Monday, May 13, 2013

Moolah Monday - Vacation Planning Tips: Looking for Deals

This weekend I shredded some of those credit card check thingies that seem to come to our home in over-abundance. I’m always shredding them it seems. Yesterday, it was about 6 separate sets of them. As I did, the verbiage on one of them caught my eye. It talked about using the checks for all those unexpected repairs, home repairs, travel...
No was in that list and I thought how is travel possibly unexpected? I suppose there are times that you travel that you didn’t expect well in advance like we did when my dad was in a motorcycle accident and the outcome was uncertain or when my Uncle was murdered and we attended his services. But even then it’s not like I suddenly woke and found myself driving or flying somewhere thinking did I get on this journey – this drive is so unexpected? (and so forth...). I don’t know – the wording just struck mie wrong.
Bottom line – you don’t have to go into debt to travel and/or vacation. There are ways to plan to keep yourself from burying a hole that forces you to work even harder for the next year It may very well be difficult but the rewards are worth it.
I’ll leave that lesson to Small Town Joy because as I told you last week she’s the best at it. I do want to add a few tricks to her process that we use to help us plan.
We’ve picked up taking an annual vacation to visit Sea World in San Antonio. It’s a place we can drive to reasonably and we have SO much fun. So far we’ve been a family of 6 with 4 kids making the trip a challenge physically (trying to keep them all alive, you know), and financially. Here’s how we’ve done it:
  • Research ahead of time to find the best deal – In our case, we found a local hotel that offered several things free when you stayed with them. When you purchased one room they added in gift bags for the kids when they arrived, free breakfast for 4 (normally like $20 per person), one free dinner, and free annual passes to Sea World. The price difference from a regular room was minimal (maybe $20) and more than paid for itself. We had to stay down there anyway and though we could have looked around for a cheaper motel or stayed with friends the price of the deal made it worth it. In other words – if we hadn’t stayed at that hotel with that deal we would have had to pay the same amount to get into the park for the day and wouldn’t have had the added bonus of free breakfast, goody bags, the hotel pool and accomodations, etc. We might as well have stayed in the hotel! I want to say we paid $150 or so per night, and we stay 3 nights.
  • Consider the annual pass – Our annual pass came with our hotel but it made a huge difference! If you don’t find a deal like the one we found, look into it on your own. Many parks have some sort of season or annual pass that is the same price or only slightly more than the pass you would buy for a day. We used that to visit the park two days in a row. Most of the theme parks I’ve been to can certainly be an entertainment option for multiple days on the same vacation and Sea World San Antonio is no exception. Rather than attend multiple parks or tour multiple areas, we just camped out at Sea World for a couple days, seeing the shows, playing in the water park, and riding rides.
  • Re-use the annual pass – if you do find a park you want to visit that has a reasonably priced annual pass (or free, like the one we found with our hotel room) pay attention to the time period it is good for. Our annual pass was good for a full 12 months from the time we purchased it. SO because we liked our trip so much we decided to vacation there again the following year. We just made sure to go back before our passes expired and as the dates went we were able to return about 4 weeks before they expired. This means through our planning and research we were able to visit Sea World on 4 different dates with 6 people without paying for a single pass. If you add up the hotel rooms for both years we ended up paying approximately $900 plus fuel, food, and bonus stuff (souvenirs, etc.). That’s $450 per year for a 4 day vacation for a family of 6 or $75 per person, including hotel and theme park admission. I’d say that’s pretty good.
  • Determine what you’d splurge on, then do more research – Because our price for the vacation(s) to this point was pretty low, we decided to do a few more things to make our trip easier/more special/more cost-effective. For example, Sea World had a wristband program both years where you were able to pay an extra $40 dollars or so, which gave you the ability to go to the front of the line on several rides. We took advantage of that (for our kids who were old/big enough). This meant that it made our lives MUCH easier being able to take our bigger kids straight to the front of the line, quickly getting to ride the ride they wanted, without the other parent having to try to somehow entertain the littles (toddlers) in 100+ degree heat for however long it took to stand in the traditional line (usually they said 60-90 minutes!). That extra $150 or so for our family was definitely worth it. The second year we researched a bit on the cabanas they had available. For about $200 we purchased a cabana rental that included those wristbands, a cabana with a stocked fridge, towels (to keep), shade, a fan, (a place for the toddlers to nap!), dinner or lunch (2 pizzas and drinks), ice creams, sunscreen, and a private character visit to the cabanas for pictures and hugs. If you do the math, all of that “extra” stuff cost us $50 which was far less than those items would have been on their own (seriously – it provided for 2 meals for a family of 6 at a theme park – that itself is usually way more than $50). And, since we didn’t pay for the theme park tickets themselves, it seemed very much worth it to us to “splurge” there.
I will caution you to be careful with the “deals”. Not everything is a fantastic deal. For example – if we would have purchased the wristbands for all of our children automatically it would have been a waste – the wristbands were only good on some rides and my kids under 36” wouldn’t have been able to ride anything with them. Food plans can be a good deal but again you may not want to purchase for little kids or you may want to bring PB&J to cut the costs even more. As you do your research, really think about how much you can afford to spend and what would work for YOUR family.
I did spend an evening (several hours) researching the park website, hotel websites, travel websites, etc. to be able to find these deals, so you do have to factor that in but again if you look at the total cost we paid (about $800 total, per vacation, including the splurges), it was well worth it.
(This post was NOT sponsored - we just like Sea World THAT much).

1 comment:

Dana Beam said...

Great tips!
If you have any free time while you're in SA let me know. We'd love to come meet you for lunch or if you want to get away from the hotel/theme park you're welcome to come over and have some down time :)