I’m turning 30 in a few short months, and I always dreamed of saying goodbye to my 20s in style. But with our current financial situation, that's just not realistic.
Just when hope was lost, I received a call from a high-school friend who was also bummed about turning 30. She had a great idea: relax on a beach, drink a few adult beverages, and get a tan.
I now had a challenge before me: find a way to travel for under $700 per person, including transportation.
My first instinct was to consider somewhere coastal, but despite winter deals, the math didn’t add up. So I decided to try another approach: an all-inclusive vacation.
What Is an All-Inclusive Vacation?
If you aren't familiar, all-inclusive vacations are basically packages that, well, include everything from your hotel room to meals and drinks (including alcohol) to transportation and other add-ons like tours and renting water gear. But it gets better:
If you get an all-inclusive vacation through a travel agent, it also factors in your airfare (and, in some cases, luggage fees) and off-site excursions.
It’s like bundling your cable and internet bills into one — you’ll probably get a better deal when you buy it all from one place.
How to Book an All-Inclusive Vacation
I put in our parameters, narrowed down a few destinations, and hit search on several popular travel sites. To my surprise, I wasn’t just given a few options at the $700 price range – I was given page after page for a good chunk of the places we could travel to!
After a lot of price comparison and research on the destination, we ended up booking an all-inclusive package to Puerto Vallarta via Chicago for five nights. Our hotel included cabanas on the sand, private car pick-up and drop-offs, and a whale-watching tour.
Our final total after we tipped, ate out twice, and paid baggage fees through the airport? Just $689 per person. Frugal travel win!
Here are some great travel tips for booking all-inclusive vacations:
1. Book During Off-Season
While we could have had a blast celebrating New Years in Mexico, the difference in price was nearly $500. In addition, play around with the dates you’ll travel on. Moving it from a Thursday-to-Monday timeframe to a Wednesday-to-Sunday timeframe actually saved us $200.
2. Always Check the Airline That Your Package Puts You On
Booking with Spirit or a similar airline may save you huge amounts of money, but you’ll pay for it in extra baggage fees. So make sure to do research on your airfare costs.
3. Search for Your Trips Using Incognito Browsing
4. Don’t Be Afraid to Contact Your Agent and Negotiate
For websites that are connected to actual travel agents, you may get a better deal if you call or drop in. I got our whale-watching tour for free by booking the same vacation at the same price through a licensed and insured travel agency.
Expedia also has highly competitive prices when it comes to booking vacations. You can even choose packages that include flights, hotels, and car rentals!
5. Reach Out to the Hotel for a Better Deal
While I didn’t do this, we later ran into someone who called her favorite hotel directly and booked her entire trip through them. She said that they upgraded her room, booked her on several tours, and handled airfare for $200 less than what she saw on major travel sites.
6. Be Flexible
The key to traveling on a budget is to not only know how you like to travel, but to know how you’d be willing to travel. For instance, we knew that taxi fares were low, but we decided to walk almost everywhere. All that walking saved us around $50!
7. Research Your Destination
One thing we learned about Puerto Vallarta early on in our search? The beaches were more rocky than sandy, and that the waves didn’t make it ideal for swimming. That wasn’t a deal breaker for us, but it could be for you. Why drop all that cash on a place that isn’t perfect for you?
8. Read the Fine Print
When you work with an agency or an online deal site, you’re signing a contract. Little things get thrown in there like adding resort surcharges for things that you won’t use (in our case, a seemingly nonexistent tennis court). This wasn’t a huge deal for us since we knew to factor it in the final cost, but it could add up.
Take this into account when booking from Groupon or Booking.com. They do fantastic deals but I have experienced a catch or two such as limited date selectivity and no-refund in case of cancellation.
9. Take the Feedback to Heart
If your agency, destination, hotel, airline, etc. is getting negative reviews, listen to them! There were so many resorts that had two- to three-star ratings where customers complained about pre-paid drinks never getting made or food being horrible. Why risk staying there and having your vacation ruined?