As I announced last week, I recently went to Cancún, Mexico in hopes to catch a cheap flight back to Europe and spend 6 weeks over there, riding my motorcycle with BF to Morocco. On a fine day, I was browsing for flights and saw a $150 flight from Cancún to Madrid, Spain on Pullmantur. Even with the $200 or so cost of a last minute flight from Spain to Paris, it was a steal. But in order to catch those deals, you have to pack the minute you see them and leave running to Mexico, since the flight is usually 48 hours later and that is an 18 hour trip at best. I don’t really mind the trip, I just plug in my music and watch the Belizean countryside, then sleep on the night bus in Mexico, so it was really worth it. IF I could find the deal again.
Very sure of myself, I decided to leave for Cancún anyway, in hopes the Sunday flight would eventually lower its price to $150. The company often discounts them, I saw no reason why not. On Saturday night, it was still over $1,000, one way. Sigh. And I had spent $50 to go to Cancún.That would have been the price of going to Guatemala City with BF, comfortably seated in his car with AC, no stops, only when we feel like eating or resting. Instead I took a total of 5 buses and crossed Belize under the pouring rain.
I had to get out on a certain day to renew my visa, hence the rush, and last minute flights from Guatemala are horribly expensive, so I was willing to take the risk and try a few travel agencies I know in Cancún who often have heavily discounted tickets in charter flights bringing back tourists from their all inclusive resorts. Last time I landed in Milan for $400. It is just about crossing the ocean and then there is always a way to Paris.
The lesson I have learned the hard way is if cheap is just in front of you, you may want to go for it. For example if you live in Madrid and feel like holidaying in Cancún, be ready to jump in one of those $150 flights, that is even cheaper than going to the Canary Islands. But it you live elsewhere, traveling to Spain, then from Cancún to your final destination reduces how much of a deal you get.
If everything worked out perfectly I would have spent
$300 round trip Madrid Cancún (not sure I would get a deal on the flight back)
$350 round trip Madrid Paris last minute since you can’t book it in advance either, they usually are less than $80 each way
$100 round trip from Guatemala to Cancún including $30 visa to Belize, they charge you $15 even to cross the country for two hours…
$50 miscellaneous expenses to eat on the way or maybe find a cheap hotel room for a night if the flights are on the next day.
Last May, booking the flight a bit more in advance from Guatemala, I paid $1,100, landed in Provence where my bike was waiting for me, and did pay another $100 to BF for gas money to Guatemala City. Total: $1,200.
Is the hassle worth it for $300? Not really. There is also always the doubt that the deal won’t be available on the way back. Had Madrid been my final destination the cost would have been slashed to $450, making the $750 saving really worth it. Remember I don’t work and am taking a 60 days holiday so it is not vital that I leave on Friday after work, and Paris is my hometown so my mum won’t mind if I stay two more days before taking a flight. However it makes planning complicated, and crossing two borders even more.
In the end, I arrived in Cancún, went to the airport, where Pullmantur’s website proudly announced they had a booth where you could buy tickets, found out that was a big fat lie, that the flight was full and you could only buy tickets online anyway, and had to fly last minute on a regular airline, which you know is never cheap.
Total: $1,530 for a Delta flight via Atlanta and NY. At least I fly back to Guatemala, not Cancún.
It would still have been over $1,800 for a last minute ticket out of Guatemala so I saved a little bit but could have booked the flight a week in advance instead of trying my luck and paid about the same. Or made the decision back in April and paid $1,100 at most. Being impulsive, disorganized and stubborn with my cheap ways just cost me $500. But hey, I am in France!
Have you ever experience cheap being more expensive in the end?
This post was featured on the Financial Carnival for Young Adults, Yazekie Carnival, Eyes on the Dollar, My Wealth Desire, Carnival of Personal Finance, thank you!
When we flew to Hong Kong we used one free ticket and a paid one, however the free flights were limited. Two lay overs, one with 6 and another 7 hour the total time was 26 hours to get home. Saving $1500 with an irate wife was really costly, I would never do it again.
happy wife, happy life! I would have flown solo and let her buy a direct flight if hers was paying anyway.
FI Pilgrim says
Ugh, situations like this seem to happen to me all the time. I’m finding out that the line between frugal and cheap is a dangerous one to walk, and frustrating too!
yes, it is a fine line. I hope it happens less and less with time.
DC @ Young Adult Money says
I don’t travel often so when I do I usually purchase everything well in advance. I guess that means I don’t get the best deals, but I like knowing what I’m paying and the dates/times of the flight and whatnot long before I go. I think one example, though, is when I’ve tried to DIY or tried to do a cheap fix on some home repair or upgrade only to end up paying a professional to come in and do it the right way. Replacing our tub drain is a good example. My friend’s Dad was essentially going to do it for $75 or $100. It didn’t work out because it was a much more difficult job than we thought. Ended up paying a plumber $240 to do it (which actually wasn’t a terrible price, believe it or not). Hey, at least the tub doesn’t leak!
There are great early bird deals actually, and I read the best time to book a flight is about 6 weeks before, so if you know your dates (which I usually don’t) it is pretty good to book early.
Matt Becker says
I think there are lots of cases where it hurts you to start off cheaper. A recent example for us is baby monitors. We went through two cheap versions before ponying up for a better version that we hope will last a few years. We definitely would have saved money by spending more for quality to start with. With travel, especially now that we have a baby, we usually purchase our tickets in advance. We can’t really do the ultra last-minute deals and waiting until the last week or two has typically only cost us money.
Sure, if you end up buying the nice version after two cheap ones you lost money! I have done it way too often too.
John S @ Frugal Rules says
Ouch! That has happened to me numerous times while travelling. I think I am doing the right thing and trying to save money…err…be cheap 😉 and it ends up costing me more in the long run. That said, at least you’re back in France. 🙂
yes, that’s something, and it was not SO bad in the end.
I do think you have to snap a good deal when you see it. I’ve found super trips in the past and never found them again when I checked back.
Yes, this almost always backfires for me. And then I get to hear W say “Told ya so” over and over again. AH!
As the saying goes…Pennywise Pound Foolish. I’ve gotten caught trying to save some money but ending up spending more because I was trying to be cheap. The prices of flights fluctuate so much…it’s like the stock market or something. I’ve tried to wait for the price to drop again to catch a deal that I saw earlier only to see the price continue to rise and me ending up paying more for waiting.
it also helps to clear the cache in your browser, some company inflate the price if you look too often.
Jason Hull says
I got a free MRI from the veterans hospital, thereby saving $300 in copayments from my health insurance. In exchange, I had to wait more than two months to get my knee surgery, so limped around that entire time. 2 months of discomfort for $300 in savings was not an exchange I’d do again.
I remember reading about that one, not worth the hassle, at all!
Stefanie @ The Broke and Beautiful Life says
I always book flights last minute- not looking for a deal but because I never know if a job or audition is going to come up and conflict. I have enough points for a free flight at this point but they expire September 30th. I’m considering using them for a flight to California around Thanksgiving- but it makes me nervous that I won’t be able to use the flight if something comes up and God only knows how expensive it will be to get back to New York afterwards.
sometimes you have to pick your battles. I would check if the flight can be amended or given to someone, or the points redeemed for something else you can use like hotel nights.
Budget and the Beach says
Oh I’m sure I’ve done that in my time. Especially when I waited too long to see if flights would come down and all they did was go up.
there is a new feature on kayak that shows the probability of the flight going up in the next 7 days. Not sure how accurate it is but a good reminder that they usually don’t.
My Wealth Desire says
When my kids are still small we tried to fly with one stop-over. The hassle, stress and time wasted waiting for the connecting flight is not worth it. Then I decided every time we travel, we need to choose direct flight. Direct flight usually command higher price but the you save a lot of time and no stress.
that’s true, especially with kids, unless you have no choice.
We went out of our way to use a free hotel stay once before an early flight. We were headed to Hawaii, so decided to save some money and use this place instead of the ones by the airport that were not even expensive. The place was a dive and there were people fighting in the parking lot all night. We were a little worried about getting robbed or worse. Needless to say, we got little sleep and were pretty tired puppies by the end of the next day. It would have been worth the $70 to stay somewhere better and get a good night’s sleep.
Same with those red eye flights, if you get the super early flight but will be tired all day and lose a day of holiday better fly later and enjoy the holiday more.
Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says
I’m finally getting it through to Rick that cheaper usually means more trouble, whether it’s extra travel hassles or having the replace the cheap junk later with better stuff. Sometimes it’s just not worth the savings!
no it is not. the mindset is hard to change though.
Jon @ MoneySmartGuides says
I always try to look at a situation objectively. “Is saving my $X really worth it in the long run” or “is spending $X more for the convenience of something worth it to me”. From how I answer these questions is what I end up doing. I’ll spend more if it makes sense and spend less if it makes sense. I don’t get caught up in the “I can’t spend any more than $X” dilemma.
that is a good way to look at things, if you can afford it, convenience is often worth paying for.
Tara @ Streets Ahead Living says
It sucks when these “savings” mistakes hit us but it at least teaches us a lesson. I tried getting the $35 cell phone plan with only 300 minutes but ran out of minutes a week into the plan and I could only buy another prepaid month for $45 with 1,200 minutes (I couldn’t just pay $10 more). So I ended up paying $80 for a month of cell phone service when I just should’ve paid the $45 initially. At least now I know!
I wonder why in spite of knowing we keep making those costly mistakes..
MMD @ IRA vs 401k Central says
The older I become the more I tend to agree with the statement “you pay for what you get”. Unfortunately when it comes to traveling in other countries where I don’t know the culture or could easily be in danger, I’ll gladly pay the extra to keep safe.
The Norwegian Girl says
oh yes. I´ve often taken several flights around Europe to get from Norway to Gran Canary, just because on paper it´s cheaper than taking only one flight. But then there are all the hours spent waiting on various airports.. with their expensive food.. and then you get hungry.. or perhaps feel the urge of wasting money on the tax free shops…