An Added Bonus to a Checking Deal

When we wrote about the ING Electric Orange Checking Account two months ago, it was offering interest rates of at least 1.60% (APY) on balances over $50,000.  Since then, those rates have fallen slightly to 1.50-1.55% (APY).  However, balances below $50,000 continue to earn 0.25% (APY) in interest, which might be low compared to the interest rate on ING’s savings account, 1.30% (APY), but is exceptional for a checking account.   Besides, it is over twice Bank of America’s interest rate on its regular savings account, 0.10% (APY)!

And as an added incentive, ING is now giving a $50 bonus if you make three “signature transactions” (i.e., transactions that require your ink signature) within 45 days after opening an Electric Orange Checking Account.  Just use reference code EM352 when applying.  But the end date for this deal is not given on its website or on its marketing emails, so if you are looking for a checking account that pays interest, act fast to get $50 to go with it.


For Deals on Hotels, Choose a Neighborhood and Follow the Stars

Negotiating hotel costs may be a great way to keep travel within a budget.  As people take fewer trips or look for cheaper fares and lodging in response to the recession, hotels are more and more likely to honor requests for discounts and accept lower offers.   And even if haggling is not your thing, you can still take advantage of that. 

Besides the standard hotel offers found in internet travel sites, also has a “name your own price” option, which allows you to bid for a better deal on flights or hotels.  For flights, you can only choose the dates on which you want to fly and the price you will pay, and commits to billing you only if it finds a flight with one stop at most.  But you do not get to pick the time of day for arrival or departure, airline, or length of the layover.

Using for hotels is a much safer bet.  You can select the neighborhood in which you want to stay and the number of hotel stars, and, unless you really want to stay in a specific hotel (e.g., for a conference or wedding), that really is all the information you need.  The only catch is that, with both flights and hotels, you are required to give your credit card information when you make the bid, and, if finds an airline or hotel that accepts your bid, you are billed immediately.  So this is not a website for researching trips; it is for when you are sure of where and when you want to go.

But if you’ve already settled on your destination and travel dates and are hesitant to make a bid, worrying whether your offer might be too high (overpaying for a hotel) or too low (being rejected and having to wait 24 hours to re-bid), check out BetterBidding.   This is an online forum where people discuss bidding tactics for hotels on and guessing which hotels are featured in the site’s closest competitor,  Importantly, users list the bids they made on and whether these were accepted or rejected, enabling other users to make informed offers themselves.  Take advantage of that.  You may think that $120 per night on a hotel that is offered in other travel sites for $180/night is a great deal – but wouldn’t it help to know that someone else snagged a stay in that hotel for the same dates for $100/night?

So if you are planning a vacation and have already settled on your destination and travel dates may be a good way to get a deal.  And knowing what other travelers have bid may help you make that into a great deal.

In Europe, Have Your Age Subsidize Your Travel

If you are planning a trip to Europe and are 25 years old or under, make sure to look for discounts not only at attractions that commonly offer student discounts such as museums and performances, but also on transportation.  In contrast to the American standard practice, in Europe most discounts are available for people aged 25 and under (with proof of ID) rather than for students regardless of age.  And transportation networks are usually included.

In England, for example, you can buy a 16-25 Railcard for £26, which gives you a 1/3 discount on virtually every train fare throughout the UK for a whole year (even once you turn 26, as long as you bought it when you were still 25 years old).  This includes the express trains to and from Heathrow and Gatwick airports.  Importantly – and this is not frequently advertised – if you get the Oyster card for transportation in London (and you should), your Railcard can also be linked to it and lower your daily cap.  For example, a single ticket for off-peak travel in zones 1-2 of the London tube (as a tourist, those are probably the only zones you will need) is £1.60, but if you use an Oyster card and take multiple trips in one day, you will be charged a maximum of £5.10 per day.  With the 15-26 Railcard, while you do not get a discount on the single fare, your daily fare is capped at £3.35.

For travel between European countries, the Eurostar and the Thalys also offer youth discounts.  A youth one-way ticket on the Eurostar from London to Paris departing this Friday (September 04, 2009) at 11:30, for example, is £72, compared to £84 for the standard non-flexible fare.  Prices are lower and discounts are larger during the week and if booked in advance.  And on the Thalys, a high-speed rail connecting Paris, Brussels, Cologne and Amsterdam (and several Belgian and Dutch cities along the way), youth fares are generally around half the price of the most flexible fare offered.  Travel from Amsterdam to Brussels on a youth fare, for instance, is as low as €29, while the flexible fare costs €57.

So whether your are planning on just visiting one city in Europe or backpacking throughout, remember to carry your ID and ask about youth discounts on transportation if you are 25 years old or under.  This will help you cut down on sightseeing costs and free up your budget for souvenirs, food, and even a splurge.