While spring approaching and summer is on its way, you might be dreaming of a tropical getaway to the Caribbean. Perhaps your ideal trip involves a beach, a book and a fruity drink. Or, maybe you love snorkeling, kayaking and other outdoor activities that are best in the clear, warm waters of the Caribbean.
Before you plan a trip to the Caribbean, it’s smart to come up with a realistic budget to guide you. But, you should also remember that all Caribbean trips aren’t created equal — and they don’t cost the same, either.
Here are five tips that can help you score Caribbean travel at a price you can afford.
1. Use airline miles for flights
While travel to Caribbean islands like Jamaica, Aruba, and Turks and Caicos isn’t cheap, one of the most expensive components of the trip is also one that’s unavoidable — airfare. You’ll have to fly to any of the Caribbean islands from the U.S. if you want to go there, and this isn’t cheap.
The best way around this is to use airline miles to cover your flights. Don't have enough racked up? An airline credit card could help. Signup bonuses may even give you enough to pay for a flight or two, so it's worth considering. Just make sure you can actually afford this option and that you aren't going to end up landing yourself in financial trouble. And remember, rewards credit cards typically require your credit is in good standing. Here's a referesher on "good" credit score ranges.
2. Cover hotels with hotel points or flexible travel credit
Just like you can cover flights with airline miles, you can pay for hotels all over the Caribbean with hotel points. While you can earn hotel points through paid stays, you can also rack up points by signing up for hotel credit cards. Numerous hotel brands with loyalty programs offer hotels around the Caribbean, including IHG Rewards, Hilton, Hyatt and Marriott.
3. Look for last minute package deals
Last minute package deals are offered all over the web, including websites like Expedia and Travelocity. Package deals can make it easier to compare pricing and book your trip. Expedia even promises you can save “up to $603” by booking your airfare and hotel at once, for example.
There are caveats to be aware of with package deals, however. Booking airfare through a third-party discount website like Expedia or Priceline often means getting stuck with a “Basic Economy” fare if you don’t specify. These low-cost fares make you pay for carry-on luggage and don’t come with an assigned seat.
Not only that, but booking through a third-party can mean missing out on airline miles you would accrue if you booked direct. You could also miss out on status-related perks, like early boarding or upgrades.
The same is true with booking hotels, of course. If you have status with a hotel brand and your status gets you special perks, like early check-in or an upgrade to a room with a better view, the hotel may not recognize your status if you don’t book direct.
4. Take a cruise
While taking a cruise isn’t the same as enjoying a land-based trip in a tropical paradise, you can score many of the same perks for a lower cost. Cruising may help you avoid paying for airfare if you can drive to a port. And, even if you do have to pay for airfare, you'll probably pay less for a flight to a city with a cruise port like Ft. Lauderdale or Miami than you would for a flight overseas.
Cruising can also be downright cheap. A seven-night cruise with discount carrier MSC Cruises out of Miami starts at $429 per adult, for example. Kids also cruise free on select itineraries.
Cruising the Caribbean can give you the opportunity to explore several Caribbean islands on a single trip, and let’s not forget that your “hotel” and meals are included in the cruise fare.
5. Book an all-inclusive resort
All-inclusive resorts in the Caribbean offer yet another way to save. These properties come in all versions, ranging from budget to luxury and everywhere in between. Those on the lower end of the scale can often be booked for $200 per night or less for a family of four, but you’ll definitely want to shop around and compare.
The best part about all-inclusive resorts is the fact that, like cruises, they include all your meals and entertainment in a single nightly rate. All-inclusive resorts often include alcohol as part of the deal, which can be a huge money-saver if your idea of a tropical getaway is one that includes margaritas or plenty of beer.