Travel's supposed to be fun, and for many that means indulging in more comfort — not less — than we have back home. That can mean big bucks. Business travelers are partly to blame for this. When the company lets you fly and stay first class on trips (and more are, as business travel is already up 7 percent this year), you sort of want the same comfort on the regular vacations, too.
Here are a few things to consider.
Use your frequent flyer miles strategically.
Many airlines offer first- or business-class seats for just 20 percent or 25 percent additional miles redeemed. That means a ticket that might cost four or five times the price of an economy seat, can be had for just a minimal bump up in miles. Use them this way — it's worth it.
An economy-class ticket to Mexico on Delta Airlines, for example, requires 60,000 miles and about $70 in taxes; the same flight in first class is 80,000 miles with the same tax rate. Note that many airlines divide their flights in terms of “low,” “medium” or “high” traffic times. Use their online calendar to locate “low” periods — to save miles too.
A good resource for learning more on how miles can best work for you is the Points Guy (www.pointsguy.com).
Stop the souvenir hunt.
Somewhere over the years, travel became a bit of a guilt occupation. We devote chunks of free time on the hunt for some tacky souvenirs, probably made in China, that will say “Seattle” or “DC” for our friends and family back home. That means time on the ground spent to find it, money for the purchases and luggage space, which we all know can be an added expense too.
Stick with a personalized post card — perhaps a photo of you in front of the Golden Gate Bridge holding a ‘hi Greg' sign and sent via a mobile app like Postman — and move on. You're better off spending the shopping time for yourself.
Go to cheap places.
Traveling in style isn't really rocket science. If you want added luxury and can't afford the French Riviera, go where it's cheap. The dollar always has greater reach and durability in Southeast Asia — you can stay in simple, new, clean air-conditioned guesthouses in Vietnam from $15, and eat pho noodles with locals for about a dollar. East Europe is considerably cheaper than the west, and Latin America is filled with good-value destinations.
Many budget-seekers are going to Argentina, home to Patagonia, great wines and steaks, and tango — it's also the rare place where the dollar continues its climb over the local peso (it's up 12 percent in the last two years).
Another rising destination closer to home is Nicaragua, where you can have a week's vacation for the price of a day or two in the Big Apple. The colonial heart, Grenada wears its early 16th-century roots on its sleeve. You can have a “Mayan sauna” or dance lessons for about $10, horse-carriage rides for a third of the cost at Central Park in Manhattan, hire sailboats in a nearby tropical archipelago for $25, and find inexpensive lodging.
The best place, in fact, is the Hotel Plaza Colon, where a room with balcony overlooking the cobble