Our Cheapest Travel Deal Ever

Our cheapest travel deal ever

The addition of Baby Girl has made us all a bit stir crazy up in here. Don’t get me wrong, all is well over here. Life is good, baby is good, mommy is good, Persie feels slightly dejected now that we don’t play fetch with her as much — tough luck, kitty.

All that said, we’ve seen way too much of our off-white walls and cable TV. Things have gotten so desperate that I noticed Joanna has been recording The Bachelor on our DVR. That’s gotta be some sort of red flag, right? All of this cabin fever has got us talking vacation plans for this year, as well as discussing past vacations. And what’s a discussion about vacations without talking about how much they cost?

Whenever we review vacation costs, there’s a past trip that always comes up and derails our optimism of getting a great deal. Why, you might ask? Because it was the BEST FREAKING DEAL EVER!!! Sorry, that was dramatic, but seriously, let me explain.

The Setup

We had been living in NYC for a year and needed out of the concrete jungle. Preferably a beach in the Gulf of Mexico (since we had honeymooned there and loved it). And preferably a vacation that wouldn’t cost more than the total of our paid-time off for the trip. So armed with our location preference and budget, I got to searching.

I started by looking at options a la carte: flights, hotels, cruises, all-inclusive resorts, rental cars, etc. Very quickly, I realized our options would only be 3-4 day trips and limited in selection. That didn’t seem like a long enough time to get the City out of our bloodstream. So I kept searching.

This time, I looked at package vacation deals. And since I had a JetBlue reward card, I started on their site. The prices were looking moderately better, but the options still limited us to a pretty short trip. So then I started playing with different dates, different Gulf Coast airports, and different trip durations. After throwing together different combinations for two hours (yeah, I have problems), something weird happened.

The Deal

I was searching deals in the Tampa area and hadn’t found anything worth considering through the first two months of the summer. Then I searched the week after the 4th of July, and there it was: a 3.5 star resort on the beach for 5 nights + 2 non-stop round-trip flights for a grand total of…. $540. $540!!! I looked up how much just the flights cost alone and it came to $400.

So follow my basic math: $540 – $400 = $140 / 5 nights = $28/night. Now that’s a deal.

Feeling pretty awesome about my find, I decided we could probably splurge a little and add an extra night to our trip. So I searched again with an extra night on the end. And the total came to… ready for this? $500… Did you catch that? $500. For those of you keeping score at home, that’s a full $40 less for an EXTRA night. Nothing was different about the deal (RT flights at $200/each and room options), just that it was now cheaper.

So here’s the math again: $500 – $400 = $100 / 6 nights = $16.75/night.

I started freaking out and called Joanna to come over and make sure I hadn’t forgotten to carry the one or forgotten how to read. But she confirmed what I was seeing. It was hard to miss it in the search results since it was about $800 lower than the next cheapest option. I stopped asking questions, pulled out our credit card, and booked that thing faster than I’ve ever spent money before.

And then we waited.

We expected to get an email within 24 hours letting us know there was a glitch and they couldn’t honor our deal. But it didn’t come. Then a week passed. And a month. But it never came. And the next thing we knew, we were in our hotel room on a white sand beach in Tampa.

The Trip

We rented a car using Priceline Negotiator for a whopping $14/day so that we could get away from expensive hotel food and eat comfort foods that we didn’t have access to in NYC, like Cracker Barrell and Chick-fil-A. That’s right, we do things realllll fancy.

We mostly hung out on the beach, swam in the ocean, and caught up on books we’d been meaning to read for months. But since we had saved so much on the trip and since Joanna’s birthday was right around our trip, I decided to splurge on a birthday gift for her that would win her over for life (alright, maybe a week): a trip to Universal Studios’ World of Harry Potter.

She loved it, and despite my complete Harry Potter illiteracy, I thought it was pretty cool, too. Would we have done it if we hadn’t gotten our smashing vacation deal? Probably not. So thank you JetBlue glitch for making me an awesome husband for a day.

All in all, it was an amazing vacation. Soaking it up on a perfect beach in perfect weather is made only more perfect when you can turn to each other and remark, “Ehhh, I guess this isn’t bad for $16/night.”

Us in Tampa

To date, I’m still not sure how or why we got the deal. There was no hotel construction. The hotel wasn’t hurting for more customers. It wasn’t a last minute deal to fill a bed. I even tried contacting JetBlue last week to no avail. So while you won’t hear any complaints from us, the mystery still remains.

How have you fared? What’s the best travel deal you’ve ever snagged? Any tips/tricks that you use to get the best deals?

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  • Reply Emily @ evolvingPF February 5, 2013 at 8:13 am

    Wow! I would book that trip in a hot minute, too! We haven’t actually chosen a destination/vacation time for ourselves since our honeymoon as all of our travel is for weddings and other big events or, on two occasions, trips with our families. We try to book our flights as cheap as we can but we are usually not very flexible with the dates so we aren’t looking out for other great deals.

    • Reply Joanna February 5, 2013 at 12:12 pm

      Isn’t that the truth? With all our family who lives far away, we use up almost all our vacation time/budget seeing them each year! But, those one-on-one vacations are a must (!!!), even if it’s just a weekend getaway!

  • Reply Karie February 5, 2013 at 9:31 am

    You did great! Travel as much as you can when you get great deals like that – lots of good times and memories!
    I’m personally trying to book a trip for our family of 5 – dates not so flexible and harder to get one hotel room for 5 people!

    • Reply Joanna February 5, 2013 at 12:47 pm

      I don’t know that we’ll ever come across another deal like that one, Karie, but we’ll never stop looking! We know what a good deal feels like, and we’re determined to find another one!

      And you’re starting your vacation planning early in the year, which means if there’s a good deal out there, you’ll find it! Good luck!

  • Reply Laurie February 5, 2013 at 10:05 am

    Ok, being that we have HUGE cabin fever right now, you’ve totally inspired us (or made us insanely jealous – I can’t figure out which). Gotta go: it’s vacation finding time. Thanks for the inspiration!

    • Reply Joanna February 5, 2013 at 1:36 pm

      Glad to hear it, Laurie! 🙂 This post has us scheming up vacation plans, too. Can the cold months just be over already?!

  • Reply Lisa @ Elle Sees February 5, 2013 at 10:09 am

    Wow that sounds great! I have to say, vacations are the one area we’re willing to stretch the budget…there’s so many places we want to see, and figure that now, when we have disposable income and no kids yet, is the time to take advantage of it. So we have some fun trips planned for this year (first up, San Francisco to visit family — so at least we’re saving on the hotel!).

    • Reply Joanna February 5, 2013 at 1:43 pm

      Awesome, Lisa! Now that we have Baby Girl, Johnny and I kind of wish we’d gotten more adventuresome with our vacations while it was just the two of us. You’re smart to take advantage while you can!

  • Reply jrm February 5, 2013 at 11:38 am

    That is so awesome. I always get turned off by the packages for some reason but alas, perhaps I will give them a closer look in the future.

    I’ve never really gotten a screamin’ deal. Though on the opposite end of the spectrum, I was once traveling for work. Project went longer than planned, had to change the return flight with late notice, it was about $600 for a change in return flight. I think I was flying back from Wichita, Kansas to Chicago. The client understood and ok’d the charge but crazy to think that the change of flight fee was more than your entire vacation.

    • Reply Joanna February 5, 2013 at 1:51 pm

      Last-minute flight bookings are always so outrageous… glad the client had your back on that one!

      Every once in a blue moon the package deals actually are actually that — a deal. I’m glad Johnny doesn’t mind scouring to find them. I tend to get too impatient and just want to book a vacation already!

  • Reply Grayson @ Debt Roundup February 5, 2013 at 11:43 am

    Now that is a DEAL. I would pull out my plastic quickly as well. I haven’t taken any trips lately, so I can’t remember. I do a lot of camping and hiking, so that is always a deal!

    • Reply Joanna February 5, 2013 at 1:54 pm

      Camping’s a great way to cut costs. Neither Johnny nor I are big on camping (we’re pansies), BUT our one exception is camping on the beach. We’d love to live close enough to the ocean someday to do that regularly.

  • Reply Joanna February 5, 2013 at 12:35 pm

    Johnny’s the wizard. I get to just sit back and enjoy the benefits of his wizarding ways… including The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. 😀

  • Reply Catherine February 5, 2013 at 12:37 pm

    Can’t go wrong with a deal like that! We also need a getaway…BAD. A friend of mine scored an amazing deal when a 4night trip to vegas showed up on a travel site for $75.00 total- she bought it only a few hours later to find out it was a mistake and was supposed to be $750- they honored it though! With takes and fees she paid less than $200 for roundtrip airfare and 4nights in Vegas!

    • Reply Joanna February 5, 2013 at 1:57 pm

      That’s incredible! We were certain we’d find out our deal was a mistake! If we had, we were planning on putting up a big stink about it. 🙂 Good to know these glitches have happened to more than just us… makes me hopeful we can find another one at some point. 😉

  • Reply The Happy Homeowner February 5, 2013 at 1:57 pm

    Amazing find!!! That’s the kind of travel I like to do–places I want to go for dirt cheap prices 🙂

    One of my best scores was a $21 RT flight. Or the Greece adventure I went on last year–it was $544 for 8 nights hotel on 3 different islands including all taxes, fees and ferry transfers between islands.

    • Reply Joanna February 5, 2013 at 2:10 pm

      Whoa! It sounds like you’re a pro at finding great deals. A trip to another country AND an awesome deal to boot? Talk about a perfect vacation!

  • Reply Jacob @ iHeartBudgets February 5, 2013 at 2:38 pm

    Heck yes! I love travel glitches. There are entire forums dedicated to tracking deals like this, but they are tough to find, and usually get booked up VERY quickly. Nice work!

    • Reply Joanna February 6, 2013 at 12:40 am

      I like the sound of that! I need to find these forums pronto!

  • Reply Jen February 5, 2013 at 4:01 pm

    Best deal we ever took advantage of was buy 3 nights get 4 free at Disney World. Included accommodations, food and entrance to the park. We stayed at a deluxe resort AND ended up getting an upgrade to a suite with a balcony overlooking the bay. Airfarewatchdog tweets really good travel deals, not sure if you follow them but I know months back there were insane travel deals to Europe (think $150 to fly NY to Paris). If we hadn’t been pregnant and forbidden to fly out of the country, we would have been all over those. I had friends that grabbed that deal though and the airlines did honor it! Not sure why it was so crazy cheap. Travel is one area where we will splurge on though. We don’t have the luxory to be too selective with our travel dates due to both of having cyclical close and financials due each month but we make sure every single day of PTO is spent on vacation every year. Relatives have a condo at the beach and we plan to use a great deal of our PTO spending long weekends there with the baby.

    • Reply Joanna February 6, 2013 at 12:44 am

      When we lived in NYC, we often heard about incredible NYC to Europe airfare deals (though nothing like $150!). Now that we’re not living there, I kind of wish we’d taken advantage of the cheap flights across the pond.

      And agreed on taking as much vacation time as possible. Kudos to you guys for actually doing it! We’ve been terrible with not taking enough vacation the past two years, so that’s gotta change this year!

  • Reply DC @ Young Adult Money February 5, 2013 at 4:05 pm

    Yep that’s a pretty INSANE deal! Our “best deal” doesn’t sound like that good of a deal, but it was for us, all things considered. We went to Maui for relatively cheap because we went with a big group for a wedding. We rented an estate that essentially only cost each person about $150 for the week. It was pretty nice with two pools and two house, right across from the beach. One heck of a deal for Hawaii, if you ask me.

    • Reply Joanna February 6, 2013 at 12:48 am

      No kidding! What an awesome setup. Johnny and I have yet to go to Hawaii solely because of how expensive it would be. You got a crazy good deal!

  • Reply Holly@ClubThrifty February 5, 2013 at 6:52 pm

    Freaky! I would have booked it too! It’s weird how much prices can vary just to go on different days of the week or a few weeks later, etc.

    Anyway, great job!

    • Reply Joanna February 6, 2013 at 12:57 am

      It was just pure luck. I wish there were some rhyme or reason to how we got that deal so we could do it again this year! Vacations = $$$$!

  • Reply JMK February 6, 2013 at 12:48 pm

    Summer of 2011 we did two one week trips with the kids. Both times we flew on points accumulated with our credit card (paid tax only). The hotel in N.O. was 3 nights at $35/night (priceline) and the 5 day cruise was $189 ea on a cruise discounter website.

    The second week we went to San Francisco (free flights again). We stayed 6 nights in a great hotel at Fisherman’s warf (normally $280/night) which we got free with points my DH earns staying at that chain for business travel. Breakfast buffet included! The day before we checked out, we rented a car (points discounts again = $9/day) so the only cost at the hotel was $40 yikes to park it over night the last night. We drove down the coast to Monterey where we had to actually pay for a hotel, $75/night. So between free flights, hotels nights and discounts on everything else we did the entire two weeks was about $500 for a family of 4. Most of our spending was on meals and admission fees.

    • Reply Joanna February 6, 2013 at 2:29 pm

      That’s an incredible vacation deal! You have us beat by a long shot. Accumulating points with a card can be worth so much!

      Sometimes I wish Johnny or I traveled more for work so we could accumulate more travel points! 😉

      • Reply JMK February 6, 2013 at 4:42 pm

        Every year we earn enough points from our personal family spending for two flights to Europe and his business travel earns us the other two. We run a very frugal budget (no restaurants or movies, no cable, used cars bought with cash etc) but if you run EVERYTHING through a card with a good points program it’s pretty easy to accumulate what you need. The only things I can’t put on my card are the mortgage, property taxes and electric bill. Everything else, no matter how small goes on the card and gets paid off weekly (easier for tracking, and no worries about every paying interest).

        Our visa card earns Aeorplan miles (Air Canada). Our gas for both vehicles is $150/week (long commutes). At 1.5 miles/dollar x 52 weeks that’s 11,700 miles right there. It’s 60,000 for a flight to Europe. When add up your internet, cellphone, insurance (house, car, life), groceries, car repairs, tires, licence renewals, Christmas gifts, kids sports fees, school photos and anything else in your budget it all starts to add up. In addition the gas station we use allows you to swipe the actual airline points card (in addition to the visa point). Our grocery store frequent shopper card allows you to convert your points to Aeroplan miles rather than earning store points to redeem on groceries. My husband’s work AMEX card has a feature where you pay $100 per year and every dollar spent on work travel can be converted to an Aeroplan mile (he makes $100 profit per week on his expenses when he travels for work so we really don’t pay any fee. When travelling, is required to charge the misc daily amount whether he uses it or not. Most times he doesn’t use it).
        I find that focusing on collecting one type of points rather than spreading it over multiple points plans is far more effective otherwise you never have enough in anyone place to cash them in. Travelling is the one splurge in our otherwise very frugal budget so we chose a card with rewards that help us travel very cost effectively. For some people a cash refund would be a better program.

        • Reply Joanna February 6, 2013 at 10:31 pm

          Agreed! It sounds like you guys have a great system for getting points! We have one airlines card, and we put pretty much all of our expenses on it (that we can). It pays for a couple flights each year… totally worth it!

  • Reply Brick By Brick Investing | Marvin February 6, 2013 at 9:17 pm

    I can’t remember my best travel deal but I can assure you that it pales in comparison to the deal you guys received. I’ve always wanted to go to Tampa but never made the trip. I heard it’s absolutely gorgeous.

    One thing we are currently doing is applying to multiple credit cards in order to get reward points that we can put towards a vacation a couple years from now.

    • Reply Joanna February 6, 2013 at 10:34 pm

      Awesome! For us, reward points have been the way to go. We’ve gotten several free flights thanks to credit card points!

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  • Reply Mike from JustLuxe April 5, 2013 at 11:49 am

    Before my wife and I were married, and before two daughters, I was lucky enough to be dating (my wife mind you) a wonderful girl who worked for a certain hotel.

    I think our best booking was an ocean front suite on Kaui for $30 a night.

    My wife had their booking system and timing down to a science. We’ve since moved on, had children and now stay in much more budgeted accommodations with the next trip being Anaheim for $50/night.

    The lodging reviews are not great but there are some user posted pics of the room and it’s not below us and is walking distance to Disney. Here we go!

    As mentioned above we capitalize on rewards points, miles (have many family members that travel frequently that love to share) and net deals as much as possible.

    • Reply Joanna April 6, 2013 at 12:13 am

      That’s incredible, Mike! You’ve found some screaming deals. And that’s pretty sweet that you have family members who share miles. If we could find a place for $30/night in Kaui, we’d be there yesterday!!

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