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Real Deals

$350 a night!? I'll pay $100. (Hey, it might be worth a try.)

Email|Print| Text size + By Richard P. Carpenter
Globe Staff / June 20, 2004

When John F. Kennedy said, "Let us never fear to negotiate," he was talking about far weightier matters than the price of a hotel room. Nonetheless, finding the nerve to bargain can save you dollars by the dozen, according to Consumer Reports.

An investigative report in the nonprofit magazine's July issue says that three-quarters of the time, hotels beat the prices offered on travel websites. But you have to deal. Says Consumer Reports: "Don't be afraid to say, 'That's more than I can spend,' or 'If you can't budge on price, can you give me an upgrade?' "

A real-life example: When my son stopped at a hotel in Virginia Beach this month, he was told the nightly rate would be $139.

"That's too much for me," he said. "Do you know where I can find a hotel with rooms for under $100?"

"How does $98 right here sound?" the clerk replied.

Consumer Reports contacted 100 hotels to find the best deal on a room for a three-night getaway over a weekend in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, New Orleans, and Washington. The magazine had these recommendations:

Be flexible. By skipping a holiday date or staying longer, you may increase negotiating clout.

Compare. Check the travel sites, then call the hotel's toll-free reservation number, then the property itself.

Speak up. "Bargaining with a reservations clerk over the phone was our most effective technique."

Book early or late. "When dealing with a hotel directly, the reservations clerk might be willing to give you a good rate far ahead of time (to lock in your business) or at the last minute (if the hotel hasn't filled)."

Be willing to walk away. Rooms are mostly a buyer's market. If one hotel won't deal, plenty of others will.

The issue also features a reader survey of favorite hotels and pet peeves. A related article, "Travel Sites vs. Hotels" and the magazine's Summer Vacation Guide are available free at www.consumerreports.org. Other parts of the website require payment.

Six Flags savings Prices at the gate at Six Flags New England in Agawam are $39.99 for those 54 inches tall or over, $25.99 for those shorter than 54 inches, and free for anyone under 36 inches. Seniors (over 55) pay $26.99. But Shaw's & Star Market are selling 2004 Season Passes for $59.99, one-day adult tickets for $27.99, and junior tickets for $24.99. Also, guests can avoid waiting and save a bit by buying one-day tickets and season passes in advance at www.sixflags.com by using the new Print-N-Go option. The price for one-day adult tickets is $32.99. Meanwhile, coupons can be found on Coke cans and at all New England locations of Burger King, Cumberland Farms, CVS, Tedeschi, Lil' Peach, Store 24, Dunkin Donuts, Liberty Bank, Subway, and Wendy's. Offers for adult tickets include $12 off weekdays and $10 weekends through July 31, and then $10 off weekdays and $5 off weekends. After July 31, coupons will also be available at McDonald's and Sunoco. Ticket prices include both the amusement park and water park.

Pottering around for $599 Along with the newest Harry Potter movie comes a self-guided "Pottering Around Scotland" package, with a rental car and bed-and-breakfast stays. The five-night trip begins in Edinburgh, so fans can visit author J. K. Rowling's hometown and tour the city where she wrote some of the books in the series. Fans then drive west to Fort William to board the West Highland Railway Line over the Glenfinnan Viaduct, which they will recognize as the Hogwarts Express line from the "Chamber of Secrets" film. The tour also includes stops in Glencoe and Rannoch Moor, where scenes involving Hagrid's House in the "Prisoner of Azkaban" were filmed. Also included in the package are tours of selected castles, and a ghosts and ghouls walking tour. Prices start at $599 per person for B&B accommodations (based on a double room) through Oct. 1 and include a welcome pack with directions and other information, service fee and Value Added Tax, car rental, and entrance fees to the tours listed. Rates for children 5-12 are half the adult rate. Other accommodations are also available. Air fare is not part of the deal.

Call ETM Travel Group at 800-992-7700 or e-mail reservations@etmtravelgoup.com.

Tennis, anyone? The Jailhouse Inn in Newport, R.I., is offering a four-night package during the Tennis Hall of Fame's 50th anniversary celebration July 5-11. The Tennis Hall of Fame Getaway package includes passes to the last three days of the tournaments. The cost is $1,295 for two, and also includes two passes to the museum of tennis and complimentary continental breakfast daily. The inn, which is near the Hall of Fame, is so named because it was Newport's original 1772 police and jail facility.

Call 800-427-9444 or 401-847-4638.

Win a special 'K' car Kansas is giving away a "homemade" car to encourage visitors. The vehicle is a new Chevy Malibu, made in GM's Kansas City plant. Other prizes also come from Kansas-based companies, including Dillons, Coleman, Garmin, Bushnell, and Sprint. The Kansas Mega Gigantic Get Away Giveaway will run through Sept. 10. To enter, travelers must go at least 100 miles from their home and visit a Kansas attraction or event listed in the 2004 Kansas Getaway Guide or on www.travelks.com. They must take a picture of themselves, their family, or friends at the attraction or event and submit the photo with an entry form, either online or by mail. (This is a sweepstakes, not a photography contest.) Winners will be selected by random drawing, although select photos will be posted on the promotional website.

To get a Getaway Guide, call 800-2KANSAS.

Terror time If you can't wait till Halloween, Tours of Terror is conducting a summer edition of its famous -- or is that infamous? -- Vampire Vacation to Transylvania, July 11-18. Travelers visit the sites of Bram Stoker's novel "Dracula" while discovering the secrets of Vlad the Impaler, said to be the real-life Drac, and the land of Transylvania. What's more, everyone gets to spend a night in Dracula's Castle for a memorable masquerade ball. The cost is $1,699 per person, double occupancy, from New York, with air fare included.

Visit www.dractour.com or call 866-837-7678.

Photo tour PhotoWalks lets visitors -- and residents, too -- see Boston through the eye of a camera. Three separate tours concentrate on Beacon Hill, the Freedom Trail, and the Public Garden. A guide explains creative photography techniques and Boston's history at the same time. Each 90-minute tour costs $25 per adult and includes a copy of the PhotoWalks Guide to Creative Photography.

Call 617-851-2273 or visit www.photowalks.com.

Honored with savings The Village at Squaw Valley USA is saluting firemen and teachers with an off-peak deal, available Sunday to Thursday until Nov. 15. Those guests can stay in studio, one-, two-, or three-bedroom condominiums at a 20 percent discount. Before the discount, studios with a full kitchen start at $139 a night midweek. One-bedroom rates start at $149 a night midweek. The Village is in California, near Lake Tahoe and about 180 miles from San Francisco.

Visit www.thevillageatsquaw.com or call 866-818-6963.

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