How to cheapen up your resort vacation

Gran Melia Puerto RicoSprawling resorts like the Gran Melia Puerto Rico (pictured) are certainly elegant destinations — every convenience is right there and available for twice as much as it would cost anywhere else.

If you perchance find yourself at a luxury resort wishing the sunblock didn’t cost $18 per tube (actual price), or that you had a snack option that cost less than $9, this is the article for you. As the daughter of a frugal banker, I have a lifelong education in how to keep your daily spending low while on a luxury vacation.

The Gran Melia has a situation of pure profit brilliance: It’s located in Rio Grande at the end of a golf course with a driveway several miles long. So, what can you walk to? Nothing. Everything’s there; several restaurants, a casino, and even a swim up pool bar (God I love the swim up pool bar), but it’s a little bit “Hotel California.” Transportation to the airport is around $70 roundtrip per person … but guess what? Renting a car is around $65 per day.
This is typical in many resort destinations; it’s just plain cheaper to have a car, at least for a day. I recommend renting a car the day you arrive; you can subtract your airport transportation from the cost and feel very smart. Make sure you Google the car rental services available for online coupons to get the lowest possible price.

Here are other things you need to do that day you have a car:

  • Drugstore: You need a corkscrew or wine key, sunblock (because you need more than you’ll have been able to carry on, and I’m guessing you’re not the type who wanted to pay to check a bag), and bug spray. Did you remember toothpaste and all your bathroom stuff? Get it now if not.
  • Supermarket: You need room snacks. Make sure you get snacks you can close completely or tupperware containers to hold them; you don’t want bugs in your room. Also, as in the case of the Gran Melia, many resorts don’t allow outside food — and a bug onslaught would totally get you busted. Keep in mind that minibar space is purposefully tight at most resorts, and you might get charged just for moving stuff to fit food in it — don’t do that. Thin packages of cold cuts slide in easily over the bottles in most minibars. You should also pick up wine and beer. We’ll get to how to keep it cold.
  • Gas Station: Don’t forget to fill that tank back up or you’ll be charged. And if you’re really brilliant, you’ll go with a company who will give you a gas credit for staying under a certain number of miles (Avis does this), and you’ll stay under it. Even cheaper.

Another important tip for the rental car? Put it on a credit card that has auto rental insurance. That way, you don’t have to pay the extra fee for insurance to the rental company. You should also put your whole trip on a card that offers travel insurance; there’s just no reason not to. Citicards and many others offer both.

Okay, onto how to keep your wine and beer cold. Two words: Ice bucket. If you’re super ghetto, you can pick up a cooler at the drugstore and use your ice bucket to fill it, then hide it in your closet, but that’s a lot of work for vacation. I recommend just throwing a bottle of white wine, champage, or a couple beers in the ice bucket in the morning when you leave for the beach. It’ll be nice and cool when you get back. Also, note that if your resort is anti-outside food and drink, you’re gonna have to smuggle in the snacks and beverages. Make sure you take your suitcase with you in the car.

Next tip: Don’t be afraid of the free stuff! Take advantage of any amenities your hotel offers that are free. I’m talking about the pool, the gym, the beach, the breakfast, any special tours, whatever they have. Come clean to the concierge and ask them what you can do for cheap or free. It’s their job to help you! If there’s nothing at or near your resort worth doing that’s free, then what the heck are you doing there? Sometimes, the free stuff (for example: are there free drinks in the casino when you’re playing the nickel slots?) isn’t obvious — you have to ask to know.

Lastly, do as the locals do. I’m assuming you have no fear of the local drugstore and supermarket, but it might not be a bad idea to investigate the bus situation, cheap local restaurants, and what people who live there do for entertainment. Where do they shop? Is there a free festival going on while you’re there? The internet is your friend.

So, that should help you keep your daily expenses down. If you’ve got money to burn, burn it on nice dinners and special excursions — not on the minutiae for which a resort will want to nickel-and-dime ya.