Once winter sets in, the hunt for a warm weather vacation starts. Most years I end up in Mexico because the all-inclusive resorts tend to make the most cost-effective beach vacations. This year, I had my mind set on going somewhere different.
My travel buddies and I have always talked about visiting destinations like Puerto Rico, Costa Rica, and the Caribbean, but nothing usually pans out. It’s either the wrong time of the year or the deal isn’t that great. But, since I was on a mission, I started looking seriously at all my travel emails in the beginning of December because I had a late Feb/early March trip in my mind. So right away I see a Costa Rica trip come through Travelzoo’s weekly top 20. It included airfare, lodging for 6 nights, and an SUV rental for about $800/person from Chicago.
To be honest, Costa Rica adventure-type vacations tend to pop up in my weekly deal emails pretty often. However, there is generally something about them that isn’t appealing—usually they end up being during rainy season. So we did a little research and found out Jan-Mar was actually high/dry season. So far so good, but after a little more research, there were a few minor details that weren’t ideal:
- The hotels weren’t exactly what we wanted. They got pretty good ratings on TripAdvisor, but they weren’t what we would choose.
- The SUV that was included was manual and it was quite expensive to upgrade to an automatic. I can drive a manual but not all of my companions do and we wanted everyone to share the burden of driving.
- The airfare for this trip was on Spirit Airlines. I have flown on Spirit a couple of times and they are less than ideal. They not only charge you for your checked bags, but also your carry-ons. You have to really be careful because if you have a lot of luggage, the costs start to add up and you might as well fly on a better airline :-). I have also had less than acceptable customer service and the layover airport terminal has basically no amenities…and you are not allowed to leave once you’re there.
Anyway, I did a quick search on Spirit’s site to see how much the airfare portion of the trip cost and found that we could get roundtrip airfare for less than $350/person. Granted, we would have to leave earlier than we thought (mid-January), but at this price we were all willing to be flexible…and willing to deal with the annoyances of flying Spirit :-).This got me wondering if I could put together a trip for even cheaper than the package deal we found on Travelzoo.
First, I had to do a little research to figure out exactly where in Costa Rica I wanted to stay. It wasn’t hard to figure out what the most commonly traveled destinations are with a simple Google search. After I figured this out I started researching hotels. I searched all of my favorite booking sites: Orbitz, Kayak, Expedia, and Hotels.com. I cross-referenced what I found with the reviews from TripAdvisor. I wanted to find inexpensive options that had the best traveler reviews. I made a spreadsheet of the best options along with their prices. Go ahead and make fun of me for my spreadsheet, but it makes everything so easy to reference and organize! I sent the spreadsheet to my fellow travelers and in the end we chose two fabulous hotels at very reasonable rates, the Lomas del Volcan and Blue Banyan Inn.
Next, I needed to find us a car. I scoured the Travelzoo forums to find out which companies were both reliable and reasonably priced. I added that information to my spreadsheet as well.
In the end, I discovered that I was able to put together a trip for about the same price as the Travelzoo one that started it all. My trip, however, was even better! We all agreed that we found our next vacation destination!
Now that I’ve put this all out on paper it does remind me of just how much work it was to put this trip together. Was it worth it? Absolutely! If you are willing to put in the time and energy, you can end up finding an awesome trip for an awesome price. We got ourselves a trip to Costa Rica including airfare, 7 nights in great hotels and a SUV rental (with automatic transmission) for just about $800/person! In the end, the trip was everything we hoped for and more!