Tennesseetransitions


Frugal Friday: Or, ”It Never Hurts to Ask” – March 20, 2015
March 20, 2015, 12:48 PM
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I think we all know that traveling can not only be a wonderful escape from our daily lives, it can also burn holes in your wallet and tends to make your normal diet and exercise routines go to hell in a hand basket. I told you before I left for my trip to Selma that I’d share with you some ways that I found to keep more money in my pocket while having a fabulous time. It can happen, but THIS trip was a bit ‘out of the ordinary’, even for me 😉

When I first heard about the Selma-to-Montgomery March anniversary, I knew tiny Selma wouldn’t be prepared for the onslaught of 80 thousand people so I didn’t delay searching online for a suitable hotel room. Along with the other 79,999 folks doing the same thing. What I found was a room at the Bates Selma Motel for $52 a night. They had 4 rooms left the day I made my online reservation a month ahead, and I wondered why THEY did when it seemed NO ONE else did. My brother worked there throughout high school, so I remembered the place and knew it was going to be very, shall we say, BASIC, but I was happy to find it. I only made the reservation for one night though, thinking that if it was awful, I wouldn’t be committed to two nights. I was flying by the seat of my pants in thinking I’d find a place for the second night so RJ and I took our sleeping bags and pillows in case we had to sleep under the stars.

10 days before I was scheduled to leave I got a call from the executive offices of Wyndham Resorts, the company that handles reservations for that motel, informing me that my reservation ‘had been canceled’. WHAT?!!!?? I knew immediately that they had figured out that the $52 I was paying could be at least tripled, so I let my anger and frustration be known to the poor ‘messenger’ from that company. I decided it wouldn’t benefit me at all to get nasty though, so I quickly ‘made a friend’ of the caller. She took pity on me and offered to help me find a room elsewhere, using her reservation software, promising to call me back the following day. She called, but could only find a SMOKING room with one bed, a 45 minutes drive from Selma. After discussing the issues I had with that for a few minutes, she offered to pay the difference between the two rooms, which was significant. I reluctantly agreed but in those few minutes of conversation that smoking room had been booked. She then found me a room over an hour away, and after she listened to my good-humored complaints about time, gas mileage, etc. she offered to reimburse me for the room and the mileage between Selma and the new hotel. On the day after I returned from my trip, she called back as promised and gave me a number to fax my receipts to, and then offered to pay for any parking fees I’d had to pay ($10) plus my gas for the trip! SU- WHEET! I sent receipts for about $150 which I’ll receive within the next week. So essentially, the trip only cost me the original $52. But this travel tale gets even better…

Because this sweet representative of a company that does bad business WAS so sweet, and because I let her know I didn’t hold her personally responsible, we were able to really ‘connect’ during our phone conversations. It turns out she has a brother that lives in Alabama, and after I told her all about my trip and the history behind it all, she and her husband are now planning their own trip from their South Dakota home to visit her brother and Selma! (I advised her against making reservations with Wyndham Resorts). At the end of our conversation, she offered to enroll me in the ‘Wyndham Rewards Program’. I’m sure you’re familiar with similar programs where you earn ‘points’ that you can use for future room discounts or other perks. I declined, telling her I rarely travel so I knew I wouldn’t be able to collect points. Instead, she offered to set up my account with 10,000 points automatically! I agreed, the process was seamless and I then used 6,500 of those points to order a $25 Amazon gift card for Michael’s birthday! The card arrived yesterday, right on time. He was quite pleased because now he can order music or books of his choice, and I’m tickled purple about how all of this turned out. So, the trip and the birthday gift didn’t cost me anything, and I gained a new friend in South Dakota.  priceless.

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What about that second night of no place to stay? Karma was with me on this trip… a friend from my UU church here in NE TN, traveled to Selma with her daughter and was staying at a very nice Hyatt RESORT hotel 90 miles away, in Birmingham. HER hotel stay was being paid for using credit card ‘rewards points’ and since it wasn’t costing her anything, she insisted that we stay with her, at no cost, in their suite. Yeah, it was sweet too. (Thanks Cindi!)  A free breakfast came with BOTH hotels, so we loaded up on calories in the mornings, and only had to buy our dinners on Saturday night because of yet another kindness shown to us…on Sunday night after the march, the UU Church in Montgomery invited any and all marchers to their church for dinner and music. The congregants were warm and inviting, the meal was fabulous, the folky/ social justice singing was led by a talented singer/guitarist and all I had to do was follow my friend there from Selma, which was on the way to Birmingham anyway! 

I realize these money savers I’m telling you about were probably a once in a lifetime occurrence, but there were other little things we did that added up to some nice savings but didn’t cut into our fun at all. On Friday before we left town, I had filled up my car for 30 cents off per gallon, using my daughter’s “gas rewards card” (who knew about all these rewards offers??) saving $4.50 on 15 gallons. I packed ‘snack bags’ of hard boiled eggs, almonds and fruit, along with juice and water in refillable bottles so we didn’t have to pay for overpriced, unhealthy food along the way. OK, full disclosure here: we DID compromise our own principles and bought McDonald’s sweet tea for 99 cents along the way, but I even got a free refill a few towns down the road by simply asking if I could. Ironically, the man that gave me permission to do that was standing directly in front of the sign that stated “No refills from previous visits”, proving that it never hurts to ask. Bringing our own snacks and food gave us the opportunity to pull off wherever we found pleasant spots to eat and stretch our legs. Not having to listen to FOX news in fast food restaurants was priceless too. Just sayin...

I resisted the temptation to buy souvenirs, but took many many pictures that will serve as remembrances of this special time and place. Here’s my favorite, taken of a gentleman that had marched behind Martin Luther King fifty years before. Edward Kidd is my new hero:

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Have a great, frugal weekend!

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