The Deal Detective is SmarterTravel's resident bargain hunter, Kate Hamman. She's always on the lookout for new travel deals and invites you, dear reader, to submit your own questions.
Chris writes, "My family of five have a week off from college and high school during Thanksgiving. We would like to travel to Mexico or Costa Rica to practice our Spanish and (it) seems affordable? We like to hike, beach, and explore town and cultural activities. Renting a house would be nice. Flying out of Sacramento is best, San Francisco/Oakland - ok."
Let's face it; although the holidays can be a joyous time, they can also be quite stressful. Planning a vacation at the last minute can add extra pressure to an already heightened experience, so I'm impressed that you're starting the process now. It should help in putting together a stress-free Thanksgiving getaway.
Since you're toying with the idea of a vacation rental, you'll first need to decide where you want to go. Narrow your destination options by comparing airfare and searching for special promotions available with a specific airline.
For instance, Alaska's new fall sale has round-trip flights from San Francisco to Los Cabos starting at $190 per person; to Puerto Vallarta starting at $230 per person; and to Ixtapa starting at $278 per person; as well as several other destinations in Mexico. Taxes and fees are not included. Book by September 10 to take advantage of the deal, but also keep an eye out for other offers from competing airlines. (Also note Alaska has included November 29 and 30 in its list of blackout dates, so you may want to extend this vacation should you book the sale.)
As an example, let's say you choose Puerto Vallarta as your holiday destination, meaning that the cost of airfare for five would come to $1,150 without taxes and fees. Next you need a place to stay, and VRBO is a great place to start searching for a vacation rental. I priced a beachfront condo near Los Muertos beach that sleeps five people and starts at $155 per night in November (with taxes and fees). If you were to stay for three nights, your total would be $465. To be honest, you may be able to find two hotel rooms for a combined price that is less or equivalent to the price of a rental, but you wouldn't be able to cook your own meals—and some people like to do just that around Thanksgiving.
For the sake of comparison, let's see what this trip would cost versus booking an already bundled vacation package. Your trip will cost about $1,615 without airfare taxes and fees, or about $323 per person. I priced a three-night package through Pleasant Holidays, which starts at $384 per person (without taxes and fees). The deal includes round-trip airfare from San Francisco and three nights' accommodations at Villa del Palmar Beach Resort and Spa. The travel dates for this offer are only good through mid-October, but it's likely similar deals will be available for the holiday period.
So, to recap, start by finding airfare to a destination that fits within your budget, then search for a vacation rental that suits your needs, and finally sit back on the beach with an umbrella and a drink—or a drink with an umbrella—and give thanks for a stress-free holiday.
As for my other readers: Where would you recommend spending Thanksgiving? Have you already made your plans? Where will you be this year when it comes time to give thanks? Please let me know what your travel plans are, or if you need a little help getting there.
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All prices, dates, and booking details listed here were valid at the time of publication. Some information may have changed since that time.