Nine money saving tips for your Cuba holiday

Posted: 27-May-16 12:39

A vacation to Cuba may seem pricey but it can easily be within reach if you follow a few money saving tips. From planning out your airline to your lodging there are all sorts of ways to save cash along the way. The number one tip in making your money stretch, however, has to do with putting in the time for research before you arrive.

Nine money saving tips for your Cuba holiday

A trip to Cuba may not exactly be the most inexpensive trip you ever make but it definitely doesn’t have to be the priciest. Like with any holiday it’s important to do some research ahead of time, grabbing up some bargains and making plans so that you don’t end up busting your budget along the way.

Time’s Money magazine recently published a number of ways to help offset the costs, attributed to author Megan Craig of GoBankingRates. The article, “9 Tips for Planning an Affordable Vacation to Cuba” offers several ways Americans can save money when visiting the island.

Although the article points to estimates that the typical American will spend at least $1,500 for a week in Cuba, the writer acknowledges that price could even be higher, depending on the options you choose. That’s why Craig says it’s so important to follow the advice of travel professionals in planning out your trip ahead of time.

Flights

The first key area is your flight. Based on information collected from a travel expert, the author suggests flights could decrease in price in the future as U.S. commercial airlines take up flights, possibly beginning this fall. Craig reminds readers that U.S. airlines began applying for those routes earlier this year.

As of now though, the article points out that most Americans have to pay a premium fare on a charter flight from select U.S. cities. Craig does write that KAYAK, a low-fare finder, has recently started displaying flights from the United States to Cuba. To save money, the author offers the advice of travel experts to shop around by putting in different airports in the site’s parameters, plus dates and locations to see if you can grab a better rate.

Travel fees

The article also recommends planning for other airport travel fees in advance. Craig points out that while Americans are now allowed to legally travel to Cuba for reasons including people-to-people trips, professional research and humanitarian work, you will still need a Tourist card. Normally tour operators, airlines and travel agencies secure these, but if not you’ll need to buy one at the airport for around $20. Craig suggests another $25 fee that Cuba used to require in leaving the country is now added directly into vacation packages or flights.

One more fee to be aware of, she says, is travel insurance. You have to have proof of it, including a medical care benefit. The author claims it’s cheaper to get it before you reach Cuba. Craig says if you don’t have proof of usable medical insurance you’ll have to buy it from a company called Asistur at the airport and that could cost hundreds of dollars. Other sources notice the travel insurance is already included in the chater flight price.

Taxis

Once you leave the airport, the writer suggests that her expert recommends the best way to travel is via a private taxi, especially if you’ve never been there before. While Craig admits collective taxis, trains and public buses are inexpensive, too, she says there are some drawbacks. Sometimes, she says, public buses are crowded and unreliable while visitors may find the trains uncomfortable and old.

According to data derived from LonelyPlanet.com, the author writes a private taxi charges around $1 CUC to start, and then $1 CUC per km around the cities. Renting a car, she writes, is the more expensive option.

Lodging

As for saving money on lodging, the writer offers advice on renting a casa particular over a hotel. She suggests that Airbnb has made this easier to do, crediting data that more than 13,000 travellers booked the service last year, its first year in Cuba.

In referencing the cost, the article quotes Collin Laverty, President of Cuba Educational Travel describing the savings:

“People should think about doing this for all or part of their stay. You can stay in a nice room for $20 per night.”

The writer compares this to the cost of hotels, which are advertised in price per person, not per room.

Tours

Another way to save money, according to the article, is to bypass a guide. While it may take more effort on your part to research and schedule activities you can be creative and come up with a personalized tour this way. The writer acknowledges that Americans do have more options than before, but you still need to make sure your visit includes approved activities like engaging with the Cuban people to satisfy U.S. federal requirements.

Bring cash

While carrying cash may seem counterproductive to saving money, the writer notes you will need it in Cuba. The article recognizes that ATMs are limited and that U.S. credit cards and debit cards don’t work properly on the island. Instead, the author notes visitors will need to convert money over to CUCs. While Craig suggests the average exchange rate is 1:1 between CUCs and dollars, visitors will have to pay a 10-percent penalty plus another possible 3-percent transaction charge if tacking money out from ATMs, so plan for the extra cost.

Tipping

You will also need money for tips. The article references advice of giving a 10-percent tip at restaurants, unless there is already a service charge. Other advice on tipping calls for about $20 CUC for all-inclusive resort staff, $2 CUCS per person per day if you choose to use a tour guide, 25 cents each time you use a public toilet and 25 cents to $1 CUC each time you need to park a car. The author recommends carrying small bills and change with you so that you don’t overspend by tipping too much.

Apps

Another tip listed in the article has to do without downloading apps that help you find low-cost or free concerts and events. Craig recommends Ke Hay Pa’ Hoy for things to do and AlaMesa for dining and reservations. Other suggestions include Havana Good Times for entertainment, Jibbigo for English-Spanish translations and Galileo Offline Maps to help you with directions. The key, she writes, is to do this before you arrive in Cuba because finding the Internet is sometimes difficult and expensive on the island, plus all of the mentioned apps work offline.

The article circles back to research as the key to a successful trip to Cuba. By planning out your costs for a variety of activities you will be more knowledgeable about how much you have to spend and not overspend. Not having a plan ahead of time, the writer and her experts claim, can be one of the most expensive mistakes you make in travelling to Cuba.


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