Pura Vida Travels - A Guide To Travel In Latin America

Money Saving Tips For Travelling In Latin America

In order to travel as much as I do I need to save money wherever I can. That being said I also don't want to live like a broke college student because, well, I'm not one. I like to stay at nice places but I'm not going to pay more than I have to. The list below chronicles a multitude of ways that you can travel more economically without sacrificing quality. Most of these tips may not seem like much when you look at them individually but when you add them all together they save me quite a bit of money each year.

Saving Money On Airfare
1) Maximize Your Frequent Flyer Miles - FF programs offer miles for hundreds of other things besides just flying. Before you make any purchases make sure to check the FF programs that you are enrolled in for any offers that may be available. Even if it's only a few miles if it's something you are going to purchase anyway why not get those miles? You would be shocked how many miles you can rack up from bonus programs. I'm able to cash in miles for 2 to 3 trips a year and 25% of the miles I accumulate come from bonus offers rather than actual flights.

2) Search For Flights To Your Desired Destination From Alternate Airports - Let's say I want to go to Lima but PIT to LIM is $1000/roundtrip. I will start searching for flights to Lima from Miami, Atlanta, NYC, etc. looking for a bargain fare. When I find one I will then find a flight from PIT to wherever and compare the price of booking the segments seperately to the roundtrip cost from PIT. The reason is that the online search programs such as Travelocity often don't combine flights from all airlines. They will always put flights from Delta and Avianca together, for example, but they won't always combine them with all airlines. A good example is recently I was looking at flights from PIT-LIM. The "best price" on Travelocity was $1200. By finding a flight on LAN from MIA to LIM and a flight on USAirways from PIT-MIA and booking them seperately I was able to save $600.

3) Be Flexible With Your Travel Dates - You can almost always find lower prices if you are willing to travel on non-peak days. Leaving on a Thursday and returning on a Monday can save you hundreds of dollars if you can be flexible.

4) Pay Attention To The Planes When You Are At An Airport - Every time I go to an airport I make a note of what planes I see from airlines I'm not familiar with. The reason is a lot of the smaller airlines are not hooked in to the major airlines networks. On my last trip to Lima I noticed a lot of planes for AeroCondor at the Lima airport. When I got a chance I looked up their website and found they offer very low fares on flights inside of Peru.

5) Always Check The Airlines Website For A Lower Fare - All of the major travel websites add a fee for booking flights through them. The same flight is almost always cheaper if you can book it directly through the airlines website plus you usually get bonus FF miles for booking directly through their site.

6) Book Airfare By Phone Only If You Absolutely Have To - Continental, for example, charges $10 to book a flight by phone. Why pay $10 for something you can do yourself?

7) After Booking A Flight Keep Checking The Prices - Some airlines such as AA will actually give you a credit if the price drops on a fare after you book it so it pays to keep checking the fare even though you have already purchased a ticket. I don't know if any other airlines will do it but it never hurts to ask.

Saving Money On Hotels
1) Avoid "Big Name" Chain Hotels Like The Plague - The big name chain hotels can cost more than 10 times as much as a local hotel and I can tell you firsthand that you DO NOT get what you pay for. You will get a far better deal at a hotel with a lesser known name. How to find a good, cheap hotel is somewhat of an art but if you know how to use a search engine like google you have all the tools you need. I generally look at the hotels website first and then try to find independent reviews to support their claims. So far I have found hotels this way in Lima, Cusco, San Jose, Medellin, and Managua and haven't been disappointed yet. I have also yet to spend more than $50/night.

2) Call Or Email The Hotel For A Better Rate - Big chains generally won't do this but the small hotels will. Just remember that this only works if you're staying more than a few days. One hotel that I stay in has a "published" rate of $106/night. I pay $48 because I stay a week and emailed them asking for a better rate.

3) Be Nice To The Hotel Staff - This pays dividends on return trips. I just got a free room upgrade to a suite on a future trip simply because I'm nice to the hotel staff. Honestly, I'm not nice to people because it gets me better hotel deals but it's a nice side benefit of being nice. ;)

4) Watch For Hidden Charges - You can rack up a small fortune in charges by just using a hotel phone to make local calls. Another common tactic is charging you for items from the minibar whether you used it or not. Always pay attention to your bill when you check out of a hotel but this is an absolute MUST when in Latin America.

5) Check For Deals On Travel Websites - This can be hit or miss but one great site I found for Peru is go2peru.com. They have incredible deals on hotels there.

Saving Money On Miscellaneous Travel Costs
1) Get A Local Phone - In Latin America most cell phones are sold without contracts and are pay as you go. (prepago) Buying a unlocked GSM cell phone can pay for itself in just a few trips. Whenever you are in a new country all you have to do is go to the cell phone store and buy a SIMM card for your phone and you now have a local phone. You can add minutes by using phone cards which are available on every street corner. If you don't want to buy a phone in most places you can rent one as well. I rented a phone in Lima at the airport and it was $10 for up to a month plus any charges. Since most of my calls last 30 seconds or less my total bill for 12 days was around $12. Had I used the hotel phone to make those calls the charges could have easily been $30 or $40.

2) Price Tags Are Merely Suggestions In Latin America - The price of just about anything is negotiable in Latin America. As a matter of fact, haggling over prices is expected in most places. I have found that people generally respect you more when you haggle over the price than when you don't as well. If you just pay what is asked you are viewed as a sucker to be taken advantage of. That's just my opinion but it's based on a lot of observation.

3) Don't Over Tip - In most Latin American countries gratuities are added to restaurant bills automatically. Tipping more than the amount already added isn't necessary unless the service is truly outstanding. Also, when tipping bellhops, parking attendants, etc. remember where you are. A $1 tip is a HUGE tip in most places. The locals rarely tip at all so anything you give is more than expected. For a lot of things a tip of a quarter or fifty cents is more than adequate.

4) Learn To Speak Spanish - If you plan on doing much travelling in Latin America learning Spanish is essential and you need to know more than just "buenos dias" and "adios". If you only speak English you are automatically labeled as a rich gringo and viewed as a walking ATM. If you can speak passable Spanish you are treated much differently.

5) Learn To Walk Away - Let's say you're in Lima and you see a baby alpaca sweater that you have to have. The vendor tells you it's $20 and won't budge on the price. You say you'll pay $10 for it but he still won't budge on the price. (remember, to him you're a walking ATM machine) You take out a $10 bill, look at the sweater again, then you say to him, "Well, I really wanted that sweater but I saw one just like it over there for $10", and you start to walk away. Instantly, the price will start dropping and will continue dropping with each step you take. This almost always works and even if it doesn't you can always come back later if you really want the sweater.

6) Beware Of Foreign Transaction Fees - Many US banks have begun adding a "foreign transaction fee" to debit card transactions made in foreign countries. These fees can apply to both debit card purchases AND cash withdrawls. The fee is typically 1% but can be as high as 3% of the value of the transaction. This may not sound like a lot but it can add up in a hurry if you travel to foreign countries a lot. The good news is there are plenty of banks that don't charge this fee so it pays to shop around and find one.


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