My mom had a AAA membership when I was growing up. Once I got out on my own, I thought they were pretty silly. I didn’t need maps — we have the Internet! I didn’t need a travel agent — I book my trips online!
But as a frequent traveler, I’ve found in the last year that I can get a lot of value out of my AAA membership. My renewal form just arrived in the mail, and it’s well worth the $56 for another year.
The first reason for getting AAA is to save money on hotels that offer discounts. I find these much more common at Hyatt than at Starwood, my two principle hotel chains. However, you’ll also find them at a lot of smaller budget properties where roadside travelers are more likely to stay. It’s usually good for about a 10% discount on a refundable rate, similar to the Costco discount. The difference is that while anyone can use the Costco discount (just enter “COSTCO” in the promo code box), getting a AAA discount actually requires you to enter your AAA membership number. In either case, I’ve never been asked to show my real card at check-in.
Megan and I are thinking of planning a trip to Hawaii this spring/summer, so I’ll walk you through how and why I look for these AAA savings. To start, every time I search for a room at Hyatt, I check the AAA box and include “COSTCO” in the special offer field. Those of you who have a corporate discount code can add that, too.
Then, be sure to check the Average Daily Rate in your search results. Here it’s $247 for the Hyatt Regency Maui. This is important because even if $247 is the lowest rate available, it might not be the first rate you see. Hyatt doesn’t always sort rates by price on the next page, and you could be duped into paying a higher rate than necessary. My experience is that they usually sort by room category, and sometimes certain base categories may have a higher price but will be listed first.
After clicking on View Rates, you’re taken to a page with all the current rates at that property. Check each rate as well as the rate details to see what’s included and when the cancellation period is. Look for that $247 lowest price you were promised earlier.
Going down the list, Hyatt is first offering me a Costco Standard rate, starting at $318.10. There are two AAA rates beneath that. Usually AAA rates are the same as Costco rates, but I prefer the Costco rate because I don’t need to fish out my AAA number to book. I keep the AAA card anyway because (1) sometimes there is no Costco rate, but there is still a AAA rate; and (2) sometimes the AAA rate is cheaper or includes extra benefits. In this case, one of the AAA rates is cheaper, and the other one has extra benefits, so there is clearly some value to having a membership.
The AAA Breakaway rate is $318.10 just like Costco’s and includes buffet breakfast at Swan Court. The other AAA offer is the standard AAA Discount rate. This is $287 and does not come with breakfast. If you don’t have Diamond status, and thus complimentary membership to the Regency Club, the extra $31.10 is definitely worth it for the AAA Breakaway rate. Breakfast at Swan Court is $25 per person or more, plus tax and tip. And it’s good. I have Diamond status and I would probably still book the Breakaway rate because I prefer the larger spread.
At least you have choices. If you relied only on the Costco rate, you’d be paying $31.10 more per night without breakfast. Getting a AAA membership pays for itself in two nights. If you are morally opposed to using a Costco rate without being a Costco member, the standard daily rate is $349, so your AAA membership pays for itself in just one night.
But wait! I told you to watch for that $247 rate, right? It turns out the hotel is doing some construction and is offering “Obstructed View Guestrooms” at a special discount. But I’d rather not. The Hyatt Regency Maui is a resort property, so I can only upgrade rooms that have a partial view or better. Fortunately, the $318 and $287 AAA rates I found are both for Partial Ocean King rooms.
Most of the time I use my Costco discount, but my AAA discounts have still saved me a couple hundred dollars over the past year — well worth renewing my membership. There’s no real need to pay for a fancier membership than the entry-level Classic. I don’t expect I’ll ever use the roadside assistance, and I’ve heard AAA will even let you buy a membership from the tow guy when he comes out to help.
The other major reason I have a AAA membership is that it offers me 25% off at WallyPark when I fly out of SeaTac. I’ve discussed this before, so go back to read how I stack a 25% AAA discount with half-price WallyPark gift cards from Costco and free credits from the WallyClub loyalty program to effectively pay less than $5 a day for airport parking. It’s a great deal, and it’s one of the best garages at SeaTac.