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Dear Reader,

If you’re like me, you appreciate a good bargain. I’ll spend an hour online (sometimes more) searching for a good deal if it means I can save an extra $15. And I’ll gloat for days if I save more than $30.

(By the way, if I’d have known what I know now about buying round-the-world tickets, I’d have saved between $2,000 and $3,000 on the round-the-world tickets we bought for our honeymoon. I’ll tell you more about that in an upcoming issue.)

What’s bothering me today, however, is how crafty the airlines (and their ticket brokers) are getting at hiding little fees in their ticket prices. It’s harder today than ever before to discern a good deal from an average one. Most good deals aren’t what they seem…

For instance, I just found a great deal on Spirit airlines for my flight from Washington D.C. to Ft. Lauderdale, Florida for AWAI’s annual copywriting bootcamp in October. The advertised price is $69 each way. But here’s the end result:

As often is the case, the $69 deal is only good for one segment of my flight. It only applies to travel on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays. The other leg of my trip is $109, because I need to fly home on a Sunday.

This is still a good deal though, because $178 (that’s $69 + $109) is better than the $218 flight I found on Delta.com.

But then there are the airport taxes and government fees, as I discovered when I hit the “order” button, which come to an additional $21. That brings my total to $199 — still cheaper than my $218 quote from Delta.

But then here’s the kicker: Spirit airlines charges $5 for each and every checked bag you carry. That’s $5 each way if you check in online and $10 each way if you check your bag at the airport without first paying the fee online.

This isn’t something they advertise. It’s just something I happen to know because I was on their site the other day checking out the fine print.

So now my original good deal of a ticket from D.C. to Florida for $138 is actually $219 — if I check just one bag. It’s $239 if I check two. And it’s a whopping $618 if I check three or more bags (your third checked bag on Sprit is $100 instead of $10). What’s more, on Delta, my snacks would be free. But on Sprit I’m going to pay another $2-$10 per drink and per snack.

My point is: If you want a good deal, be prepared to research the fine print. Here are a few tips that can help…

1. GET TO KNOW YOUR TRAVEL WEBSITE: Some websites like Expedia.com and Travelocity.com quote prices that include extra fees and taxes (the price quoted is the price you’ll get at check-out). Other sites, like Orbitz.com and Cheapticket.com, aren’t so obvious. I just plugged in a flight to Paris from D.C and got a $835 quote from Travelocity and a $545 quote from Orbitz. Look carefully, though, because Orbitz lists the real price ($840) in smaller type below the appealing $545 price.

2. ALWAYS READ THE FINE PRINT: If it states that prices include all taxes and fees, this should be the final price. If not, double-check the total before you click “buy.”

3. BE CAREFUL WITH SITES LIKE KAYAK.COM: Kayak.com is great for comparing prices on sites like Orbitz and Expedia (in fact, it’s my favorite) but they sometimes quote the cheaper (pre-tax) flight and you’ll find that the real price is much higher once you click through.

4. CONSIDER BUYING DIRECTLY FROM THE AIRLINE: You’ll avoid extra booking fees if you order direct from Delta, Continental, American Airlines, etc. What’s more, you can also check out their baggage check policies… food and catering services… entertainment fees… and child carrying fees. Delta now charges an extra 10% for a baby carried on her mother’s lap. And some airlines count strollers and car seats as part of your allowed luggage.

5. WATCH OUT FOR DISCOUNT COUPONS: I recently used a discount companion coupon on Delta that entitled me to a free companion pass on my next Delta flight. The coupon said that I had to call a special number to reserve the flight. I did, and of course the ticket wasn’t valid on most of the discount Delta flights I found online. We did, however, find a reasonably priced ticket, so I booked it. Little did I know, however, that Delta charges $20 per ticket for every ticket ordered over the phone. Of course, it wasn’t my choice to order over the phone (the coupon said I had to) nor did they tell me about this charge when I ordered.

6. ORDER ONLINE: To avoid call-in reservation fees, try not to talk to an agent. It’s almost always cheaper to book online these days.

If you’re joining us at a workshop this year, I hope you’ll put these tips to good use and save yourself a few dollars on your airfare.  You’ll find all the details about our upcoming events here: Upcoming Travel and Photo Workshops

And don’t forget to scroll down to today’s writing prompt and get your next story ready for publication.

— Lori
Lori Allen
Director, Great Escape Publishing

[Editor’s Note: Learn more about opportunities to profit from your travels (and even from your own home) in our free online newsletter The Right Way to Travel.]

PRACTICAL WRITING PROMPT OF THE WEEK:

Labor Day has come and gone and the streets are once again filling up with kids on their way to school. You know what this means: Soon the leaves will be falling and autumn will be in full-swing.

This week, spend some time researching fall events in your town. You can focus on one event, or if you know of several enticing things happening nearby, you could look for fodder for a round-up article.

Think: top five things to do this fall in your town.

While larger publications have strict editorial calendars and plan ahead for seasonal articles, you can still pitch your story to small online publications.

If you do write a round-up article, don’t forget to think about your audience. Who are you writing for? What kinds of events would they go to? You don’t want to highlight five festivals that would appeal to families and then throw in something singles would enjoy.

Also, think about where your audience is from. Are you focusing on people in your town or on people traveling from somewhere else? What would they need to know or already know about how your town is laid out, and how to find what they’re looking for?

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