The tickets are booked and hotel reservations are made for our trip to Spain. Of course, all this economic turmoil makes me a bit nervous, but the fact that we finally finished saving up for our 6-month Emergency Fund makes me much more comfortable. Not that we feel our jobs are in trouble, but you never know.
We did try several things to minimize costs for our 7-night stay in Spain:
Airfare: Save 50% By Combining Trips
We already committed going to a friend’s wedding on the East Coast, and so as is our habit we looked to see we could “add on” a trip somewhere interesting in that direction. For example, the ticket from West Coast to East Coast was around $350, while tacking on the trip to Spain made the flight cost $750. Effectively, we only had to pay $400 each to fly to Spain – not a bad deal! (Other European countries were $200-$400 more for some reason.)
In addition, we managed to book an open-jaw trip into Madrid and out of Barcelona for the same price. This allows us to spend more time in both cities, and we don’t have to pay to travel back to Madrid for the return flight.
We still have to decide whether to take train or plane from Madrid to Barcelona. The train is more expensive, but might be more fun? Airplane looks to be both slightly faster and cheaper, though.
Hotels: Cashing in Rewards Points
A hostel in Madrid would starts at about $25 per bed per night, for a total of $50 per couple. But after getting married, I had to put the hosteling days behind me. It’s okay, I get a better night’s sleep in a hotel. A basic hotel in a decent location with a double/queen bed starts at around €80 = $120 per night. It goes up really quickly from there.
However, I have collected a fair number of the ever-useful Starpoints, mostly from my Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express, so I decided to look at what was available. I found the Westin Palace Hotel, first built in 1912 by King Alfonso XIII as a place for his wedding guests to stay (naturally). Rated Spain’s #1 Hotel by Condé Naste magazine, it runs €305 = $450 per night!
However, I could book a room for only 12,000 Starpoints. On top of that, if I booked 4 nights, I got the 5th free. So now I had 5 nights for only 48,000 points total. At the $450 rate, that made each Starpoint worth 4.7 cents. Put another way, my Starwood card was earning me 4.7% cash back. Even at the budget hotel rate of $120 a night, I still was getting 1.25%. Except now I’m sleeping on a Heavenly Bed and staying in a palace!
Barcelona was even more expensive, but we found a simple hotel for €85 = $125 per night.
We both hate guided tours, so we usually just plan things out by ourselves with guidebooks and the internet. We like Rick Steves, Rough Guides, and Lonely Planet the best. We usually buy one guidebook that we can highlight and mark up, and also bring along three other ones + a language phrasebook from the library. Of course, we risk losing the books in which case we’d have to replace them, but I think it is worthwhile. This time around, I even checked out some Spanish language CDs. Dos cerveza por fa vor!
Standard procedure is to try and find a grocery store, and stock up on water and local snacks. A few picnics for lunch with regional junk food is always fun and tasty. Ethnic foods can also be a great value. The best tasting falafel I have ever eaten was in Paris and cost €5.
Of course, I don’t want to skimp to much on food. I will be looking forward to consuming large amounts of tapas and house wine at every hole-in-the-wall I can find. I can’t wait to try chocolate con churros! If I generously estimate about $40 a day per person for food, and given that we would pay about $10 a day for food at home, that’s an added cost of about $30 per day.
We briefly considering eating at El Bulli with Ferran Adria, but it only opens from April to September each year. Besides, I don’t think I’d be willing to drop $400 on a single meal, even if it was voted the best restaurant in the world.
Adding this all up – airfare, hotel, and food should cost an estimated $400 + $125 + $210 = $735 per person. Add in remaining transportation and sightseeing, and I think we will still come in under $900 easily. A lot of money still, but hopefully resulting in some lasting memories.