One-Stop Stays: Tips for Booking a Budget-Friendly Beach Escape
With winter around the corner, here are some tips for scoring the best beach getaway with an all-in budget. Photo: Martin Puddy/Getty Images
All-inclusives are hassle free and keep things on budget, but how do you land the choicest deals? Should you book early or last minute for the lowest rates? Include flights in the package — or not? Earn points with an airline loyalty program or rack them up on a travel rewards credit card? With winter around the corner, here are some tips for scoring the best beach getaway with an all-in budget.
Seasonal Price Drops
The winter sweet spot is January, just after the high season rush. But September, October and November are the least expensive months to jet off to the Caribbean — mainly because fall is hurricane season. But, November is the tail end of it and the southern islands closest to South America — Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao — are protected from the “hurricane belt.” Particularly Aruba, where few ever touch ground; in the last two decades, it’s suffered only minor damage from Hurricane Felix in 2007. The island’s average temperature is a sunny 25 C year-round. Barbados and Grenada are also in the clear. Why not book a tropical holiday before the holidays? You’ll save money and the tan will mask any festive season hangovers. Get travel insurance and choose your islands wisely. Worst case scenario, you have to reschedule for free. Best case, you’re on the beach for half the cost — with half the crowds.
How to Book
Hotels are less expensive the closer you book to your dates, but the later you book flights, the more costly they are. Not every all-inclusive deal includes flights but — if you’re able to book last minute — that’s where the best deals are. This approach means you don’t know where you’ll wind up but, when a direct flight to a tropical beach resort is what you’re after, the variables are fairly controlled. Put in the research prior to your set departure date to confirm the sites that offer the packages best suited to your taste and budget. Track a few options on various platforms, then pounce on the one whose price drops most in the 24 to 48 hours before takeoff.
Where to Book
Apple Vacations offers tropical holiday deals, including all-inclusive resorts, with the convenience of being able to add extras on during the booking process — travel insurance and airport transfers to spa treatments, rental cars, tours and more. CheapTickets lets you cross reference all-inclusive options by price and flight distance. All Inclusive Outlet books resorts and cruises, offers cancel for any reason insurance (CFAR) and has a ‘Hot Deals’ section that vets selections by destination, interest, special promos and flash sales. A metasearch engine, Kayak is great for flights — but also hotels, car rentals, cruises and vacation packages — scanning other sites for the best deals and transferring you to them to complete the booking.
The Lowdown on Loyalty Programs
Airline rewards just aren’t that rewarding anymore. Miles expire, you have to use a specific carrier (whether they’re offering the route’s best fare or not) and members get the most value by saving points for business class, but that takes forever at one cent per mile. The privileges of Elite status (free baggage, airport lounge access, priority boarding, flight upgrades) are sweet, but you have to be a very frequent flier, booking top seats, to achieve that today. With airline points programs now rewarding spending — not distance — the passenger who spends big bucks wins, not the one charting 100,000 miles a year in economy.
Best Travel Credit Cards
Unless you’re a frequent first or business class flier, a travel rewards credit card that earns points on everything you buy, which you can use with multiple airlines and hotels, is far more advantageous than an airline loyalty plan. In a 2023 comparison by Forbes, the Cobalt Amex came out on top, 4.5 out of five stars, for its “extensive suite” of travel perks, multiple insurance plans, ability to earn even more points on travel purchases and extra points per dollar spent on groceries. The drawbacks are higher fees and that Amex isn’t as widely accepted as MC and Visa so you can’t use it for everything you buy. Next up, with 4.4 out of five stars, the CIBC Aventura Gold offers even more insurance options, along with global airport lounge access and rewards that are as flexible as Amex but require less points to redeem.
Mind the Details
Finally, and most importantly, consider a resort’s approach and atmosphere as much as its location. Every property attracts a specific crowd. Scan the amenities and scheduled events. Kids clubs and waterslides attract families. More sophisticated properties might be adults only. If you’re a foodie, see how many on-site restaurants there are and what’s included. Like to stay busy? Check the activities roster. All-inclusive plans vary widely. From covering everything, including planes and airport transfers, to lodging and food, but not alcohol, to rooms, meals and cocktails, but not taxes and gratuities. Are extras like day trips, spa services or ocean excursions reasonably priced? Read the fine print — and recent online reviews.
And a Tip About Tipping
Even if your all-inclusive deal includes tips, bring $100 in U.S. singles with you. A dollar on a drink, $5 or $10 on meals, a few bucks goes a long way and will vastly improve your service and overall experience.