DON'T LIKE TO NEGOTIATE


At Team CHEAPIOSITY, we love to negotiate, haggle, cajole and anything else we can do to get the best price for whatever we want to buy. Call us crazy. Crazy like a fox.

We realize, dear reader, that not everyone feels the way we do. Some people just don't want the hassle, and that's what retailers rely on. We don't really understand those people, but we must acknowledge that they exist. We accept it and we move on.

Car Salesmen are our favorite people to negotiate with.....let's face it -- they're asking for it. They like to negotiate hard almost as much as we do. For a refresher course in how to buy a car CHEAPIOSITY-style, go to our post: http://cheapiosity.blogspot.com/2008/05/buying-car.html.

For those who don't want the hassle, take a look at: http://carwoo.com/.

CarWoo! charges $79 for its Plus plan that contacts three to five dealers and $39 for the Basic plan that brings in bids from two to three dealers. The fact that you pay also gives the dealers some assurance they are working with a serious buyer.

Don't be frightened. And don't be a sticker-price-paying chump.



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Thursday, November 4, 2010

STORE BRAND VS NAME BRAND


Consumer Reports did an article about store brand products versus name brand products. We thought the comparisons were interesting.

Take a look:

http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/magazine-archive/2010/october/shopping/store-brands-vs-name-brands/overview/index.htm


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Thursday, October 28, 2010

HOW TO KEEP YOUR FREQUENT FLYER MILES SO THEY DON'T EXPIRE


Every year, Airline Frequent Flyer members lose miles because they don't manage their accounts properly. Managing your account is easy and doesn't take a lot of time. If you do it right, you can extend the life of your miles so you don't lose them.

Here are some tips:

1. Buy miles or transfer miles to a friend or family member. You don't have to transfer a lot of miles....between 1,000 to 5,000 miles, depending on the airline. Check your Mileage Program for details. There are fees involved, but if transferring mileage saves you thousands of soon-expiring miles, the fees may well prove worth paying.

2. Get a credit card that gives you miles based on your purchases. Get a credit card that is automatically linked to your Mileage Account.

3. Shop online. Go to the Airline's website and make a purchase from one of their affiliated retailers. Make sure you enter the retailer's website through the Airline website link to insure you get the miles associated with the purchase.

4. Take a survey. Many survey sites will give you miles if you complete a survey. Here are a few to get you started: www.opinionplace.com and http://www.e-miles.com.

The bottom line is that Airlines want to see activity on your Frequent Flyer accounts. Don't give them a chance to expire your miles.


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Thursday, October 21, 2010

DON'T BUY IT, RENT IT.


In this economy, where every penny counts, it's sometimes better to rent than to buy. How often have you bought something for a one-time use and it sits in your garage collecting dust?

Do you know about http://rentalic.com/? Well, now you do. As the website says: Make money by renting out what you own. Save money by renting what you need. Think eBay for renting.

Take a look....it might just save you some money.


Read more!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

WHAT TO DO WITH GIFT CARDS YOU DON'T USE


It is estimated that each year there are $5-10 Billion (yes, you saw correctly, billion!) in unused gift cards. WOW! That's a lot of free money for issuing merchants to keep.

But wait, Team CHEAPIOSITY to the rescue. If you don't want to buy something for the gift card you get, you can sell it or exchange it for another company.

Go to Card Pool to get the lowdown: http://www.cardpool.com/

You can also buy gift cards at a discount.

Didn't know about this one, did you?

You're welcome!


Read more!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

AVOIDING INTERNATIONAL SCAMS


We've all received the emails that we won a lottery, unclaimed riches in Nigeria -- you know what we're talking about. Here's the bottom line. If it sounds too good to be true, it is too good to be true! Nobody gets something for nothing.

Mass marketing fraud is a significant source of income for international crime rings. Con artists ignore geographic boundaries to reach out to potential victims by phone, email, postal mail, and through the Internet, tricking them into sending money or giving out personal information. According to the Federal Trade Commission, the nation’s consumer protection agency, Americans report losses of more than a billion dollars a year to these frauds.

To be sure, con artists can be clever, but many can be foiled by knowledgeable — and equally canny — consumers.
Here are 10 things you can do to stop a scam:

  1. Keep in mind that wiring money is like sending cash: the sender has no protections against loss. Con artists often insist that people wire money, especially overseas, because it’s nearly impossible to reverse the transaction or trace the money. Don’t wire money to strangers, to sellers who insist on wire transfers for payment, or to someone who claims to be a relative in an emergency (and wants to keep the request a secret).

  2. Don’t send money to someone you don’t know. That includes an online merchant you’ve never heard of — or an online love interest who asks for money or favors. It’s best to do business with sites you know and trust. If you buy items through an online auction, consider a payment option that provides protection, like a credit card. Don’t send cash or use a wire transfer service.

  3. Don’t respond to messages that ask for your personal or financial information, whether the message comes as an email, a phone call, a text message, or an ad. Don’t click on links in the message, or call phone numbers that are left on your answering machine either. The crooks behind these messages are trying to trick you into giving up your personal information. If you get a message and are concerned about your account status, call the number on your credit or debit card — or your statement — and check it out.

  4. Don’t play a foreign lottery. First, it’s easy to be tempted by messages that boast enticing odds in a foreign lottery, or messages that claim you’ve already won. Inevitably, you’ll be asked to pay “taxes,” “fees,” or “customs duties” to collect your prize. If you send money, you won’t get it back, regardless of the promises. Second, it’s illegal to play foreign lotteries.

  5. Don’t agree to deposit a check from someone you don’t know and then wire money back, no matter how convincing the story. By law, banks must make funds from deposited checks available within days, but uncovering a fake check can take weeks. You are responsible for the checks you deposit: When a check turns out to be a fake, it’s you who is responsible for paying back the bank.

  6. Read your bills and monthly statements regularly—on paper and online. Scammers steal account information and then run up charges or commit crimes in your name. Dishonest merchants sometimes bill you for monthly “membership fees” and other goods or services you didn’t authorize. If you see charges you don’t recognize or didn’t okay, contact your bank, card issuer, or other creditor immediately.

  7. In the wake of a natural disaster or another crisis, give to established charities rather than one that seems to have sprung up overnight. Pop-up charities probably don’t have the infrastructure to get help to the affected areas or people, and they could be collecting the money to finance illegal activity. Check out ftc.gov/charityfraud to learn more.

  8. Talk to your doctor before buying health products or signing up for medical treatments. Ask about research that supports a product’s claims—and possible risks or side effects. Buy prescription drugs only from licensed U.S. pharmacies. Otherwise, you could end up with products that are fake, expired or mislabeled — in short, products that could be dangerous. Visit ftc.gov/health for more information.

  9. Remember there’s no such thing as a sure thing. If someone contacts you promoting low-risk, high-return investment opportunities, stay away. When you hear pitches that insist you act now, guarantees of big profits, promises of little or no financial risk, or demands that you send cash immediately, report them to the FTC. For more information about investment fraud, visit cftc.gov.

  10. Know where an offer comes from and who you’re dealing with. Try to find a seller’s physical address (not just a P.O. Box) and phone number. With VoIP and other web-based technologies, it’s tough to tell where someone is calling from. Do an internet search for the company name and website and look for negative reviews. Check them out with the Better Business Bureau at bbb.org.
Visit OnGuardOnline.gov to learn how to avoid internet fraud, secure your computer and protect your personal information.


Read more!

Thursday, September 30, 2010

SAVING ATM FEES


Banks are always charging a fee for something. Why do we have to pay to access our money? If you think about it, it really makes no sense....but very little does these days.

One of the ways Banks make money is by charging us ATM fees, and somehow those fees keep going up. Crazy, right?

Here are some ways to avoid the fees.

1. Go to the bank ATM that issued the card. It sounds like a no-brainer, but you'd be amazed at the number of people who rush to the ATM closest to them instead of going to the issuing bank.

2. Get cash back with a purchase. Many of the chain drug, food stores, etc. will allow you to get cash back with your purchase, and you incur no charges.

3. Open a checking account at a Brokerage firm. Many of these firms (Fidelity mySmart Cash Account and Schwab High Yield Investor Checking rebate, to name 2) waive ATM fees for account holders.

4. Keep extra cash on hand. Again, sounds like a no-brainer, but many only take out the exact amount of money that they need.....PLAN AHEAD.

5. Bank online. Banks like Ally Bank, HSBC Direct, eTrade, will reimburse account holders either a certain number of out-of-network fees or in some cases unlimited reimbursement. Check the bank for details.

6. Mobile Apps. Mobile Allpoint App (http://locator.allpointnetwork.com/AllpointMobile.aspx) can be downloaded to your smart phones to help you find free fee ATM locations.

7. Credit Union. If you're a member of a Credit Union and have an account with them, and they are a member of the CO OP Network, there are no fee ATMs . Check your Credit Union for details.


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Thursday, September 23, 2010

2010 Freebies


Who doesn't like a freebie? We do, we do!!

The people at Kiplinger's have a great list of 33.
Take a look:

http://www.kiplinger.com/features/archives/fabulous-freebies-2010.html?kipad_id=x?kipad_id=x


Read more!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

TRAVELING WITHOUT A HOTEL


Money's tight all over the world. Cold comfort, we know. With hotel prices skyrocketing out of sight for many of us, travel planning requires considerable creativity and initiative. More and more travelers cut their expenses by renting rooms or apartments or sharing villas. Some people enjoy living like the locals and experiencing local color...not to mention pocketing all that extra dosh.

Here are some websites to help you do just that:

AIRBNB.COM

AirBnB.com, founded in 2007 in San Francisco, is the largest of this new generation of social B&Bs and has the most user reviews.

Where: About 5,378 cities in 146 countries.

Accommodations: Air mattresses to entire villas.

Price: In New York, from $10 for a room to $3,000 for a loft.

ISTOPOVER.COM

IStopOver, founded in 2009 in Toronto, specializes in big events, like this summer’s World Cup in South Africa.

Where: Mostly North America, Europe and South Africa.

Accommodations: Apartments and houses.

Price: $10 to $8,000 a night.

CRASHPADDER.COM

Founded in 2008 in London, Crashpadder.com operates mostly in Britain, with a surge expected during the 2012 Olympics in London.

Where: 898 cities, including more than 1,000 listings in London.

Accommodations: Bedrooms to houses.

Price: From £15 (about $21 at $1.43 to the pound) a night, plus £3 booking fee.

ROOMORAMA.COM

Founded in 2008, Roomorama.com focuses on higher-end properties, especially in New York City.

Where: 36 cities, including more than 1,000 listings in New York.


Read more!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

WEBSITES FOR FINDING DEALS ONLINE


In the past, we've talked to you about most of these websites.

The people at Kiplinger put them all together in one article. It's also a good reminder, in case you forgot:

http://kiplinger.com/features/archives/21-web-sites-for-finding-deals-online.html


Read more!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

CAR BUYING - AN INSIDE LOOK BY FOLLOWING THE MONEY


We've talked to you a number of times about buying a car (http://cheapiosity.blogspot.com/2008/05/buying-car.html and http://cheapiosity.blogspot.com/2010/04/how-to-negotiate-car-trade-in.html)

"Follow The Money" is good advice for someone trying to understand the hidden side of any business. Nowhere is this more important than on a car lot. Rows of shiny new cars on a dealer's lot make consumers believe that's where the big money is. But if you follow the trail of dollars, it leads in a surprising direction. And knowing where the profit is will make you a better shopper. The trade-in alone can be a huge profit center; the dealership can make about $2,000 in the blink of an eye.

There are many fees in leasing, as well as inflated interest rates, alarms, maintenance plans, gap insurance and extended warranties. All these elements need to be negotiated effectively in order for you to get a good deal.

The pricing of cars is a complicated process. While we tell you to make an offer around dealer invoice and you'll get a great deal, it's really just a good place to start. What we don't know is whether there is a dealer holdback or dealer cash from the car manufacturer.

Holdback is usually either 2 or 3 percent of either the invoice or the sticker price of the car. On a $20,000 car that's either $400 or $600 that is held out of the initial deal until after the car is sold. This allows dealers to sell a car at invoice price and still make a profit. Check the holdback percentage before going shopping but don't try to negotiate on holdback, since dealers consider this money sacred. Still, knowing it is there will help you press for a better price.

Dealer cash is even more significant. When a car isn't selling well, the manufacturer will sometimes offer an incentive — often as much as $2,000 — but only lets the dealer know about it. This is like a wild card in negotiating, and it lets the dealer claim he's taking a loss while still actually making a nice profit.

Buying your used car can be a cash cow for the Dealership. Profits can be as much as $5,000 when they resell it. Buyers need to get Edmunds' True Market Value (TMV®) appraisal of the used car. But while TMV adjusts for regions, local markets have quirks that are difficult for the car shopper to spot. Only by thoroughly researching the market and comparing prices can you understand what a good price is for a used car. Another good tip is to go to a CarMax-type place and see what they offer for your used car. It will give you an idea of what the market is like.

While the traditional sales staff works on straight commission, Internet sales managers earn a salary plus a bonus on volume. This means that more sales — not more profit — equals a bigger paycheck. This sets up a very favorable situation for car buyers. Buy from the Internet sales manager, if you can.

Once the price of the car has been established by negotiations with a car salesperson, the buyer is routed into the F&I (Finance and Insurance) office. This is the last place the dealer can make money before the consumer leaves the car lot. However, they are really there to make extra profit for the dealership by increasing interest rates, selling extended warranties and add-ons such as fabric protection and paint sealant. How much does the F&I room contribute? In a typical deal, an average of $947 is generated in the Finance and Insurance office, according to F&I Magazine. The National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) estimated that 28.5 percent of the profit from selling a new or used vehicle came from F&I.

If an aggressive car buyer is able to get a rock-bottom price, the dealer knows there is still profit to be made when the car is serviced. Servicing cars is so profitable that, in economic hard times, the service bay has kept many dealerships afloat.

Here, too, commissions play a big part in getting the service staff to boost sales. The service advisor, who positions him or herself as a "trusted advisor" is actually receiving a commission on all the parts and services you agree to. High-profit jobs such as brake pad replacement were often sold by pitching them as a safety issue. In other cases, oil changes and fluid flushes are done before they are needed. This is costly for the consumer and wasteful. Instead of questioning the dealer's integrity, understand the flow of money. Remember these points:
  • Dealer profit is based on the car but also on related products and fees.
  • A salesman's commission is dependent on the percentage of profit.
  • A car's invoice price is a useful reference, but other behind-the-scenes monies are in play.
  • The salesman, F&I manager and service advisor are all commission-based positions.
  • Information and negotiation are always the keys to getting a good deal.


Read more!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

THE TRUTH ABOUT SUNGLASSES


So you need a new pair of sunglasses. You've had a CHEAPIOSITY Brain Fart and are actually considering buying a pair of Designer Sunglasses for $300-500. Are you crazy? Do you need an intervention? We're here for you.

Don't do it. Here's why:

Sunglasses are (practically all) made by one company, the Italian manufacturer Luxottica–one of the biggest consumer companies that consumers have never heard of. Luxottica makes sunglasses branded Burberry, Chanel, Polo Ralph Lauren, Paul Smith, Stella McCartney, Tiffany, Versace, Vogue, Persol, Miu Miu, Tory Burch, Donna Karan, Dolce & Gabbana, Bulgari, Prada, to name a few. The company also owns Ray Ban, Oliver Peoples, Oakley, and REVO. It manufactures 70% of all sunglasses. And let's not forget to mention that Luxottica also owns LensCrafters, Pearle Vision and Sunglass Hut.

A significant amount of what you pay for Designer Sunglasses is not for the quality of the lens, but the brand name. The mark-up is 50-60%. Ouch.

For about $40, you can get a pair that offers 100% protection against ultra-violet rays. If you spend around $70, you should be able to get decent quality polarizing lenses that cut out glare. Beyond that price point, the medical benefits tail off pretty fast. If you're just chasing status, you're reading the wrong blog.

Drugstore sunglasses work just fine for most people in most circumstances. The main reason people wear sunglasses is to block out (regular) white light; cheaper sunglasses will usually do the job. And they will probably block most UV rays, if not all.

So before you got out and spend ridiculous amounts of money on Designer Sunglasses that you will probably lose, step on, or sit on.....DON'T. Another case where cheaper is every bit as good. You're welcome.


Read more!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Travel As A Student and Save $$$


Did you know that if you travel as a Student, you can save money? If you didn't, aren't you glad you came to our blog? Now here's the dirty little secret -- some of these organizations will let you book with them if you haven't cracked a textbook in decades.

Student discounts can be 10-25% below the market rate. You can even do better with group tours.

http://www.studentuniverse.com/ - will sell to Grad Students up 35.

http://www.studentcity.com/


http://www.statravel.com/
- is very liberal when it comes to your age.


Read more!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

10 THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT A LOT OF STUFF


Here at CHEAPIOSITY, we like Smart Money Magazine and website. We put together a series of links to information that will both save you money and make you an informed consumer. Take a look:

10 Things your Airline won’t tell you: http://www.smartmoney.com/10things/index.cfm?story=may2008-airline-secrets&pgnum=1

10 Things the DMV won’t tell you: http://money.aol.com/smoney/general/canvas3/_a/10-things-the-dmv-wont-tell-you/20071029114909990001

10 Things your Exterminator won’t tell you: http://money.aol.com/smoney/general/canvas3/_a/10-things-your-exterminator-wont-tell/20070801135309990001

10 Things your Wedding Planner won’t tell you: http://money.aol.com/smoney/general/canvas3/_a/10-things-your-wedding-planner-wont-tell/20070518105209990001

10 Things your Bartender won’t tell you:
http://money.aol.com/smoney/general/canvas3/_a/10-things-your-bartender-wont-tell-you/20070712090609990001

10 Things your Plastic Surgeon won’t tell you: http://money.aol.com/smoney/insurance/canvas3/_a/10-things-your-plastic-surgeon-wont-tell/20070430124809990001

10 Things your Restaurant won’t tell you: http://money.aol.com/smoney/general/canvas3/_a/10-things-your-restaurant-wont-tell-you/20070320212909990001

10 Things your Fitness Club won’t tell you: http://money.aol.com/smoney/insurance/canvas3/_a/10-things-your-fitness-club-wont-tell/20061226122809990001

10 Things your Hospital won’t tell you:
http://money.aol.com/smoney/general/canvas3/_a/10-things-your-hospital-wont-tell-you/20060915111109990001

10 Things your Gas Station won’t tell you:
http://money.aol.com/smoney/general/canvas3/_a/what-gas-stations-wont-tell-you/20060712123309990001

10 Things your 401K Provider won’t tell you: http://www.smartmoney.com/10things/index.cfm?story=december2006

10 Things your Credit Card Company won’t tell you: http://www.smartmoney.com/10things/index.cfm?story=january2006

10 Things your Dentist won’t tell you: http://www.smartmoney.com/10things/index.cfm?story=april2006

10 Things your Vet won’t tell you: http://www.smartmoney.com/10things/index.cfm?story=september2005

10 Things your Plumber won’t tell you: http://www.smartmoney.com/10things/index.cfm?story=october2005

10 Things your iPod won’t tell you: http://www.smartmoney.com/10things/index.cfm?story=june2006

10 Things your Car Rental Company won’t tell you: http://www.smartmoney.com/10things/index.cfm?story=july2006

10 Things your Local News won’t tell you: http://www.smartmoney.com/10things/index.cfm?story=may2006

10 Things your Butcher won’t tell you: http://www.smartmoney.com/10things/index.cfm?story=november2005

10 Things your Cruise Line won’t tell you: http://www.smartmoney.com/10things/index.cfm?story=december2005

10 Things your Florist won’t tell you: http://www.smartmoney.com/10things/index.cfm?story=february2007

10 Things your Tax Preparer won’t tell you: http://money.aol.com/tax/article/smart-money/_a/10-things-your-tax-preparer-doesnt-want/20080331142909990001
10 Things your Home Builder won't tell you:
10 Things your Lawyer won't tell you:


Read more!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

THE BEST FREE SOFTWARE OF 2010


PC World has an article on software freebies we thought you should know about. Take a look:

http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2361876,00.asp


Read more!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

TRAVEL RIP-OFFS


Airlines have become the worst offenders in the competitive field of travel rip-offs, but let's not forget hotels, car rentals and even banks, with their foreign purchase transaction charges. Everybody has their hands in your pockets.

Here's an article from Smarter Travel that exposes some of the worst offenders:

http://www.smartertravel.com/travel-advice/the-10-worst-travel-rip-offs.html?id=4793204&source=dealalert&value=2010-05-01+00%3A00%3A00&u=375332DDF9


Read more!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

FREE SAMPLE WEBSITES


We all know the old saw -- you can't get something for nothing. Now, what if we told you that there are plenty of websites offering free samples of just about everything from shampoo to airline frequent flier miles to jewelry?

These companies are just trying to get you to switch brands. Take advantage of their marketing strategy. Here's how.

StartSampling.com - These guys offer samples from quit smoking to skin lotion samples.

pgeverydaysolutions.com - This site offers Proctor & Gamble samples.

silverjewelryclub.com - If you're willing to pay the shipping of $6.99, you can select a piece of free jewelry.

freebies4mom.com - Samples are geared toward mothers. Items include everything from diapers to popcorn.

freestufftimes.com

freemania.net

coupons.com

thunderfap.com

A lot of these sites ask personal questions and want your email address; if you're unwilling to divulge that information, free stuff may not be your thing. But hey, it's a free country. Do whatever floats your boat.


Read more!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

HOW TO COMPLAIN


Here at Team CHEAPIOSITY, we constantly wonder what's happened to Customer Service. We're old enough to remember the good old days...before so many jobs were outsourced to foreign countries, when customer representatives spoke American English as their native language, and when common courtesy was common.

Oh sure, someone somewhere still answers your phone call identifying themselves as Customer Service, but they've long forgotten the meaning of the words. It sometimes seems that the voice on the other end of the phone no longer cares that you are the CUSTOMER and you're asking for SERVICE. We don't want an unpleasant exchange and we don't enjoy repeating ourselves over and over again and still feeling misunderstood. Whatever happened to customer service reps being nice and helpful? Whatever happened to the faceless voice on the other end of your call genuinely and politely trying to help you resolve your issue?

Recently, a member of Team CHEAPIOSITY endured a four night hospital stay. After the insurance company reduced his $39,000 bill to $6,000 for him to pay, he got a bill from the hospital, with just a total, no details. Apparently our increasingly impatient patient was supposed to trust that this bill was accurate. (Perfectly acceptable because hospitals don't have a reputation for overcharging or charging for things that were never administered? Yeah, right.) He called and asked for a detailed bill and got back some gobblety gook replete with undecipherable abbreviations. When he asked for an English translation, he was told to fill out forms and request his medical records. On the medical records site, he was informed that they charge per page for copies. Now he's waiting for that phone call, fully loaded for bear. They charge you $39,000 and they expect you to pay to see your medical records by the page???? Get serious. Obviously, the game here is to wear him down. Not gonna happen this time. They're messing with the wrong guy.

Our motto is: We're Mad As Hell And We're Not Gonna Take It Any More.....and why should we? Don't these Corporations realize that by outsourcing overseas and giving customers a hard time, they are losing business? Apparently not. What happened to 'The Customer Is Always Right?'

We all know the obvious places to go: your local Consumer Protection Agency, the Better Business Bureau, The Federal Trade Commission and hopefully, the new federal Consumer Financial Protection Agency. However, before you go there and get caught up in more red tape, here are some tips we hope you'll find useful.

According to The New York Times, one very successful method is to a write a letter to the CEO or other higher-ups in the company with your complaints. You should write with a civil tone, but don’t be afraid to imply threats, like noting that “you’ve sent a copy of the letter to a government agency, like the Federal Trade Commission.” Alternatively, you can try talking it over with a representative on the phone. In this case, the Times has two tips: Ask the person what they would do in your shoes in order to get real substantive help, and ride out the clock, since the representative isn’t permitted to hang up on you and will feel more compelled to resolve your issue. In a previous post we advised you on how to get a human on the phone (http://cheapiosity.blogspot.com/2009/01/talking-to-human.html).

If you're still unsuccessful, go to the web and check out these sites:

RipoffReport.com is the place to complain about and uncover scams across the country, and to do so without holding back. According to the site, law firms often use the information entered on Rip Off Report to help with lawsuits against particular businesses. So not only do you get the satisfaction of complaining and having people read your complaints, but you may also help to change the way companies operate down the road.

ComplaintsBoard.com is a good forum for venting at companies, plus it features stories about recalls and companies in the news and even offers useful tips for consumers and businesses alike. Also, for better or worse, users on this site

PissedConsumer.com offers several incredibly useful features. Like ComplaintsBoard, they provide a good outlet to vent and a long list of consumer tips. The site also offers its own Customer Satisfaction Index, which tallies up all the complaints PissedConsumer receives by company and industry to illustrate which businesses are the most reviled.

PlanetFeedback.com
is one of the more civil places for consumers to turn to when they feel like complaining. The site refers to all complaints as “letters” and features company responses to many of the complaints. In that way, the site really seems to be trying to foster a dialogue between the consumer and the company, rather than just a ranting session.

MeasuredUp.com essentially acts as an intermediary between you and the companies you hate. Big name business like Home Depot, Wal-Mart, Orbitz and Best Buy have signed up with MeasuredUp to respond to consumer complaints on the site. Consider it a way to get around talking to representatives on the phone.

Bottom line. Don't take 'NO' for an answer. Get Satisfaction.


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Thursday, June 17, 2010

SAVING ON MEDICAL BILLS


As you must already know, Team CHEAPIOSITY's motto is: EVERYTHING IS NEGOTIABLE, and medical bills are no exception. With more and more of us still uninsured, this remains a big issue to say the least. For those fortunate enough to be insured, when you receive your EOB (explanation of benefits) you see that your insurance company discounts all of your charges -- Doctor, Lab, Radiology, Hospital, etc.

As an example, a member of Team CHEAPIOSITY was recently hospitalized for 4 days. (He's mostly fine now; thank you for asking. Or at least he was until he saw the bill!) He entered through an Emergency Room visit billed at $770; after the insurance discount, the amount was reduced to $200! For his 4 day hospital stay, the bill was $37,200, and after the discount, it came to $16,000. (Just as an aside, this covered only the hospital stay - no surgery, no procedures, no nothing. That's some luxury hotel. And the food wasn't even that great.) The point is, even if you are uninsured, there is room to negotiate .....a whole lot of room!

Here are some websites to help:


2. My Money website (http://www.mymoney.gov/index.html)

3. Healthcare Survival Guide (http://www.healthcaresurvivalguide.com/)

4. The Healthcare Blue Book is a guide to 'fair' medical pricing(http://healthcarebluebook.com/page_Default.aspx)

5. FairCare MD is a website listing doctors in your area who are willing to negotiate their fee (http://www.faircaremd.com/)

Lastly, there are medical care advocates who will negotiate for you; you will pay them a fee based on how much they save you. These fees can run 25-35% or hourly. (http://www.medicalcostadvocate.com/) and (http://www.healthadvocate.com/)


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Thursday, June 10, 2010

MAXIMIZING FINANCIAL AID FOR COLLEGE


You and your son/daughter have survived high school. Sunrise, sunset. How quickly fly the years. Yadda yadda yadda. Now the Kid's been accepted to college, and Reality starts to set in. How the hell are we going to pay for it? you ask yourself. Must your Empty Nest = Empty Pockets?

Despair not. The Wall Street Journal comes to the rescue.
Take a look:

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703612804575222303415618316.html?mod=WSJ_PersonalFinance_PF2


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Thursday, May 27, 2010

THINGS TO KNOW BEFORE YOU BUY A CONDO


Looking to buy a condominium? Here are some tips to keep in mind before you sign on the dotted line. You are about to buy into a group, and the rules of the group rule the way you can live. Here are the 10 questions buyers should ask when deciding whether to purchase a condominium unit:

1.What is the monthly condominium fee and what does it pay for? The monthly condominium fees vary dramatically from condominium to condominium. The fee is a by-product of the number of units, the annual expenses to maintain the common area, whether the condo is professionally managed or self-managed, the age and condition of the project, and other variables such as litigation. For budgeting and financing you need to know the monthly fee and exactly what you are getting for it.

2. What are the condominium rules & regulations? Condominium rules can prohibit pets, your ability to rent out the unit and to perform renovations. Make sure you carefully review ALL the rules and regulations before buying. Needless to say, the buyer's attorney should review and approve all condominium documents, including the master deed, declaration of trust/by-laws, covenants, unit deed and floor plans to ensure compliance with state condominium laws as well as Fannie Mae and FHA guidelines, as necessary.

3. How much money is in the capital reserve account and how much is funded annually? The capital reserve fund is like an insurance policy for the inevitable capital repairs every building requires. As a general rule, the fund should contain at least 10% of the annual revenue budget, and in the case of older projects, even more. If the capital reserve account is poorly funded, there is a higher risk of a special assessment. Get a copy of the last 2 years budget, the current reserve account funding level and any capital reserve study.

4. Are there any contemplated or pending special assessments? Special assessments are one-time fees for capital improvements payable by every unit owner. Some special assessments can run in the thousands. You need to be aware if you are buying a special assessment along with your unit. It's a good idea to ask for the last 2 years of condominium meeting minutes to check what's been going on with the condominium.

5. Is there a professional management company or is the association self-managed? A professional management company, while an added cost, can add great value to a condominium with well run governance and management of common areas.

6. Is the condominium involved in any pending legal actions? Legal disputes between owners, with developers, or with the association can signal trouble and/or a poorly run organization. Legal action equals attorneys’ fees which are payable out of the condominium budget and could result in a special assessment. In most states, you can run a search of the condominium association in the court database to check if they've been involved in recent lawsuits.

7. How many units are owner occupied? A large percentage of renters can create unwanted noise and neighbor issues. It can also raise re-sale and financing issues with the new Fannie Mae and FHA condominium regulations which limit owner-occupancy rates. If your buyer is using conventional financing, check if it is a Fannie Mae-approved condo. If FHA financing, check if it's an FHA approved condo.

8. What is the condominium fee delinquency rate? Again, a signal of financial trouble, and Fannie Mae and FHA want to see the rate at 15% or less.

9. Do unit owners have exclusive easements or the right to use certain common areas such as porches, decks, storage spaces and parking spaces? Condominiums differ as to how they structure the “ownership” of certain amenities such as roof decks, porches, storage spaces and parking spaces. Sometimes, they are truly “deeded” with the unit, so the unit owner has sole responsibility for maintenance and repairs. Sometimes, they are common areas in which the unit owner has the exclusive right to use, but the maintenance and repair is left with the association. Review the Master Deed and Unit Deed on this one.

10. What Does The Master Insurance Policy Cover? The condominium should have up to $1M or more in coverage under their master condominium policy. For a buyer's own protection, they should always buy an individual HO-6 policy covering the interior and contents of the unit, because the master policy and condo by-laws may not cover all damage to their personal possessions and interior damage in case of a roof leak, water pipe burst or other problem arising from a common area element. Ask for a copy of the master insurance policy and don't forget to check the fine print of the by-laws. Sometimes, there's language that would hurt a unit owner in case of a common area casualty. Condominiums over 20 units should also have fidelity insurance to protect against embezzlement.


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Thursday, May 20, 2010

IS YOUR BANK HEALTHY?



Everyone is worried about banks these days.

You make a deposit one day and find out the Federal Reserve is taking it over the next....what a world we live in.

How do you know if your Bank is healthy? Take a look at this article:

http://bucks.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/02/24/how-to-find-out-if-your-bank-is-healthy/?ref=your-money


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Thursday, May 13, 2010

OVERDRAFT PROTECTION...WHAT'S THE DEAL?


We've been reading about overdraft protection from the Banks. What does it all mean?

Take a look at this article from the Fed to make sure you don't have to pay for overdrafts:

http://www.federalreserve.gov/consumerinfo/wyntk_overdraft.htm


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Thursday, May 6, 2010

MONEY SAVING REMODELING TIPS


You are always told to do remodeling before you sell your house. Maybe you're not even planning to move; you just want to do some home improvements, but you don't have alot to spend. What to do....what to do?

We found this money saving article with some terrific tips, take a look:

http://www.moneytalksnews.com/2010/02/25/16-tips-to-save-on-home-remodeling/


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Thursday, April 29, 2010

BEST HEALTH WEBSITES


Your doctor tells you have so-and-so and such-and-such, throws a lot of terms at you, and as you leave the office you say to yourself, "What did he/she say?" We've all gone been there. Or you have a symptom and before you call your doctor, you want to check it out. What do you do? Here are some sites to help you out.

health.com

Health.com has up-to-the-minute news and an interactive “Symptom Checker” that is as addictive as it is helpful.

mayoclinic.com
The all-inclusive, vibrant home page includes a “Find It Fast” box that allows you to quickly look up what’s ailing you and then offers an alternative therapy for each possible diagnosis.

healthfinder.gov
Sponsored by the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, this site has drug information and newsletters (on topics such as diet and fitness) that can be lifesavers.

menopause.org
Visit the Consumers section of the website of the North American Menopause Society for updated information on hormone therapy, a menopause glossary, a guide to stress relief, and a monthly newsletter called, yes, Menopause Flashes.

acog.org
This all-inclusive women’s-health-care site from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists thoroughly covers both niche and broad topics. Click on “ACOG Patient Page” for dietary tips, authoritative pamphlets on mammograms and other tests, and help finding a good ob-gyn near you.

cancer.org
Cancer patients and their loved ones can feel overwhelmed by information, statistics, and options. The American Cancer Society site is helpful in winnowing the information into manageable pieces, and it offers a page called “Treatment Decisions Tools” to refine options.

merck.com/mmhe
The online Merck Manuals are efficiently alphabetized and all-inclusive, and they tell you the last time the entries were updated. The “Drugs” tab has a wealth of key information about medications, including medicinal herbs and supplements.

medlineplus.gov
Although the design of the Medline Plus site feels a bit dry, find your way to the Interactive Health Tutorials, which provide graphic guides to any condition, useful stats, and helpful Q. & A.’s.

realself.com
This site has lots of nitty-gritty info (much of it from patients’ personal experiences) on plastic-surgery treatments. There are also doctor-answered Q. & A.’s about rhinoplasty, Restylane, and breast implants.

americanheart.org
Make heart-healthy food choices with “My Grocery List,” a special feature that allows you to select from a list of items, enter your quantity, save it to your PDA, or print it out for an easier shopping trip.

Disclaimer: We're not telling you to use these sites in lieu of a doctor visit or call. These are just places to get more info.



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Thursday, April 22, 2010

HOW TO CRASH RESTRICTED SHOPPING SITES


The recession has not been good to the fashion industry. Bad news for them. Good news for you. If you're into the Designer thing, here's a Wall Street Journal article tailor-made for you.

Take a look:

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703882804574642220898225820.html?mod=WSJ_PersonalFinance_PF2


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Thursday, April 15, 2010

TIPS FOR GETTING A FREE FREQUENT FLYER AIRLINE TICKET


Even though recession-weary consumers may want to cash in frequent-flyer miles to get free trips and upgrades more than ever these days, it's gotten harder to snare those awards. Since airlines aggressively reduced capacity through the economic downturn, they've filled flights fuller with paying customers and appear to have reduced availability of award seats and upgrades. As the economy picks up, passenger demand for seats will get tighter.

Landing the free seat you want using frequent-flier miles has long been one of the biggest frustrations for travelers. The prizes offered by airlines are enticing, but the seats never seem to be available on the flights and routes you want. Some people try to call airlines at midnight 11 months before the date they plan to travel—typically when booking opens for a flight—to be first in line for frequent-flier award seats. Some know to check repeatedly because airlines change inventory daily. And many give up the search, letting miles accumulate and cursing airlines for selling false hope.


Still, there are several new tools available to help you find that elusive award. Some airlines have made it easier to find award seats—when they are available—and several Web sites have tools to help you search. ExpertFlyer and another site called MileageManager.com have award alerts that send you an email when a frequent-flier seat or upgrade opens up on a flight you want.


Airlines often hold back frequent-flier award seats or upgrades on popular flights, hoping that bookings by fare-paying passengers will be strong. But if seats don't sell as briskly as predicted, awards can be made available for booking in reservation systems at anytime.





ExpertFlyer's award alert feature works on 22 airlines worldwide, including Delta Air Lines, American Airlines, Alaska Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines, a unit of Hawaiian Holdings Inc., in the U.S., plus Air Canada, Air China, Air France, which is a unit of the Air France KLM Group, Qantas Airways and others. ExpertFlyer says that more than 50% of customers who look for an award actually find one that works for them.


MileageManager requires you to register your frequent flier accounts with the service, turning over your airline account number and password, before its AwardPlanner function can be used. Both MileageManager and ExpertFlyer offer free trial periods, but after that MileageManager is $14.95 per year and ExpertFlyer costs $9.99 a month.


On the airline side, check alliance Web sites—StarAlliance.com, oneWorld.com and SkyTeam.com—that show flights on partner airlines that may not be displayed on your own airline's booking site. Those partner airlines may have award seats available, but you'll need to call to find out. LOT Polish, for example, might offer something that doesn't automatically show up on UAL Corp.'s United Airlines' Web site, but you can often use your United miles to book it if you know what to ask for.


Airlines have long told customers that flexibility is the key to booking awards—a willingness to travel on different days or even to different cities increases your chances of finding an award. But now airlines are also becoming more flexible and giving customers more options to redeem their miles. That's because it is actually in the airlines' interest to encourage fliers to use miles.


A change in accounting rules has made it more expensive for airlines to carry unredeemed miles on their balance sheets. And miles have become a huge cash generator for airlines, primarily by selling them to credit card companies that give them out as customer rewards. If the miles lose their shine by being difficult to use, credit card companies may curb their purchases. Last year, American pre-sold $1 billion worth of AAdvantage miles to Citicorp, propping up the airline financially and showcasing the importance of miles.



In an effort to spur mileage redemption, Alaska Airlines began offering one-way awards in 2007, allowing customers to use miles for just a one-way ticket, or mix-and-match different mileage levels into one round-trip. The result has been a sharp rise in award redemption for that airline. In 2008, the number of awards redeemed with frequent- flier miles jumped 26% and mileage balances in accounts declined, according to Alaska, a unit of Alaska Air Group Inc. (The airline hasn't yet reported 2009 redemptions.)

AMR Corp.'s American and Delta now offer one-way award pricing as well. Continental and US Airways Group Inc. also allow different award levels to be combined. A flight at the cheapest award level, typically 25,000 miles round-trip for domestic itineraries, might be available for the outbound part of a trip, but not available for the return the customer wants. Book the return at the 50,000-mile level, and you get the seats you want for a total of 12,500 outbound plus 25,000 for the return, or 37,500 miles total.


Most airlines also now offer calendars on their Web sites that quickly show customers what dates have awards available, and at what mileage levels.


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Thursday, April 8, 2010

20 Ways To Get Healthier for Free


Freebies are always good. Your health is always important. Free health tips are AWESOME.

Take a look:

http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/34864844/ns/today-today_health/


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Thursday, April 1, 2010

HOW TO NEGOTIATE THE CAR TRADE IN


In past postings we've talked to your about How to Buy a Car (http://cheapiosity.blogspot.com/2008/05/buying-car.html). 'Nough said.....everything you need to know is there.

However, there's another part of the car buying process that deserves your (and our) attention: How to Negotiate the Car Trade-In. This is another opportunity for a car dealership to rip you off. You negotiate a great deal and now it's time to talk about the trade-in. They take the car away for their used car people to look at. Then they come back with an amount that is so far below its value, for reasons that are usually cosmetic. They tell you how much it's going to cost them to be able to "just get their money back!" Baloney! Phooey! Feh! Feh! Feh! Car dealerships are not in the business of losing money.....they just want to rip you off and make more money. Don't fall for it.

Here are things to keep in mind:

1. Research the value. There are numerous Web sites where solid information is available, including Edmunds.com, says Philip Reed, senior consumer advice editor at Edmunds.com in Santa Monica, California. You also can visit Kelley Blue Book, AutoTrader, and the National Automobile Dealers Association, or check for similar cars being auctioned on eBay. If you have a CarMax store nearby, take your car there for a free appraisal.

2. Make sure the time is right. Convertibles don't sell well in the North during winter months, but four-wheel drive vehicles do. Likewise, if you owe more on your car trade-in than you think you'll get from a dealer, you're in a very weak bargaining position. Follow the news and trends; when gas prices go up, demand for fuel-efficient cars goes up, and values of SUV's and trucks go down.

3. Spruce up the car. Give the car the equivalent of "curb appeal" so the potential buyer's initial reaction is positive. Go to the car wash, clean up the inside, etc. Sometimes you have to spend money to save money. (What a concept. We're feeling a little faint.)

4. Show your records. If you've kept all the maintenance records on your car, take them with you, and ask the dealer if you can get more for your car because of your full disclosure and vigilance.

5. Negotiate the new purchase and car trade-in separately. Many make the mistake of making the new car deal first, then figuring out what their trade-in is worth and trusting the new car dealership to "be fair." However, consumer wisdom dictates that each transaction should be treated separately. Rather than negotiating the new car price first, research your trade-in first, especially if you have a fairly sought-after car. One way to find out is to put up an ad on Craigslist.org and see what kind of offers you get.

6. What should you say? Start your negotiation by letting the salesperson know you've done some research. "Say something along the lines of: "I was researching cars online to see what I can get for this car." Don't open up with an overconfident arrogance: "It's worth $4,000 and not a penny less."

7. Avoid game-playing. Some unscrupulous car dealers have been known to throw your car keys on the roof so you can't leave until you drive off in a new car. Make a phone call before you go, ask the used-car manager what the value of your trade-in is. If you get a negative feeling on the phone, you'll want to scratch that dealership off your list and save yourself a trip. Salespeople may also try to hold on to your driver's license and registration. Carry a copy of your driver's license to give them and don't part with the registration until you're in the finance office.

8. Explore the tax advantage. All but eight states allow you to pay sales tax on the purchase price of the new vehicle minus what the dealer is giving you for your car trade-in. The reduction in sales tax in states with rates of 9 percent to 11 percent can add up to substantial savings. You may be able to save $1,000 or more, so check your state's tax advantage.


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Thursday, March 25, 2010

AIRLINE SAVINGS IN 2010

The airline industry is in a bind, and it’s putting the squeeze on you. But the squeeze isn’t coming from higher ticket prices -- lower demand caused by the recession has actually prompted airlines to cut fares 13% over the past year. To boost bottom lines, airlines are levying extra fees, cutting routes and getting downright stingy with trips granted in their frequent-flyer programs.



Expect airlines to get even more creative in the coming year, charging for such “perks” as contact with a human being. U.S. airlines could take a page from the playbook of Ireland’s Ryan-air, which until recently charged passengers extra to check in with a live person at the airport, instead of online at home, at a hotel or at an airport kiosk. (In November, Ryanair stopped offering airport check-in altogether.) Also being considered: fees for flying with an infant -- currently, children under 2 fly free on domestic flights if they share your seat -- and fees for making reservations using a credit card other than the airline’s own.

The latest galling add-on is the holiday surcharge. Such fees first appeared in September, when some major airlines applied an extra $10 charge each way to fares on three of the busiest travel days for the 2009 winter holidays. A couple of weeks later, the charge bumped up to $20 each way and spread to another ten popular travel dates between the 2009 winter holidays and Memorial Day 2010.

But that’s not all. The surcharge now applies to nearly 100 dates from December 18, 2009, through October 17, 2010. The highest fee will be $50 for flights from three Florida cities -- Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach -- on February 8, the day after the Super Bowl in Miami.

Perfect Timing

Avoiding those peak travel days will save you more than just a surcharge. Less-traveled days, times and routes will also get you a lower fare. For example, the cheapest flights of the week are typically on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturday afternoons. Early-morning flights will save you money, and they’re also less likely to be delayed. And flying into smaller airports -- for instance, heading to Manchester, N.H., or Providence, R.I., instead of Boston’s Logan Airport -- can cut your costs, too.

The timing of your purchase can be just as important when it comes to saving. Some fares fluctuate rapidly, so use the Web to help you catch them when they’re low. Alerts from Airfarewatchdog.com will notify you of low fares for your selected route, but not for specific dates. Alerts from Bing Travel (http://www.blogger.com/www.bing.com/travel) work well if you’re looking for flights on certain dates. At Kayak.com, you can set up alerts using either method. Neither Bing nor Kayak tracks Southwest Airlines; download its deal alerts at www.southwest.com/ding.

Where the Wild Deals Are

If you’re looking for a low-cost vacation, here’s a tip: Check regions of the world where local competition makes air travel particularly inexpensive. Latin America (especially Central America) and Southeast Asia have been identified as the top two low-cost areas.

In Latin America first it’s less expensive to get to hub cities, and you won’t face any major problems with jet lag. To fly there on the cheap, try using lesser-known airlines.

Spirit Air, for example, flies out of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to 14 destinations in Central and South America. If you join the airline’s Fare Club for $40 a year, you’ll get offers for round-trip fares as low as $18, excluding taxes and fees. Little-known Copa Airlines flies from several U.S. cities to a number of South American countries through Panama City, a regional hub.

Airfare to Southeast Asia costs more, but once there you can fly throughout the region at bargain prices. Plus, prices for food, lodging and entertainment are also low. Try starting in Thailand. From the U.S., flying to Bangkok is usually more affordable than to other Asian destinations; Bangkok offers a good base from which to hopscotch through the region aboard budget airlines.

The same strategy applies when you’re traveling in Europe. For instance, Hamburg is an affordable hub from which you can fly inexpensively to other cities. Dublin, home of Ryan-air, also works well as a European hub. But watch out for extra fees that are even more outrageous than what you may be charged at home. For example, instead of charging a single fee for an overweight bag, some airlines impose a fee for each kilo (2.2 pounds) over the limit.

For help finding a budget airline, go to http://www.whichbudget.com/. Select your overseas starting point, end point or both, and the site will list airlines you’ve probably never heard of that service each route.

Frequent-Flyer Programs

What’s Changed. Loyalty has never been less rewarding. Airlines are modifying their programs to require many more miles in trade for a ticket. Plus, many programs charge extra fees for issuing or changing tickets, or for booking -- then canceling -- a flight. And using your miles for an upgrade could mean some crazy fees -- up to a whopping $1,000 for the cushy seats on international flights on Continental and United airlines, for example.

Best Deals. Southwest’s Rapid Rewards program currently offers a simple system: Fly eight round-trips within two years and you get a free round-trip ticket -- with just one possible extra fee ($50 to reactivate expired miles). The program is slated for a makeover in mid 2010, and details of Rapid Rewards 2.0 are as yet unknown. Check out, Alaska Airlines’ program, even if you never plan to set foot on an Alaska Airlines plane. The program allows you to earn elite status, which lands you advantages such as bonus miles and preferred seating, by flying any of more than a dozen air carriers that partner with Alaska, including American and Delta, which are members of the OneWorld and SkyTeam global alliances, respectively. And you can redeem your miles for flights on any of those partners.

What to Skip. Leaving your accounts inactive. An estimated ten trillion unused miles are currently in circulation, worth about $165 billion in tickets. A good portion of those will expire unused because airlines often close inactive accounts with little warning. You can keep your accounts active by earning and redeeming miles in several ways: flying on the appropriate airlines, using your rewards credit card or shopping at participating retailers.

Last-Minute Travel

What’s Changed. We had become accustomed to holding out for the big 11th-hour sales airlines would often offer to fill flights. But because many airlines are eliminating less-profitable flights, fewer tickets are available for discounts.

Best Deals. Airlines are keeping their best last-minute fares from the aggregators and online travel agencies and offering them on their own sites. Get those bargains by signing up for airlines’ free rewards programs to receive e-mails with promotional codes and special offers.

What to Skip. LastMinute.com. Over the past year, as airlines have increasingly highlighted last-minute deals on their own sites, LastMinute.com has often come up empty.


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