Most of us think of AAA for roadside service and perhaps for insurance. But AAA offers valuable travel discounts as well. Here’s how to take advantage of them for real savings.
AAA: The Beginning
The American Automobile Association was established in 1902 as a federation of motor clubs in North America. Automobile travel was just emerging in this country, and the goal of AAA was the promotion of a safe, efficient infrastructure to support it.
The organization became involved in almost every facet of automobile transportation, including road building and improvement, automotive education, safety, and–you guessed it–travel. The “road trip” is a core part of the American experience thanks in part to the efforts of AAA. Today, AAA is almost as much a part of life in North America as the road trip itself, with almost 56 million active members.
It’s a little more difficult to join AAA than you might think because you aren’t joining AAA itself, but rather a regional club. There are more than 50 of them, and each has its own structure and pricing. In general, membership fees range from $48 to $96.
Go with the lowest membership tier if you’re primarily interested in travel discounts. As an example, the “AAA Classic” tier is $56 in Northern California. To get started, go to the AAA website, and you’ll be automatically redirected to your local club.
AAA Hotel Discounts
AAA hotel discounts can be very valuable, but you have to know where to look.
At goSeek.com, we hunts down AAA discounts for every hotel search. There are AAA rates available for a whopping 83 percent of hotels in North America. That’s impressive. But AAA only beats all other discounts 13 percent of the time. Not quite as impressive. Nonrefundable rates, coupon rates, and smartphone-specific rates often deliver better prices.
So where can you find those winning AAA rates? Specific hotel brands, to start. AAA discounts are almost always the best you’ll find for Choice Hotels. Same story with Marriott. Best Western also has a competitive AAA discount.
In big cities, you may also find one or two independent hotels that will offer particularly good AAA discounts to attract guests. You’ll also find your AAA card more useful in small towns than in big cities. Small towns simply have fewer hotel choices and are more likely to have the brands listed above. In big cities, there are hotels everywhere competing to get you to stay with them, and that means more discounts of different types.
The good news is that when you do find that great AAA discount that beats all the others, it will save you on average 20 percent off the published rate for the hotel. That’s a hefty discount, and the dollar savings often pays for the price of membership if you don’t happen to be one.
AAA Rental Car Discounts
AAA car rental discounts are valuable as well, but there’s a trick to finding the very lowest rates.
Hertz offers AAA exclusive discounts. If you’re a fan of Hertz, it almost always makes sense to check AAA rates as part of your booking process. There are discounts of up to 20 percent off the published rate, plus a free rental day, as well as free car seats, GPS, and additional drivers. The benefits are impressive. That said, Hertz prices are generally above those of other car rental brands even after a 20 percent discount.
If you’re looking for the lowest per day price for your car rental, you’ll have to learn a special trick. First, go to the AAA car rental search page and run a search. You’ll see results from Hertz. Now scroll down until you see a blue button in the bottom right that says, “See More Cars.” Click that. Suddenly, you’ll see prices from Dollar, Thrifty, and Alamo. You want to pay attention to Dollar and Thrifty. They are owned by Hertz, but aren’t “premium” car rental brands. They have lower prices. Even better, AAA knocks 10 percent off their published rates. You’ll find that their prices–after the AAA discount–will be some of the lowest on the market.
Who Most Benefits from AAA?
If you’re a frequent traveler, it makes sense to have a AAA membership. The savings on your hotel and car rental can more than pay for the price of your membership. You’ll not only get the travel discounts but free roadside assistance as well, along with all the other AAA benefits.
As a last tip, do make sure to always carry your AAA card. Hotels and car rental agencies will ask to see it in order to apply your discount. And it’s a good idea in general to carry it with you. You never know if a local attraction, restaurant, or shop might offer a AAA discount as well.
More From SmarterTravel:
We hand-pick everything we recommend and select items through testing and reviews. Some products are sent to us free of charge with no incentive to offer a favorable review. We offer our unbiased opinions and do not accept compensation to review products. All items are in stock and prices are accurate at the time of publication. If you buy something through our links, we may earn a commission.