In the midst of yet another deep freeze up here in the north country, the only solace my partner and I found between Netflix episodes and hot cups of tea was booking tickets to the warmest, sunniest place we could imagine.
Since our budget quickly eliminated the southern coast of France and Zika scared the bejeezeus out of us in Costa Rica, we managed to plan the perfect six day beach getaway to Key West, Florida spending less than $900 per person. Really!
While it seems easiest to book round trips, it can cost you in the long run. After some airline finagling, we ended up taking a United flight down on a Monday night for only $97 and scoring a $200 flight back on Southwest the following Sunday. Under $300 round-trip? Fine by me.
Further, try searching for different times of day at various airports within the vicinity, prices drop dramatically during unpopular time slots. Instead of flying into Miami like we had initially tried, we opted to fly into Fort Lauderdale during the less expensive night hours. Since we saved big on flights, we could then book a small rental car that would take us the rest of the way. By choosing a gas-friendly option, we ended up spending a mere $40 on gas for seven hours in a car total. Seriously.
This works best if you’ve been an active traveling and have points saved up by continually staying at one hotel branch (such as Hyatt or Marriott).If not, now is the time to start! We were able to use points from previous vacays to cover the entire cost of our stay. Even if you don’t have points, you can still make the most of your stay by booking the cheapest room then calling the front desk a week before your trip. This is when they often have cancellations from other guests and rooms available for upgrade.
For you best chance at scoring big, express your excitement about visiting this destination and hotel in particular and inquire about possible advantages for your stay, such as a room with an ocean view or a suite with kitchen and living space. You might even score a breakfast coupon. Fact: pancakes always taste better when they’re free.
Remember, even if you’re turned down, remain respectful and confirm your enthusiasm for your trip. While we ended up with a pretty awesome presidential suite upgrade during our first night at our hotel, they said we would need to switch to our actually booked room the following day. We responded with smiles and thanked them again for their generosity while packing up our luggage. Later on, we got a call that we could stay in our suite for the remainder of our trip. Kindness pays.
Although I’m personally more food-truck-tacos than gourmet-champagne-brunch, it wasn’t difficult to find delicious food under a budget. We took full advantage of our complimentary breakfast and grabbed extra bananas and oatmeal packets for midday meals. To keep our wallets (and waistlines) in check, we opted for a large brunch for our first meal of the day, enjoyed snacks we brought in the afternoon, then feasted on a large dinner at night.
This way, we only paid for one meal a day…plus the 3pm stops for key lime pie. Enjoying foods particular to this area, such as conch bites and fresh pineapple, you save more than on food that had to be shipped in. The usually tips always work too, like limiting pricey alcoholic drinks (or planning 2-for-1 happy hours), splitting entrees and searching Yelp ahead of time under their “Cheap Eats” sections.
There is no shortage of low-cost activities in Key West and most beach towns. From viewing free magic shows in Mallory Square, enjoying the notable sunset on the boardwalk and wandering around people watching, a quick Pinterest search led us to a variety of cheap options.
Our favorites included a tour through Ernest Hemingway’s house and taking full advantage of the zero open container policy and buying cheap Coronas while strolling along Duval Street. We also had a blast just sitting on the dock watching the Pelicans try to fight it out with the fishermen.
Even though I was carefully budgeting this trip, I still wanted to try new experiences particular to this region. After multiple searches that ended with me contacting various excursion companies with astronomical prices for a simple sailboat ride, I stumbled on Fury Water Adventures.
Not only did they offer seasonal discounts, but they also provided coupons for activities ranging from jet skiing to glass-bottom boat tours to sunset cruises that were not available through other websites. I was lucky enough to speak to Eliza, a representative from Fury Water Adventures, to get the scoop on which option would best fit our price range and interest.
Even better, Fury offers you another discount if you book two different tours during your visit. Sold. I opted for the snorkeling and dolphin watch combo and could not have had a better time. After boarding our boat led by Captain Ange and Nicole, we immediately headed out to sea to a nursery coral reef where we were sported with snorkeling gear. After witnessing an array of sea life and learning about the species of fish we saw, we went on to search for wild dolphins.
A great part of Fury is the preservation for wild life and how passionate they are on educating their visitors. We learned all about the wildlife in Key West and were able to witness dolphins in their natural habitat by simply visiting the feeding spots they know they like rather than tagging them.
This was truly the highlight to our stay and we immediately used their discount on repeat customers to score a great deal on a jet skiing tour. Although we were willing to splurge more on these once in a lifetime opportunities, we felt good with our expenses since we saved in other areas. Determine what you’re willing to compromise in order to make your beach trip fit your interests, no matter what your bank account says.
By carefully reviewing our budget beforehand and creating a flexible timeline, we were able to have the tropical getaway we imagined for less than my monthly rent. It’s important to know what you want to splurge on, and even then, contacting the company directly can open you up to other discounts that might not be available online.