Ah, a vacation to the Caribbean… sounds amazing right? If you think this is outside of your budget, think again—an amazing Caribbean vacation can be more affordable than you think. Here are 10 tips for saving money on your Caribbean vacation.
- Travel Off-Season
Timing is everything. Avoid traveling over the winter holidays or during weeks when schools in North America are on break, as these times are when demand is high and prices rise to match. Opt for off-season months such as late April, May, early June, and late August through December 20th or so. If you can be flexible with your travel dates you can save big money on flights and resorts.
- Pick the Right Destination
Unless you have your heart set on a particular island or beach city, consider traveling to one of the less expensive destinations. These destinations are cheaper to fly to than others: Punta Cana, Dominican Republic (PUJ) – also consider flying into La Romana airport to compare rates (LRM); Montego Bay, Jamaica (MBJ); Cancun, Mexico (CUN) – which is technically Mexico, but on the “Caribbean” side and offering tremendous value; San Juan, Puerto Rico (SJU); Nassau, Bahamas (NAS), and St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands (STT); and Antigua (AUA). These destinations feature heavy volume of arrivals and departures, as well as a wide range of resorts and accommodations. Also consider the exchange rate: an island where the local currency is pegged to the US dollar can help you avoid being penalized when the dollar weakens.
- Book an All-Inclusive Package
Bought separately, your food and drink costs can add up quickly—much more quickly than you anticipated when you budgeted for your trip. Relax and stay at an all-inclusive resort to avoid surprise expenses. The best all-inclusive deals can be found in the Dominican Republic and Jamaica. (Again, though technically not part of the Caribbean, Mexico has beach cities like Cozumel, Cancun, and Playa del Carmen that are on the ocean and feature resorts with affordable all-inclusive packages.) Be sure to compare the all-inclusive package inclusions and consider upgrading to resort “club” levels which enhance your inclusions, room, view, and services.
- Buy a Packaged Deal OR Get a Good Deal on a Flight
A packaged deal for your flights and resort stay further simplify your planning and can save you more money than purchasing separately—sometimes costing as much as 50% less than normal. The reason for this is that hotels and airlines often allow far lower than their published rates ONLY if purchased with a package. This allows them to maintain their “reputation” as a luxury resort in the marketplace, while deeply discounting to fill unsold rooms. These deals may be part of a flash sale, so be ready to purchase right away. If you do opt to buy your flights separately, try to book for a Tuesday departure and a Wednesday return, as these tend to be the least expensive days to fly to the Caribbean.
- Pack Your Essentials, like Sunscreen
Taking your self-care kit with you is smart, ensuring you have what you need and avoiding the “island price” markup on the same items for sale at your destination. Check to see what toiletries and supplies your resort includes with your stay. Then pack TSA-approved travel-sized toiletries if you want to avoid checked-bag fees. Include a few small bottles of sunscreen to last your entire stay.
- Arrange Your Airport Shuttle
Arriving in many resort destination airports can be a bit overwhelming to first-timers. You are likely to be approached by many vendors offering rides to the airport. Beware of these vendors. Most of them are trying to sell you something other than transportation, such as a timeshare tour. By booking your transportation to and from the airport in advance, you have the peace of mind to know exactly where to go, and exactly what you get – at a discounted rate versus arranging once you are there.
- Book Excursions Online
If you’re planning on going on a diving, snorkeling, or sky-diving trip, look online for deals and discounts. Excursion packages offered by the concierge at your hotel will cost significantly more than if you book them directly.
- Buy Snorkel Gear
A bit of inconvenience incurred packing bulky snorkel gear into your luggage will be offset by the savings. A basic kit with snorkel, fins, and mask should cost about $30 at a sporting goods store in the States, whereas the same gear will cost $10 a day or more to rent on the islands. Even buying at your destination (at a premium) rather than renting may be worth it depending on the length of your stay and how much snorkeling you’ll be doing.
- Negotiate When Shopping
Prices for goods bought from street vendors and at independent shops are negotiable in the Caribbean, so be sure to haggle when you purchase something. US dollars are accepted as readily as local currency in most Caribbean nations, so bring as much cash as you’re comfortable carrying (and spending). If you do need to get more cash, use an ATM—it should save you money on the fees banks and currency exchanges charge.
- Be Generous, Yet Don’t Overtip
Many resorts include gratuities in the “all” of all-inclusive packages, so confirm that this is the case for yours. Even still, it is a kindness to take along with you a nice stack of $1 or even $2 bills. When someone in a resort destination provides excellent service, a dollar or two (which means very little to most of us) can mean quite a bit to them. Keep in mind that workers in these resort destinations are paid very little. So be generous! That said, it would not be necessary to leave the type of tips you might leave for a similar meal in the US. If gratuities aren’t included, be sure to tip the staff. That includes waiters (15-20%), bartenders ($1 per drink), the concierge ($5-$10), airport shuttle drivers ($2-$5), and maids ($2-$3 per day, $20 per week). Outside the resorts, most hotels and some restaurants add a service charge of 10% to the bill, so leaving an additional tip is up to you.
Keep these 10 money-saving travel tips in mind when booking your next Caribbean vacation!