A few months ago I wrote a post outlining our travel plans for the year. In that post I denoted we had planned 2 more domestic trips. Well, plans change. Instead of a domestic trip my wife and I just completed a short stay in Playa Del Carmen Mexico. As normal we managed to Travel hack much of the trip, escaping with a now yearly out of pocket cost of 768 dollars for both trips.
Why Did Our Plans Change?
Your probably asking why did we change our plans? Well let’s start with a bit of background. My oldest son is 5 years old. Since the time of his birth my family has done quite a bit of travel both domestically and internationally.
The thing we have not done as parents is go on vacation without kids. Honestly, I did not even consider my wife would be open to such a plan until she suggested it a few months ago. For those without kids it is very common to not want to leave them for any length of time when they are young. My youngest is 2, so I still effectively have a potty training toddler. However it had gotten to the point where my wife and I needed a break. Furthermore we wanted to do so in a location where everything was taken care of. We are not much for canned vacations, much preferring roll your own in an Airbnb, but in this special case only an All Inclusive would do. Then we could eat our avocado toast <sic> without fear of feeling guilty about the cost.
So why did we choose Playa Del Carmen?
We’ll I looked at a number of locations as possibilities. Vegas, Cancun proper, Cabo, and even Punta Cana. I kept coming back to two things: 1) In some cases places were out due to price. For example, Cabo is quite a ways from the east coast and as such a short jaunt to the Cancun area is a way cheaper flight. How cheap? Well we bought our flight as a package with our all inclusive hotel. However I’d estimate about 200 dollars a person. We looked at both our main airport, Philadelphia, and BWI which is about an extra 15 miles from us. Ultimately BWI was a few hundred cheaper so we flew out of there. Also the weekend before memorial day was one of the cheapest since everyone is saving up vacation for the big holiday. We shall get to the full cost break down in a moment.
It was cheaper to go a few other places, like Punta Cana for example. The thing is, I knew if we went somewhere we’d never been we would revert to our exploring selves. This would mean destroying any hope of just letting the nerves melt away by lounging in the water drinking Mojitos. So I had to pick somewhere we’ve been before. It just so happens we’ve been to Cancun with our oldest child about 4 years ago. We know the area and have explored. It’s out of our system, so there was no drive to spent 6 hours a day hiking in the jungle somewhere. Sometimes you compromise on getting the cheapest deal for more specific options.
Why Playa Del Carmen?
Playa Del Carmen is a tiny former fishing village turned resort town about 45 minutes south of Cancun. The area feels more like a suburb beach town then the city of Cancun. It is still the general area, a bit quieter of an area, and the same flight. The big difference is, we found the hotels to be significantly cheaper. How much? Well our 4 star all inclusive at the Iberostar Tucan was roughly $233 a night. We were also upgraded for free to a JR Suite. I thought for sure they were going to require us to sit through a time share to do it, but no they just upgraded us for free. I’ve had business hotels with tiny rooms and no food that cost more, and believe me we got our moneys worth. We drank and stuffed ourselves like gluttons. The food at the specialty restaurants was fantastic, especially the Japanese restaurant. They also did not skimp on the liquor in the drinks.
The resort seemed to be heavily frequented by Mexicans as well, so there was a bit more culture then I would typically see at a resort where half the populace are Americans. Added to that they had a bit of a jungle motif going with a veritable onsite zoo of animals. Monkeys, Tucans, Peacocks, and about a half dozen other animals with names I cannot spell or pronounce. Some of it was a bit kitsch, but it was nowhere near as touristy as say Atlantis (a trip I won at a charity auction one time and a story for another day). The vibe was more like a zoo in the middle of a resort but without the cages. It was quite an entertaining set of days sitting by the beach drinking, eating, swimming in the ocean/pool, and watching the animals.
How long did we stay?
The length of the stay was the second place we compromised. We only stayed for 4 days and 3 nights. A very short visit, and frankly I saw packages for the same relative price for 4 nights. That being said I was super worried how my wife would react being away from the kids for the first time. As such I cut the trip short. I was wrong to worry, if I had to do it again I would do the 4 night trip. Still again sometimes you sacrifice cost savings for the right trip.
We had 3 more expenses
The first of these was the hotel at BWI airport. Our flight was early in the morning and we did not want to leave home at 2 am to get to the airport. As such we stayed at a Sheraton using points from work travel the night before. An added benefit this Sheraton offered parking for a rate of 8 dollars a night if tacked on to a stay. So 24 dollars later we had a place to park our car and a stay overnight next to the airport.
We chose Spirit airlines for this trip. Honestly this was the wrong move, but the flight departed a little later from Baltimore. This was before we had considered the overnight Sheraton. We paid 10 dollars more then a direct United flight for the privilege. Never again. Beyond the poor experience they also nickel and dime for checked bags. Thankfully our prior hacked credit card, the American Express Gold Card, has a hundred dollar credit for airline incidentals. This paid for one checked bag and a small meal on the flight home. Total out of pocket, 0 dollars.
The final cost was transportation from the airport to the hotel in Cancun. This was 38 dollars each way, or 72 dollars total for the two of us.
Total Initial Cost Just Purchasing Intelligently
For those using a slide rule that means were up to about 1196 dollars. This was the final cost of the trip through Travelocity. That was not the cost to us though. Travelocity had the cheapest rates. I also noted that Swag Bucks was offering 8 Swag Bucks per dollar spent on Travelocity. At a value of around a penny a swag bucks this means we received Cash back of about 93 dollars for our trip, reducing the cost to 1103. We further reduced this by using our Chase Sapphire Reserve card. This kicked back another 3% or another 35 dollars. That brings us to 1068. Not a bad start for a trip internationally, but you know of course we did some more hacking along the way.
The Cost after Credit Card Hacking Our Trip to Playa Del Carmen
So for those who recall my last post on Martinique we left there having spent 300 dollars out of pocket for the year on travel. Add to that 1068 dollars and you have 1368 dollars for 2 international trips totaling 14 days. But, the world has not stopped from a travel perspective. Since the last trip I received a separate hundred dollar credit on the Chase Sapphire Reserve just for regular spend. I also received 500 dollars from a new card, the Chase Sapphire Preferred card. That means at this time we have spent 768 dollars on travel across the two trips. I expect there will be another card shortly that will bring the cost down further, I have been eyeing the Amex Platinum card as the next possible target, which would knock a potential additional 500 dollars off of the net. Not bad for 2 international trips so far. The power of credit card churning.
We have one remaining domestic trip planned, a family affair by car that usually costs next to nothing. It will be a subject for a post later this year. Where do you plan on going this summer? Any plans to travel hack your way?
As of this post the blog will transition to a 2 day a week Monday and Wednesday Schedule. There may also be the occasional Friday Guest Post. I have a very busy summer planned and will likely not be able to keep up writing 3 posts weekly during this time. We will return to our normal 3x weekly schedule around labor day.