Sunday, May 1, 2016

How to San Diego like a cheap bastard

By: Ron Valderrama/Tragically Hip Living

As the heat of summer approaches, so too does the time of year when San Diego is the destination of choice. I've visited San Diego since my childhood and it never gets old, but the past few years it seems to be getting more and more expensive, and hard to find a decent room without having to pay a lot of money or donate an organ. In my younger years, I always stayed at a hotel on, or within walking distance of the beach, mainly in Mission or Pacific Beach.
Photo: Ronatringside.com
I understand things change and prices will go up, but many of the hotels are greedy, inflating prices in the summer months that can run well into the hundreds of dollars per night. What really turned me off was a particular hotel that pretty much tripled the price of rooms. This was a hotel that I was a frequent and loyal customer for years, besides raising the rates, they required a 3-day minimum stay which is tough to do if planning a weekend trip. To add insult, they imposed a $30 convenience fee and a $20 per day parking fee which I wasn't aware of at the time I booked, which was my fault for not checking. That was my last time staying at that hotel and afterward, I thought, WTF? Really? The clerk couldn't even tell me what the $30 convenience fee was about. I told the clerk it must be for prostitution because I just got screwed.
Photo: Ronatringside.com
So now, I visit San Diego differently and it cost way less because I do my research and use some new travel tools. Part of the reason is that I'm basically a cheap bastard by choice and love great deals, I love San Diego and love being outside. If staying at a nice expensive hotel on the beach is important to you then you should do it if you plan on staying at the place for much of your time, everybody has a different idea of how they want to vacation. For a few years, I avoided San Diego, mostly because I couldn't even find any rooms under $200 a night on short notice so I traveled to other Southern California cities like Laguna Beach and San Clemente even though I missed San Diego. But then I got creative, I travel often and joined reward programs for different hotel chains and car rental companies for starters. When I go to San Diego my place of choice is Ocean Beach, it's where the locals hang out for the most part. There isn't as much traffic (although busy) as Mission or Pacific Beach and everything cost less and the eateries are much better in my opinion. So here's what I do, I don't use travel websites, you will rarely find a deal for a popular destination on short notice, I use Google Maps by typing in "San Diego Motels" and zoom in on different areas.
Photo: Ronatringside.com
It will often show the price on the tabs and often show places that aren't on travel websites. One of my rewards program I belong to is Wyndham Rewards, had the most luck with this one, they include hotels like Days Inn, Ramada, Travelodge on the economy side. I look on Google Maps for these types since my goal is to be more outdoors and really just need a place to sleep, as long as it's clean and comfortable. Let's look at my last couple of trips as an example. I try to plan about a month out if I can, but mostly it's a week or less most of the time, my last trip was 3 days before arrival and included staying Fri-Tue on Memorial Day weekend. Checking Google Maps, I searched the Ocean Beach area and found a few hotels under the Wyndham Rewards program. At the time, there was a Travelodge undergoing renovations near the Sports Arena area (Rosecrans/Midway) and the price was $109 per night for Fri-Sat and $89 for Sunday, Monday and check out Tues with free breakfast. I called the hotel directly and asked specifically what "under renovation" meant.
Photo: Ronatringside.com
The gentleman told me that many of the rooms were being renovated and the pool was not in operation, but the breakfast area was recently completed and operational. I told him I was a rewards member and if he could give me a deal? He said if I was willing to take a room on the 3rd floor he would give me a rate of $69 for Fri-Sat and $49 for Sun-Tues and that was tax included! I asked him to send some pics since some of the places don't look like the pics on the website. He indeed did send pics, even the newly renovated room I would be staying in. He was honest and told me the parking lot had construction materials and workers would be working during the week on the lower floors until around 3 p.m. I jumped on the deal and booked it with a total cost was $236, but I had enough points for Sun-Mon night so actual cost was $138  The location was great, 5 min to Ocean Beach and 5 min to Mission/Pacific Beach. I then checked with Enterprise Car Rental since I belong to their rewards program and booked a car from Phoenix. I always book an economy car knowing that most of the time they don't have any left and they upgrade for the same price.
Photo: Ronatringside.com
I booked a car from Thurs-Wed for a total price of $176. Sure enough, when I arrived they were out of economy cars (popular during week) and gave me a Chevy Impala. I used some points and got a free day (little over $30) so drive out cost was $145 and change. The total cost for hotel/car was $283 total, not bad for a Memorial Day weekend. My last trip was July 4th weekend and I booked the same hotel. Although it was more expensive this time, a little over $100 compared to my last trip, it was still a bargain for a holiday weekend including a deal on the car too. Belonging to rewards clubs does have perks and highly recommend using them. Since my goal and objective is to hang out at the beach or outdoors, a place to stay just needs to be comfortable and clean. Since I'm a cheap bastard now, places to eat have changed as well. Back in the day, I always went to mostly nice places for the most part but discovered that half the night was wasted because sometimes it was a 1-2 hour wait for a table with a view and usually pricey. To me, that was simply too much time and money, especially when I did get a table, 99% of the people weren't even taking in the view and ambiance, they were busy texting or taking selfies.
Photo: Ronatringside.com
So this is what I do now, I dine mostly in Ocean Beach because it supports the locals. Sure the wait time can be long, but I discovered a little trick. Order your food takeout and grab a blanket, some chairs and head to the beach or park and enjoy your tasty chow while taking in a view, maybe a sunset if it's dinner. Ocean Beach is loaded with great eateries, wait times at places like Hodad's on Newport Avenue (tasty burger joint) could be long judging by the line which stretches often around the block. Another place in Ocean Beach I like is Don Tommy's on Voltaire Street, a Mexican food joint that is simply killer, they even make their own tortillas. I go here for breakfast too sometimes, they have breakfast burritos made from scratch that can easily feed two people. If healthy is your choice, The People's Market on Voltaire is the place. It's a healthy grocery store and has a prepared food area upstairs and is perfect if you want to make your own meal or take it to go. On Saturday's they have live music on the patio outside and best of all, it's free.
Photo: Ronatringside.com
I still hit up Mission/Pacific Beach too, but I go early to find a parking spot and usually hit a place on Garnett Street to eat, avoiding the more expensive places on the beach to eat and shop. I still take in the free ocean views though. So, think about Ocean Beach next time, shopping and restaurants are generally cheaper and just hit a side street to park. It will save you valuable time and money if you're a cheap bastard like me.

1 comment:

  1. Fun read Ron! I will have to check out that Wyndham loyalty club.

    We love the American Air Miles CC.

    Geoff (FCB)

    ReplyDelete