Exotic Travel on a Budget, Fact vs. Fiction: Tahiti vs. Riviera Maya

Earlier today, I saw an article claiming that it was somehow possible to travel to Bora Bora on a “budget” with all kinds of tips and tricks for achieving this dream vacation without breaking the bank. While the article claimed that technically this was possible, the reality is that Bora Bora is a very expensive and quite exotic destination. As a savvy traveler who knows how to find lots of incredible deals to avoid paying “retail”, I know that there are just some destinations that require quite a splurge in spending. Bora Bora is one of those destinations. Retail price will easily set you back $10K for a couple simply flying economy!

Two round-trip tickets to Tahiti in Business Class on Air Tahiti Nui? One could use 250,000 AA miles to fly on Air Tahiti Nui. The average traveler doesn’t have 250,000 airline miles just sitting around to snag two Business Class tickets for a couple to jet over to Tahiti.  Many of us in the miles hobby know this is achievable with the right credit cards and earning tools but not everyone has the desire or patience. I certainly don’t write on this blog to sell fantasies of signing up for a credit card or two and all of a sudden you’re jetsetting around the globe in first class daily!

 

Tulum: Featuring Gorgeous Beaches, Flanked by Mayan Ruins

Actual Deal: Riviera Maya, Mexico- Playa Del Carmen & Tulum

While Mexico may not be as “exotic” as Tahiti, here’s a sample vacation that can make you feel like royalty while you lay in the white sands of the Caribbean.

Off-Peak Dates: September 7 – November 14

Easy to access from just about anywhere in the U.S., the Rivieria Maya has become and extremely popular yet still peaceful and enjoyable. Cancun is quite commercialized for me and the smaller towns of Playa Del Carmen and Tulum are much more peaceful, offering something for everyone. The Riviera Maya is great for solo travelers, couples, or families of any age. For the scenario below, I’ve used the sample dates of Oct 20-27, 2015. Sample AAdvantage fees are Denver to Cancun round-trip.

2 Round-trip Economy Tickets from U.S. to Cancun: 50,000 AAdvantage miles + $164 award taxes & fees

7 Nights for 2 Adults at Dreams Tulum Resort, All-Inclusive: $324/night = $2271 total inc. taxes 

Round-trip private transfer in Chevy Suburban from Cancun airport to resort: $250

Dreams Resorts is one of the most highly regarded all-inclusive hotel brands. Source: Orbitz.com
Dreams Resorts is one of the most highly regarded all-inclusive hotel brands.
Source: Orbitz.com

Since Dreams Tulum is an all-inclusive resort, you don’t need to budget for your daily food and drink expenses. Your entertainment on the resort is also included although excursions off the resort and spa services are typically an additional cost. Currently, there is a promotion for a $400 resort credit with your booking to use for items like spa services, upgraded meals, or excursions.

Grand total for two, we’re looking at 50,000 AAdvantage miles and $2,685 out of pocket for a very nice week-long getaway in Mexico at a prime resort. Not a bad deal!

Some of you are rolling your eyes at me as you think about all the Starwood points or HHonors points you would have redeemed for a resort stay. But the reality is, John  Doe who’s just getting into the points and miles game, doesn’t have hundreds of thousands of points in multiple airlines and hotel currencies. Most folks have a small balance in various accounts but tend to accrue miles with one airline or one transferable points currency like Amex Membership Rewards.

Why do I consider this a good deal?

  • You’re saving 20,000 AAdvantage miles on two tickets by flying off-peak vs peak.
  • Rooms during the peak season are easily $100 more per night, if not more.
  • It’s all-inclusive! Don’t knock it until you try it. The vast majority of folks who try high-end, all-inclusive resorts, love them.

Do you agree that this is a deal? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

The TSA PreCheck Rants are Abound!

Over the last couple of days, I’ve seen quite a bit of back and forth between a few prominent travel bloggers and the TSA on Twitter. While government bureaucracy isn’t sexy and the TSA probably isn’t America’s favorite federal agency, TSA PreCheck has been quite a time saver since I gained the benefit earlier this year. I gained the PreCheck benefits through my Global Entry membership for $100 for 5 years. Not a bad price when comes out to about 5 cents a day for a pretty cool benefit. I wrote a previous post about how my application experience went. 

Everyone has a different experience and it’s not for everyone but here are my personal observations:

1) I’ve had 100% success rate on all my flight bookings since joining. I hope that keeps up but I’, expecting a time where it won’t work at some point.

2) Most PreCheck travelers are fairly efficient and understand the process. However, some appear to have no idea of what PreCheck is and I’m not sure if they even recall signing up for it. And yes, I am aware that the TSA occasionally lets random passengers into the PreCheck lines. I’ve rarely seen that occur lately.

3) It’s just about essential when flying through major leisure airports like. I’m frequently in Orlando or Tampa where TSA PreCheck is totally worth it. There’s not many business travelers so the PreCheck lines are short. Plus leisure airports usually means lots of slow, infrequent travelers who can barely figure out how to take off their shoes. Honolulu was another place where I saved a ton of time.

4) If you’re flying through major business hubs like LAX or JFK, expect to be in line with a lot of others PreCheck travelers. Heavy business traffic. It may not save you time but it will save you the headache of removing shoes and belts.

The TSA is currently looking to expand the PreCheck program to more travelers which has many frequent travelers concerned. I think if the average traveler is educated on how TSA PreCheck works and is prepared to move through the process efficiently, I think it might work. However, forcing tons of infrequent travelers through the TSA PreCheck program who will make PreCheck vastly more inefficient is going to piss off quite a few travelers. I don’t expect TSA PreCheck to be an “elite” program but I think you’re going to be in it, there’s an expectation to be prepared for the process.

In the end, TSA is there to ensure the safety of air travel. As long as my experience with TSA PreCheck continues to go as it’s gone so far, I’ll continue to endorse it as one of the best travel perks out there.