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Some of the things that often get overlooked when people are thinking of taking a vacation or booking a trip are the everyday things that we cannot do without.
For a lot of travelers the focal points of trip planning are often the costs associated with getting to their destination and the costs of accommodation at their destination so the other costs of being on vacation (the costs of everyday life) often don’t get considered….but they can really add up.
A family of 4 may well be able to book cheap airfares and a great value hotel for the family vacation (they may even be able to use miles and points for both) but that won’t stop things like the cost of eating out costing a significant amount of money.
If you don’t have elite status the chances are that breakfast isn’t included in your hotel room rate (unless you’ve already paid extra) and, unless you’re on a very special deal or you’re at an all-inclusive resort, lunch and dinner are almost certainly not included either.
Feeding four people three times a day for a week-long vacation can be very expensive if you’re eating out (especially if you’re vacationing here in the US where everyone expects a tip) – the cost of this can form a significant part of your budget.
If you’ve rented a car for your trip there’s a chance that your hotel will charge you to park it overnight and, as at a lot of locations the hotel is the only viable parking option, you’re forced to pay whatever extortionate rate the hotel chooses to charge – that’s another cost that often gets overlooked.
The more I travel the more I dislike paying for things that I either don’t want, things that I consider to be an inconvenience and things that I consider to be over-priced…and hotel breakfasts definitely fall into all three of these categories.
Even a simple continental hotel breakfast can set you back $15/person (more at some resorts) and when all you really want is a bowl of cereal and a mug of filter coffee to get your day started, that’s a lot…especially if there’s 4 of you and you’re doing this every day for 7 days.
On top of this, you’re limited to having breakfast at the times the hotel decides to offer it, you have to be dressed if you don’t want to be asked to leave and you have to share a dining space with every other holidaymaker in sight and whose children don’t come with a mute button.
Quite simply, breakfasts at hotels can be an expensive pain in the a**
But it doesn’t have to be like this.
More and more Joanna and I look to book away from traditional hotels and into properties where we have a bit more space, more independence and, most importantly, our own kitchen….and quite often the cost of the accommodation is cheaper than a hotel in the same neighborhood.
When I mention booking a place with a kitchen most people assume that I mean that we’re looking to book something like an AirBnB but, while that’s certainly sometimes the case, quite often we mean something quite different.
If we’re looking to book a beach vacation somewhere like the Caribbean or in Hawaii we’ll look to rent a unit at one of the upscale timeshare resorts run by the likes of Marriott or Starwood.
These resorts provide most of the amenities of a regular hotel resort except that the units are often considerably larger and they can come with a full kitchen.
Here’s a floorplan of a unit at the Marriott Maui Ocean Club on Ka’anapali beach as an example:
The sofa you can see in the living area is actually a sofa bed and, as you can see, the unit is a pretty good size and will sleep up to 4 guests (you can get units that will sleep up to 8).
The kitchens you find at these kinds of resorts offer just about all the conveniences of home so you can cook as frequently or infrequently as the mood takes you.
Now here’s the important bit:
When I mention the idea of getting a unit like the one above I usually hear one (or both) of the comments below:
- “I go on vacation to get away so I don’t want to be cooking all the time – it’s supposed to be a break“
- “I’ve checked how much these types of units cost on the Marriott/Starwood/Hilton (etc..) website and they’re way too expensive“
Both are valid comments but the first one is missing a major point and the second one is missing some information.
Firstly, no one ever said that you have to cook all the time. We certainly don’t when we get units like these.
The fact that you have a kitchen in the unit means that you have the choice of eating in your own unit or eating out – the kitchen doesn’t stop you from eating out.
Marriott’s Kauai Lagoons – Kitchen
Having a kitchen means that we can get provisions for breakfast from a local grocery store and have a relaxing start to our day without having to face the world before we really want to….and without paying over the odds.
The option of having breakfast elsewhere hasn’t been taken away from us but we now have a choice of what to do.
We look upon lunch in a very similar way.
If we’re spending the day around the pool or on the beach at the resort the kitchen gives us the freedom to head up to the unit at our leisure and make some snacks to keep us going to dinner (sandwiches, salads etc…).
If we feel like paying $12 for a small sandwich and some chips by the pool then that option is still there…but having a kitchen gives us a choice.
The second point to address is the one of cost – these units don’t have to cost what the hotel websites (like Marriott.com) will tell you they cost.
We use Redweek.com to rent these kind of units from the actual owners (corporations like Marriott just manage the properties, they don’t actually own them) and this saves us an incredible amount of money.
Take Marriott’s Aruba Ocean Club as an example:
For a randomly selected week in May/June Marriott is charging $423+ per night for a 1-bedroom villa (this doesn’t include taxes and fees)…
….while the same unit can be booked on the Redweek website for just $264/night...and this figure includes almost all taxes and fees:
As a point of comparison the Marriott hotel in Aruba (which is next door to the Aruba Ocean Club) is charging over $300/night for an entry-level room:
Which do you think is the better deal?
Lastly (with regards these resorts), in some busy resort locations you’ll find that the properties have started to charge for parking (the Andaz Maui is a prime example of this as are a number of properties in Las Vegas). At the timeshare resorts parking is still very much free. You may not think this means a lot but when you add up the savings they probably equal the cost of a nice meal out for two….so they’re not insignificant.
When we visit various cities around the world we obviously can’t book units like the ones I’ve been discussing so far but, if we’re looking to stay more than a couple of days, we still look to see what we can get that gives us the maximum flexibility.
Sure, we still like to book nice hotels every now and again (especially if there’s a great deal on or if we can book entirely with points) but we also look into AirBnB and extended-stay properties.
What some people don’t realise is that the large hotel chains like Marriott and Hilton offer properties designed for people staying in one place for longer than a few days. Examples of these are the Residence Inn properties from Marriott and the Home2 suites by Hilton.
While these properties used to be found primarily in less tourist-y areas (because they were mainly aimed at long-stay Business people) they can now be found in some fantastic city centre locations.
Take the new-ish Marriott Residence Inn London Bridge which opened in August last year.
This property may not have the large fully equipped kitchen that the resort units I mentioned earlier have, but it still offers units with a separate bedroom and living area and, importantly, units with ovens, hobs and microwaves.
On top of all this the property is very well located. Here are some approximate walk times I wrote about when the property first opened:
- 10 minutes walk to London Bridge Station offering easy access to sights like the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben, the London Eye and Bond Street/Oxford Street shopping
- 10 minutes walk to sights like Southwark Cathedral and Borough Market
- 12 minutes walk to the river Thames and the Southbank (with its theatres, bars and restaurants)
- 15 minutes walk to Tower Bridge.
- 20 – 25 minutes walk to the Tower of London and St Katherine’s Dock
That’s pretty impressive!
Just like the timeshare rentals I wrote about earlier, these units give you a lot more independence than a hotel room – they give you the option of eating out (as you would do if you book a hotel) or catering for yourself and saving some cash.
I’m not suggesting that renting timeshare units or booking AirBnBs or extended-stay properties is for everyone….I’m just hoping that more people become aware of these options, understand what they offer and take them in to account the next time they’re booking a trip.
Most importantly I want to help eliminate the idea that if you book a unit with a kitchen you’re somehow not going to have as relaxing a break as if you were staying at a hotel – you don’t have to use the kitchen if you don’t want to and the resorts which offer these units generally offer most (if not all) of the amenities you’d expect to find at a regular hotel.
I speak from experience when I say that these types of units can really save families money. Joanna and I have definitely saved quite a bit by moving away from defaulting to hotels for our vacation accommodation and I can only see that trend continuing.