Why You Need a AAA Membership

My mom had a AAA membership when I was growing up, but 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.

Search Page

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 the room with the cheapest rate is ADA accessible, which comes after the standard rooms.

I book the ADA rooms anyway since I can usually expect a complimentary or confirmed upgrade as a result of my Diamond status. Anyone can confirm one themselves with as few as 3,000 Gold Passport points for a 4-night stay.

Hotel Options

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.

AAA Breakaway

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.

Obstructed View

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.

AAA memberhsip

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.

Scott created Hack My Trip after learning how to travel better on a budget during grad school. He now flies over 150,000 miles every year.
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  • http://twitter.com/MilesAbound MilesAbound

    Hi Scott… the other one to keep in mind is AARP membership. Anyone who got in on the lucrative Chase AARP 5% cash back on everything card will know that you don’t have to be a senior to be a member, and the cost of membership is cheaper than AAA, and the hotel rates are generally comparable

  • http://twitter.com/MilesAbound MilesAbound

    Hi Scott… the other one to keep in mind is AARP membership. Anyone who got in on the lucrative Chase AARP 5% cash back on everything card will know that you don’t have to be a senior to be a member, and the cost of membership is cheaper than AAA, and the hotel rates are generally comparable

  • wftjet

    I have noticed that a lot of hotels I stay in now are asking me to show my aaa card as proof before honoring the rate. They will photocopy my aaa card and I presume audit to prove I am still a member in good standing.

    • Scottrick

      The card has an expiration date, so I’m not sure why they would need to call in, you’re either a current member or not. But thanks for the warning!

      • Jamie

        The card has an expiration date that is two years, whereas the membership renews each year. Weird, I know. So, they replace the card only every other year, and then it’s possible that you have an unexpired card but expired membership.
        We get the plus, because you get passport pictures for each person in the family for free (one or two sets/year, can’t remember which). So, with 4 passports up for renewal it was worth it.

  • Matt

    I guess people with actual disabilities should just hope they’re not co-locating with you…

    • Scottrick

      I can confirm the suite upgrade in advance right after bookin, and then the ADA room goes back into the available pool.

  • Diana Wu

    It took months to get the WallyPark jingle out of my head, and now it’s back. Thanks for the tip, though. May be useful for our shorter trips to the Bay Area.

  • alxstevens

    Another good feature of AAA rates (which BTW I find/use at SPG properties all the time) is that with VERY rare exceptions properties are required to allow 24 hour cancellation. You can often get a rate as good/better than the best prepaid rate by using AAA with none of the cancellation worry.

    • Scottrick

      The cancellation deadline should be found in the rate details. My experience is that the terms aren’t any better than a standard refundable rate; what AAA gets you is a discount so you have a refundable rate at the non-refundable price. Most of these are 24 hours, but resort properties like the Hyatt Maui above tend to be 7-14 days in advance. The best cancellation terms I’ve found are for using corporate rates, which are usually 6 PM on the day of arrival.

  • Kadence

    We stayed at the Hyatt on Maui 2 years ago. It was great for kids but I’d NEVER pick it for my honeymoon. It was like a carnival cruise on land.

    • Scottrick

      I agree. The trip I’m planning above is more of a pre-wedding escape. Megan is taking her licensing exams this spring and hopes to finish by July. The honeymoon in August will be much more secluded.

  • Jill

    When we stayed at this property via Costco, the daily resort fee was part of the room price. Great savings for us!

    • Scottrick

      Yes, I did, too. But I’d prefer to pay $25 a day to get stay/night credit toward elite status. It all depends on your larger strategy.

      • tringuyen82

        perhaps an old topic, but aaa rate does get you stay credits correct? are you saying costco discount does not? i have not tried using costco (as i am not a member)… but have found aaa to be worthwhile.

        • Scottrick

          You get stay credit. You also get stay credit for using “COSTCO” in the discount box for 10-20% off. It’s fine as long as you book through the hotel’s website. What does NOT work is booking through Costco Travel, a third-party travel agency.

          At least in theory. Sometimes I still get credit if I make some room charges. But you are not *supposed* to get credit for third-party bookings.

          I find AAA worthwhile because I often get the same prepaid, non-refundable rate, except it actually is refundable until 24-48 hours in advance in most cases.

          • tringuyen82

            Thanks! I just stayed (checked out yesterday) at a grand hyatt using aaa rates (i am a member) and was waiting for the Gold points to post. Perhaps I’ll try ‘costco’ code in the future… bit of a grey area for me.

  • Alan

    Probably a silly question but by any chance is it possible for those outside the USA to purchase AAA membership? It’s just the membership fee sounds pretty cheap relative to the possible savings!

    • Scottrick

      First, keep in mind that you will only find benefits when traveling within the U.S. I’ve never seen AAA rates internationally. Nothing stops you from applying if you live in another country, but you will still need a U.S. address to receive the membership kit. I suggest you contact a friend in the U.S. and ask them to forward it to you.

      • Alan

        OK, thanks.

  • David Bags

    Are you disabled? If not, it is pretty inconsiderate of you to book an ADA room that you neither need nor plan to use. Doing so prevents someone who needs that room from booking it. By your own admission, you do not plan on using the room so that may make it OK in your mind, but your cancellation takes place when you are upgraded, which is either at check-in or shortly before which doesn’t help someone who has to plan to ensure their special travel requirements are met in advance as there isn’t much wiggle room for someone in a wheelchair who needs an accessible room. I urge you to reconsider your strategy of trying to save a few dollars at the expense of a disabled individual who needs special accommodations. If you are disabled, you can disregard this message as I’m sure you feel the same way. Thanks for reading.

    • Scottrick

      So I should pay $50 more per night on the off chance a disabled person needs the room? It is rarely “a few dollars” more.

      In my opinion, ADA rooms are available to accommodate guests who need to guarantee those facilities when looking for a room, but the hotel isn’t obligated to set them aside. If it were, then they would not be available for other guests to book. Just as a family might need to plan in advance to get a suite or a room with two beds, a disabled person might need to plan in advance to get an ADA room.

      The point of mentioning that example in my post was not to suggest I am trying to steal ADA rooms from those who need them. It was made because such rooms are often looked down upon by those who don’t need them. That’s why the ADA room is still there at a lower rate when standard rooms have become more expensive — the cheaper standard rooms are preferred by most people and have sold out. I’m only trying to obtain the best possible price and suggested that the drawbacks of an ADA room won’t necessarily be an issue.

      • David Bags

        Yes. You should pay $50 more because those rooms are there for a reason – so that disabled people can enjoy the same accommodations as non-disabled people. Have some common courtesy. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. By your logic, if you wouldn’t get a ticket, would you also park in an ADA parking space? People with disabilities book those rooms because we don’t have a choice – you do. You aren’t providing a level playing field by saying disabled people should just plan early – that’s not always an option. I don’t mind competing with other disabled people for an ADA room, but if everyone books one, there will likely never be one available for someone who needs it since most hotels only provide the legal minimum of ADA rooms and they are almost always basic rooms on low floors with no view (maybe that’s why they are so cheap) – rarely do I see an ADA suite or upgraded room. I hope you and your family never need an ADA room. Safe travels.

        • Scottrick

          Like I said, if it’s a restricted room, why is it available for everyone to book?

          Parking spaces are different — it’s illegal for me to park there. On the bus, I’m allowed to sit at the front but I am legally required to get up and offer it to someone who needs it. I am happy to comply with these other two examples, but the same rules do not apply to booking a hotel room.

          If a hotel wants to restrict access to ADA rooms, I wouldn’t mind, and I wouldn’t make any effort to subvert the process by faking a disability. But they haven’t, and I have no regrets about booking something that is freely available.

          • Andym

            Sorry, Scott, but by booking the ADA room, you ARE faking a disability. Under the ADA, the owner is not allowed to question the validity or the veracity of a person’s claim to having a disability. Their booking of the accessible room IS their statement of disability. You’re on the wrong side of this issue, and though it is not technically illegal, it is wrong on multiple levels. Please do not do this anymore, and please do not encourage others to do this either.

          • Scottrick

            There are many ways for a hotel to restrict access without questioning the validity of a disability. For example, many hotels do not allow customers to book their suites online, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t available by phone. Any hotel that wanted to limit access to ADA rooms could easily use the same approach.

          • HereWeGo

            Bottom line, you are taking advantage of accommodations set up for disabled persons when you are not disabled. You are incredibly inconsiderate and obviously lack any class if you think that this is okay. And to say, “well, if no one is stopping me, then there’s nothing wrong with it” is just further proof of your careless attitude. Sad.

          • Scottrick

            There are also seats set up for disabled passengers on airplanes. I book these all the time. The airline says it’s fine. I’m encouraged to reserve one. They just say that I may be moved if necessary.

            Hotels that don’t fill all the rooms are losing revenue. Your argument is that only disabled guests should use rooms for the disabled. If true, they would be forced to take a loss and have empty rooms in the case that there are no disabled guests that evening.

            The bottom line is that I am booking a room that happens to have additional features that may be of use for disabled people. If there were restrictions on its use by non-disabled people, then there would be some kind of verification at the time of booking or check-in. There is not. It’s just a feature, like a suite or an ocean view.

  • mike

    I can’t believe this idiot does not see a problem with booking the ADA room. Your “Diamond” status sure didn’t buy you any class. I have often been unable to book ADA rooms due to availability…now I see why. Guys like this are booking to save a few bucks. So sad he doesn’t get it.