Travel deals

Filed your taxes? Now get some free stuff.

As of March 16, at least 61 million early bird tax filers had already received refunds averaging $2,960 from the Internal Revenue Service.

But millions of other taxpayers are still rushing around gathering receipts and grappling with paperwork and electronic forms as the April 17 tax filing deadline nears.

Whichever column you’re in, you can still take advantage of Tax Day rewards ranging from free pizza and cookies to discounts on hotel stays and getaways.

Here’s a sampling of some of the deals I gathered for a piece on CNBC:

Free (and charmingly discounted) food and snacks

As is their tradition, on Tax Day, April 17, Great American Cookies will be giving away a free cookie to anyone who stops at one of their participating stores. This year’s treat is a Cookies & Cream cookie.

In keeping with its Tax Day motto of “No taxation without relaxation,” Kona Ice trucks will once again show up in many communities on April 17 to hand out free shaved ice. As part of its “Tastes Like America” menu campaign, on April 17 participating Hardee’s will offer customers a free Sausage Biscuit until 10 a.m. and Hot Dog on a Stick will give each customer that stops by participating locations one free Turkey or Veggie Dog on April 17.

Taking a cue from the tax forms, Grimaldi’s Pizzeria locations around the country are offering 16” Traditional Cheese pizzas for $10.40 on April 17. Bruegger’s Bagels is offering a downloadable coupon for a Big Bagel Bundle (13 bagels and two tubs of cream cheese) for $10.40, a $3.50 “deduction,” they note, off the regular price. (Valid through April 17).

And Potbelly Sandwich Shops has set aside 75,000 free sandwiches as a Tax Day reward for people who join its Potbelly Perks program. Those already enrolled in the program will find a buy-one, get one-free sandwich offer loaded on their app April 17 for Tax Day use.

Travel Deals

Throughout the month of April, four Kimpton hotels southern California – Hotel Palomar and Hotel Salomar in San Diego, the Shorebreak Hotel in Huntington Beach and The Goodland in Santa Barbara – are giving out “Random Refunds.” Each day one randomly chosen guest at each hotel will find they’ve been refunded a hotel charge such as the resort fee, parking charges, restaurant bill or perhaps the in-room movie.

From April 17 to 20, Hotel Saugatuck in Saugatuck, Michigan is offering a 20 percent discount to anyone who shows a current 1099 tax form (or proof of membership in the United Auto Workers or Freelancers unions). The B&B is also offering guests a box of local chocolate fudge at a discount, for $10.99.

Thinking of spending your tax refund in Europe? Rail Europe is offering travelers $25 off bookings of $400 made through April 24. Use code: TAXDAYRE18.

Budget-minded tax filers can also take advantage of some other timely travel deals that just happen to fall around April 17.

Filing taxes may not be a walk in the park, but anyone can take a walk in a National Park for free on Saturday, April 21, when entrance fees are waived at any of the National Parks that have them, including Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado, Arizona’s Petrified Forest National Park and others where the entry fee per car can reach $20.

The U.S. Travel Association’s Daily Getaways sale runs this year from April 9 through May 8 and features daily deals up to 60 percent off everything form loyalty point programs and car rental coupons to attractions tickets, hotel stays and more from travel companies such as Hertz, Hilton, and Universal Parks and Resorts.

 A tidying-up trip

Once you’ve filed your taxes, be sure to store away the important financial paperwork you might need should the IRS come calling for an audit.

But don’t stuff everything back in that shoebox. Take a moment to review Consumer Report’s advice on what receipts and records you really need to keep and what can be thrown away.

Bundle the discards, print out this coupon for 5 pounds of free document shredding and take your first post-Tax Day trip to your local Office Max/Office Depot store.

Updated list: Travel Deals for Black Friday/Cyber Monday

Updated Monday at 9:11 a.m. West Coast Time

Looking for Black Friday/Cyber Monday travel deals? Of course you are!

Check here for what I’ve found so far for airlines deals and here for deals on hotels, rail, travel books and other travel-related options.

I’ll keep updating through Monday – so send me notes about anything that looks really great to you.


Black Friday/Cyber Monday Travel Deals

Thinking about all the things you’ll be able to shop for at great discount once Black Friday and Cyber Monday come around?

Add travel to the list.

Here are some deals that have arrived in my inbox. Check back (I’ll remind you) as the list gets longer and the deals go live.

*In some cases the links/deals mentioned won’t be ‘hot’ till November 27, but some are available now.

Among those offering deals:

Read up on where you’re going – or want to go with discounts (us code BF5017) on DK Books 

Amtrak – 30 percent off on select travel through Monday

40 percent off Joie de Vivre properties – throughout the year – if you book by Nov. 29.

Rail Europe will have Black Friday deals and Cyber Monday deals for its email subscribers. will offer a slew of deals – some 50 percent off – Tuesday November 21 through Wednesday November 29.

There are also Black Friday/Cybe Monday deals from GoAhead Tours,

W Hotel’s newest hip property in Bellevue, WA, W Bellevue  will join Starwood’s “Biggest Sale of the Year,” coming Cyber Monday.

Hotwire is currenlty offering what they call a ‘million-dollar deal,’ with a batch of 5-star hotels available for booking for $50 for travel Dec. 8-28, 2017.

The Viceroy Hotel Group will roll out Cyber Mondays deals beginning on 11/20 that will bookable throughout the week. Discounts of 30 to 40 percent at various properties.

These properties are among those promising Black Friday/Cyber Monday deals as well: Carmel Mission Inn (CA), Chicago Athletic Association hotel Godfrey Hotel Boston.

Loews Hotels will launch a 3-day sale on Cyber Monday with 20 percent off rates.

Liftopia will offer 25 percent off gift cards on Cyber Monday.

And if all this shopping news is making you dizzy, keep in mind that you don’t have to participate.  To help you avoid all this buzz, New York State is offering free admission to all its state parks on Black Friday and many state and national parks nationwide have fun, free, family-oriented activities on tap.

More to come…






Canada is looking very good right now.

Bow Lake in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada.

While global travel to the United States may be dipping due to recent actions by President Donald Trump’s administration, tourism numbers for Canada are climbing.

And it’s not just because Canada has the most donut shops in the world (per capita).

There are plenty of other reasons the tourism spotlight is pointing north right now, as I outlined for this story on NBC News:

The Lists

Both the New York Times and Lonely Planet put the second-largest country in the world (by area) at the top of their list of places to visit in 2017.

The Dollar

One U.S. dollar is currently worth about 1.30 Canadian dollars, making dining, shopping, lodging and admissions to attractions great deals for Americans taking their travel dollars north of the border.

The Parties

2017 is Canada’s 150th birthday and there are sesquicentennialcelebrations and events taking place across the country. Consider planning a trip around some of the highlights, or time your trip to one of the activities in Canada’s handy (and constantly updated) Passport 2017 app.

Ottawa, Canada’s capital city, has some serious celebrations in store, from a four-day NHL Stanley Cup 125th Tribute (March 15-18) that will feature a hockey-themed concert, to La Machine — enormous mechanical creatures including a spider and a dragon that will do battle on the streets of downtown Ottawa July 27-30, to an underground multimedia experience (Kontinuum) from the end of June through September; and, on August 27, Canada’s Table, an open-air dinner for 1000 that will be set up right in front of the Parliament Buildings.

La Machine will bring fierce, gigantic mechanical creatures to downtown Ottawa July 27-30 to celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday. Jean Dominique Billaud

Nationwide, Parks Canada is offering free admission for the entire year to all the national parks, national historic sites, and national marine conservation areas it operates.

That includes Alberta’s Banff National Park, which is Canada’s first national park, and the Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site in Nova Scotia.

Quebec City’s Winter Carnival is underway through February 12, with more than 200 activities, including snow sculpture contests, night parades, ice-skating, an ice palace and, for the very hardy, an end-of-festival snow bath.

When temperatures are warmer, between June 29 and August 20, about forty tall ships will be visiting coastal cities in Quebec to mark Canada’s 150th anniversary. The flotilla convenes in Quebec City July 18 to 23 for a celebration including ship tours and maritime activities.

Located at a National Historic Site that served as the gateway to Canada for one million immigrants between 1928 and 1971, the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 in Halifax, Nova Scotia, will be presenting an expanded version of “Canada: Day 1,” an exhibition about immigrants’ experiences on their first day in the country, from April through October, 2017.

2017 marks Montreal’s 375th anniversary and the city is celebrating with a year’s worth of events and celebrations, including Cité Mémoire, featuring a nightly display of characters from the city’s history projected on the walls, streets and trees of Old Montreal. Montréal Avudo, a multimedia program honoring the St. Lawrence River, includes installations and giant projections and will be performed 100 times between May 17 and September 2 in the Old Port of Montreal.

With its To Canada with Love line-up, Toronto is marking Canada’s 150th anniversary with a year-long schedule of celebrations, commemorations, horticultural installations, and exhibitions, including Doors Open Toronto (May 27 & 28), when about 150 architecturally, historically, culturally and socially significant buildings across the city open their doors and back rooms for tours and special events — all for free.

Canada Place in Vancouver hosts a major Canada Day (July 1) celebration each year and is planning an extended three-day celebration from July 1-3 with a fireworks show and other highlights to mark the country’s 150th year.

And from June 21 to July 1 Victoria, B.C. will present Spirit of 150 Victoria, which will include 11 days of free outdoor events in the Inner Harbor topped off on July 1 with a grand finale main stage programming and a giant fireworks display.

Ready to Head North?

The data crunchers at Priceline found that for weekends through the end of March (depending on your originating city) it’s possible to take a weekend trip to one of Canada’s major cities for under $500, including roundtrip airfare and 4-star hotel rates.

For example, New Yorkers can fly to Toronto for an average $183 roundtrip and stay at a 4-star hotel for $85 per night (total cost $438). Chicago-based travelers can fly to Montreal for about $300 and stay in numerous 4-star (and some 4.5 star hotels) for under $100 a night.

Museum/attraction passes: deal or no deal?


Paying museum and attraction admission fees in cities you are visiting can add up. That’s why multi-passes offered by city tourist bureaus and travel websites are attractive.

But as I explain in this recent story for, depending on the city and your touring pace, buying a pass may not always be the right choice:

Marketed as a convenient way for tourists to save money on entrance fees, passes often include appealing extras like local transit passes, priority entrance lines and the option to make return visits to the most popular and scenic sites.

Still, travelers need to do their homework to determine if the deals really offer good value, basing the decision on how long they’ll be in town and what they plan to do while there,” said Arabella Bowen, editor-in-chief of Fodor’s Travel. Otherwise, “you could wind up spending more than you need to.”

For visitors to Italy, for example, Bowen recommends the 48 hour Roma Pass. That option includes unlimited use of buses, trams, metro, free admission to two museums or archaeological sites of your choice, plus discounted entrance to others, all for 28 euros, or about $31.

Separately, admission to the Colosseum/Palatino/Roman Forum and the Capitolini Museum adds up to 27,50 euros, “so visiting two attractions alone pays for the pass,” said Bowen, “At that price, you might as well buy it for the additional benefits of public transit and other discounts — they’re essentially free.”

Lonely Planet’s Alex Howard, destination editor for Western USA and Canada, likes Vancouver’s 160-page City Passport. It sells for 25 Canadian dollars (about $18) and offers over $1,000 in potential savings so pays for itself after only a handful of coupons.

Howard, however, said Las Vegas travelers who use the city’s travel pass should beware.

“Several of the advertised attractions are off the Strip, requiring visitors to hop in a car,” he said, which means more out of pocket costs. “Plus, the High Roller, the Neon Museum and the Mob Museum, three of my personal favorite Vegas attractions, are conspicuously absent.”

Don’t ignore those ‘hidden gems’

Museums and attraction passes come in a wide variety of flavors. That means users have to work a bit harder to search for the ones with the most value — and might want to pay closer attention to those ubiquitous coupon books in hotels and airports they frequently ignore.

“Some coupon books are put together by chambers of commerce and are passed out to visitors and inserted into glove boxes in car rentals,” said Scott McMurren, who curates the Alaska Toursaver guide filled with 2-for-1 offers.

Many tourism bureaus craft and sell their own attractions passes, while others work with one or more outside company that specializes in creating bundled passes. In some cases, the coordination between tourist agencies and businesses helps subsidize the cost of the passes for travelers.

For example, Choose Chicago has teamed up with organizations like CityPASS and Go Chicago Card to promote their offerings rather than compete against them, said Melissa Cherry, senior vice president of marketing and cultural tourism for Choose Chicago.

Salt Lake City, on the other hand, has been promoting and selling its own Visit Salt Lake Connect Pass for about 15 years. In Salt Lake, each attraction pays a nominal annual fee to help with operational costs of the program, and receives a reimbursement of approximately 70-80 percent of the ticket window rate on each redemption.

“We looked at Salt Lake and the surrounding area’s most popular attractions, making sure the ones we selected met certain parameters, such as being open year-round and at least six days per week and receiving minimum of 100,000 visitors per year,” said Shawn Stinson, a spokesman for Visit Salt Lake.

“Any profit goes toward operational costs, and from there any remaining funds goes back into the promotion of the pass,” said Stinson.

The Leisure Pass Group, which offers city passes for London, Paris, Berlin and Dublin, includes a good mix of ‘big hitters’ and ‘hidden gems,’ said Amanda Truman, the company’s product marketing director.

In addition to exposure they might not get on their own, attractions automatically get a payment each time a visitor uses a pass for entry. “And the fact that our customers have not physically spent cash to gain entry also often leads to an increased ‘secondary spend’ in the gift shop or cafe,” said Truman.

Launched in 1997, CityPASS offers bundled passes for 12 destinations, including Boston, San Francisco, Philadelphia and New York City. Attractions don’t pay be to part of the program but do make money on the sale of the CityPASS ticket booklets, and only a limited number of high-draw attractions are included in the pass for each city.

“If you put too many attractions on a pass, visitors feel pressured to race from place to place to maximize the value,” said CityPASS spokeswoman Deborah Wakefield. “Our owners feel that if you limit the number of attractions, visitors can enjoy the attractions at a leisurely pace and still have time to do other things in the city, such as explore neighborhoods, go shopping, take in a Broadway show, et cetera.”

Wakefield said while not everyone uses all the tickets in their CityPASS, most realize “a healthy discount on the admissions.” She urges travelers to study all available passes to make sure they pick a pass that includes the attractions they most want to see.

Go City Cards, currently offered by Smart Destinations in 11 cities, are available in several multi-attraction configurations, including a build-your-own product that lets visitors purchase discounted admissions to only those attractions they’re sure they want to visit.

Those choosing all-inclusive pass options, which tend to be more expensive, should “make sure to make the most of it,” said John Walsh, chief marketing officer for Smart Destinations. “So get up early and carefully plan out your day.”