Caye Caulker (pronounced Key Cork-er) is a small island East of Belize City and about 1 mile away from the Belize Barrier Reef. The motto of the island is “Go Slow” and in deciding where to go in Belize, we chose Caye Caulker because of its motto of “Go Slow” rather than Ambergris Caye, whose motto is “Go Fast.” The island is a sleepy, peaceful, laid back island of about 2,500 people.
How to get to Caye Caulker from Belize City
There are two options to get to Caye Caulker from Belize City- by boat or by flight. The boat options are about 30-45 minutes each (albeit, a further taxi from the airport to the ferry dock or vice versa is also needed). The two companies that provide this service are Belize Water Taxi ($18 one way, $28 round trip) and Ocean Ferry Belize ($15 one way, $25 round trip).
The easiest way to get to Caye Caulker, and the way we travelled between Belize City and Caye Caulker, is by flying. Again, there are two companies that provide this service- Maya Air and Tropic Air- we flew with Maya Air at $67 per person each way. When booking, be sure to make sure that you selected the correct airport- flights also depart from the Belize Municipal Airport (TZA) and this would require a taxi from Belize City Airport (BZE) which would add time and cost!!
The flight takes about 10 minutes and provides amazing views! The plane seated about 12 people but was comfortable and a convenient option.
***TIP*** If your flight into Belize City arrives in the morning or early afternoon, to save money, it may be a good idea to take a taxi to the ferry terminal and a boat over to the island of your choice. While we flew, it would have been much cheaper to take a ferry. On our last day, we found it a lot more relaxing to fly back to Belize City and would do this again over taking the ferry as we would have had to depart Caye Caulker much earlier than we did.
***TIP #2*** Once you land in Belize, passengers disembark from the front and back of the plane. As such, if you can’t get a seat right at the front of the plane, choose a seat toward the back so you can get off the flight and to the immigration line faster. Once at the immigration line, there are about five lines for immigration. Choose the lines furthest to the left as these have 2 immigration officials working them.
Where to stay on Caye Caulker
Caye Caulker has zero chain hotels or resorts, which for us was a major plus (except this meant that we couldn’t use points and instead had to pay for accommodation- how un-Fostering Travel of us!!). There are abundant B&Bs, tiny local hotels and hostels. We chose an airbnb “outside” of town. This meant we had a 6-8 minute bike ride to and from restaurants and the beach, which we did not mind at all. Having bikes is EVERYTHING on Caye Caulker; even if you stay in town, it is a fantastic way to quickly move around town and carry groceries and beach supplies.
Another huge factor in determining where to stay in Caye Caulker- air conditioning. The daytime breezes are bountiful and comfortable: nighttime lows of 81F are less than desirable for sleeping. The plus of this temperature is that clothes dry very quickly so you can pack less and just hand wash clothes and hang them up outside.
We determined that amenities are the necessity for accommodation in Caye Caulker: choose the perks you want over the location. With a bike you can easily navigate the entire island in minutes, it does not matter what area where you’re staying.
Where to eat and Cheap Eats on Caye Caulker
Seafood is abundant on Caye Caulker, and lobster is king. More spindly and less sweet than its Maine cousin, lobster is cheap by US standards. Directly from fisherman, lobster was $15 BZ ($7.50 USD) per pound. In restaurants, a whole grilled lobster dinner was on average $20-$30 BZ ($10-$20 USD). Seafood curries are especially popular, and quite delicious.
Our favorite fish by far was the snapper. We purchased a black snapper ($10BZ/$5 USD per pound) directly from a fisherman and grilled it at our airbnb.
Fisherman’s Co-op (pronounced “coop” on the island) is the place to buy fish and lobster daily from 3-5pm directly off their boats. They will let you choose from coolers loaded with their daily catch, and clean the fish for you if you prefer. The easiest way to the Co-op is by going down the street past the electrical supply. It’s incredibly noisy, but an easy way to find it. The Fisherman’s Co-op is on the same street from the Ocean Ferry Belize water taxi, on the opposite side of the island (1 min bike ride).
Many restaurants on Caye Caulker are in people’s homes; fast food spots that serve from converted windows, and sit down joints with picnic tables on the porch. Unsurprisingly, these places provide quality local food at reasonable prices. Unsurprisingly, the “Go Slow” motto applies to food orders too! You could easily snack your way around the island solely on fry jacks, burritos, tacos, fresh fruit and meat pies purchased from tiny windows in resident’s homes.
Highlights for us were Reina’s: she bakes dozens of beef meat pies ($1.25BZ/$0.75USD) daily, as well as coconut cake and pineapple cake. You can purchase directly from her home window (next to her wonderful sit-down restaurant of the same name which we enjoyed dinner at one evening), or her husband drives around a bike with a bright yellow umbrella selling them daily.
Caye Caulker Bakery: I am a sucker for pastries and went to the bakery 5 times in a few days. They have soft cinnamon rolls that are beautifully homemade with local cinnamon which adds a different and delicious twist! They also have sausage rolls and ham and cheese pastries for savory options. We also purchased a fantastic loaf of bread for under a dollar.
Meldy’s: Famed for Belizean fried chicken and seafood specials. She also had a “Chawita” burger with 3 meats that sounded like a delicious way to clog one’s arteries. We ordered a whole lobster, lobster curry, 3 adult drinks and sides for around $30USD. Dinner is served on picnic tables on her porch.
Angie’s Take Out- Fried seafood is her forte, and she makes a delightful Belizean style pasta salad on the side.
Bahia- A one-woman show serving breakfast and lunch at very reasonable prices. Outside of town close to the airport if you need a snack before your flight!
Pelican Sunset Bar- located on the dock on the Western side of the island, this outdoor bar is great to sit and watch the sunset and enjoy a cold drink. They do have bar specials on food so be sure to ask them about this! We had $1 BZ/$0.50 USD wings (SO GOOD), and they also have ceviche and lobster fritters.
Happy Hour on Caye Caulker: you can find them all over the island! Less touristy spots have happy hour from 12 noon to 7p… the busy spots 4-5pm. Happy hour is generally “local” drinks: rum punch, rum & coke, vodka cranberry, and maybe a restaurant specialty.
Things to do on Caye Caulker
Sleep and read, drink and sleep- seriously. Go slow!
Bad news: there’s no real beach in Caye Caulker. White sandy spots with walk-in access are not to be found. Seaweed reigns on the ferry side of the island, and areas with walk-in access sadly lack a beach on which to sit. Docks are the best option for access to jump into the crystal clear water for great snorkeling though- although we did not see a lot of fish close to the island! We did find a walk-in beach behind the Lazy Lizard: directly in front of Sea Dreams hotel close to Back Street, but there is a dirt road directly in front of the water access.
Snorkeling is FANTASTIC. The Belize Barrier Reef is the second largest in the world (after that relatively well known one in Australia). Only 30ft deep at its maximum depth, snorkeling is a viable and enjoyable option for non-divers. We swam with a manatee, nurse sharks and lots of color fish and unique coral. Don’t miss it if you enjoy snorkeling. We used Carlos Tours ($70USD per person) for an all day snorkeling tour (9:30a-4:40p) which included lunch. They were friendly and fun and made the experience great by not rushing the snorkeling experience at the 3 stops. We swam at Coral Gardens, Hol Chan and Shark Ray Alley.
If you like the “happening” tourist spots, head to the Split. Sip & Dip has hammocks, swings and tubes in the water at the outdoor bar. Lazy Lizard has all day music and people.
Conclusion and General tips for Caye Caulker:
If you want to go slow, Caye Caulker is a fantastic choice of a destination for you.
US Dollars are accepted everywhere and at the time of writing at $2BZ=$1US$
Drinking tap water is not recommended on the island, so you’ll need to buy bottled water, which is inexpensive from any convenience or grocery store.
Many of the “bigger” grocery stores take credit card if you’re out of cash!
Clothes dry fast in the heat and breezes, pack light on this casual island. Moisture wicking clothes are recommended!
Take lots of sunblock, a few good books or podcasts, and something comfortable to sit on at the “beach” and you will have an amazing time on this lovely island!
We stayed at the Renaissance Aruba Resort and Casino for 4 nights in April for Melissa’s 30th birthday. If you have not already read about how we paid for the Aruba trip, see this link here for that post. This post today is a review of the Renaissance Aruba Resort and Casino and our overall trip report about the hotel.
The Renaissance Aruba Resort and Casino has two parts to it- The Marina Resort, and the Ocean Suites Resort. We stayed at the Marina Resort, which is the only one available to book using points. The Marina Resort is adults only, while the Ocean Suites is a family friendly resort.
Our flight arrived at 1pm and we went straight to the hotel. We had called in advance to ask for an early check in and they told us that if a room was available, they would accommodate us. Unfortunately, the room was not available so we waited by the pool until the room was available. Check in at this hotel is from 4pm onwards. Our elite status (which we have through the AMEX Luxury Marriott credit card) was not recognized by the hotel- ever since Marriott and SPG merged, we have heard a lot about how elite members are not being recognized.
The Marina resort had a lot of airline crew checking in each day- we saw crews from United, JetBlue and TUI check in daily. It seemed to be more of a business hotel than a resort hotel. The hotel is above a shopping mall; it is a constant busy vibe throughout the shops and the hotel lobby.
We booked a standard room with a “partial view” in the Marina Resort. When booking this, we thought that the view would be a partial view of the Marina- fine- we have stayed at resorts with this kind of partial view. We figure since we will be at the beach all day, we don’t really need a full view of the beach or the marina from our room. Sadly, the view that we had was neither a beach or a marina. The view was of the interior of the hotel, including lobby and other rooms. See this picture in the summary section of the “view” from our room. This hotel should definitely clarify the views from the rooms to be standard with what other hotels list.
The room was basic; no particular amenities were provided, and the fridge was not cold. There was a nice sitting area in the room which is always a nice bonus to have somewhere other than your bed to sit down, read and unwind.
There is a reason that we posted to our instagram story the massive celebration people gave when happy hour began. Overall, Aruba is a pricy destination. The hotel was no different. Cocktails were about $10-$15 each, beers were $8. Surprisingly, we did not think the prices for room service were too bad compared to some other hotels that we have stayed in, however, we preferred to eat breakfast at restaurants off the hotel property.
Beach Access and Beach Area
The Marina resort has no direct beach access. A boat can be taken from the Marina resort to the Flamingo Island- this boat runs every 15 minutes, and while a bit of a pain, is well worth it to see the Flamingoes and enjoy a private beach. This beach is only for hotel guests- they do sell a limited number of day passes to the beach for non-hotel guests though. The entrance to the water was rocky, and chairs were very close together, so we only visited once! But the flamingoes were very fun to see!
Aruba is WINDY. Pro: you rarely feel hot, despite the 80+F temperatures. Con: Sand. Everywhere. We went to 4 other beaches on the island and were getting sand blown directly in our faces, but found that the beach at the Ocean Suites hotel was quiet and protected— pleasant in comparison. There is not technically a “beach,” however, it’s more of a man-made lagoon overlooking the ocean waves coming into rocks. Regardless, you can get a spot under a palapa and have food and drinks delivered throughout the day. The employees at the Ocean Suites hotel were vastly more customer service-oriented than at the Marina hotel.
Free self-parking was plentiful for hotel guests; there is a lot a few minutes walk from the Marina hotel, and across the street at Ocean Suites. Both are available for hotel guests. A golf cart was available to take you from one hotel to the other, but it only took about 6-7 minutes to walk.
The hotel is located on the main road in Aruba, so it’s very easy to get anywhere. Unfortunately the tourist area where the hotel is located is where all the traffic occurs- rush hour was no joke. Plan your driving accordingly!
We came to the room to be greeted by a delicious cake celebrating Melissa’s birthday, which was a lovely touch. Several grocery stores were within a close to reasonable drive of the hotel. We did not eat much food at the hotel, preferring to go to restaurants close by. The room service prices were, surprisingly, quite decent.
The pizza served on the Ocean Suites beach was excellent- in fact, the service on the beach was excellent. The staff was very attentive and came around multiple times to check on us and see if we needed anything else.
Overall, this hotel was unimpressive.
The partial view language on their website is something that the hotel really needs to address- other hotels often will say “Partial Ocean View” or “Partial Lagoon View” or “Partial City view”.
Our elite status was not recognized, and we could not find management at any point during our stay.
The Marina resort was not relaxing- it felt very much like a business hotel and hard to unwind.
We would not recommend this hotel- however, if you do find yourself looking at this hotel because of the the location or because you want access to Flamingo island, stay at the Ocean Suites.
We are currently working with two awesome clients on a birthday trip to Italy in October of this year using a mix of points and cash. If you haven’t seen already, we have a booking service where we will come alongside you and work with the points you have to find the best trip for you (or if you don’t have points, we will show you what points you may be able to acquire for the trip you want to take in the future).
One of the clients said this about our services:
So today’s post is about our trip to Aruba to celebrate Melissa’s 30th birthday. We wanted to answer some questions that we get from people about our travels.
How do we do it?
What is the actual out of pocket cost that we are paying for this trip?
What points are we using for this trip?
From Atlanta to Aruba, we used 17,158 Southwest points to book Peter’s ticket on Southwest. Because we have a Companion Pass, when Peter flies, Melissa can fly for free; just paying the taxes so we paid $15.60 each. These points were earned from the Southwest credit cards that we opened in December 2017 to earn the companion pass. See that post here.
On the return, we used Air France miles to fly on Delta Airlines. This is one of our favourite ways to book Delta and this cost 14,500 Air France miles + $90 in taxes each. Caribbean countries tend to have high taxes so there is no way around this. These miles were earned on our everyday use Chase cards that earn Ultimate Rewards and they were transferred at a 1:1 ratio over to Air France.
Our hotel for this trip was the Renaissance Aruba Casino and Resort. This hotel gave us direct access as guests of the hotel to Flamingo Island and was one of the reasons we booked it. Otherwise, it would cost $125 for a day pass to the hotel to be able to access the island. This hotel cost 35,000 Marriott points- these points were earned from the sign up bonuses on our American Express Marriott credit cards that we opened in 2017 when we renovated our kitchen (See this post for that information).
Flights paid for with points, hotel paid for with points- as a result, parking is often one of the most expensive parts of our trip! We will, once again, park at the most convenient parking at the Atlanta Airport- Fast Park and Relax. In fact, time is money, so this is the cheapest option for parking at Atlanta airport! Thanks to our wonderful readers, we have earned a number of free days of parking here and used these certificates for 4 days of free parking. Thank you. If you have not tried it already, sign up today for your first day of parking for free. We did have to pay for one day of parking which cost $10.50.
Car Hire in Aruba
We hired a car through Sixt and paid $141.63 for the 4 day rental. As we only booked this trip about 7 weeks ago, this seems high and in all likelihood, were you to book further in advance it would be less.
Food in Aruba
Aruba was not cheap! Most products there are imported from the US so you are looking at regular US prices + the cost to ship them to Aruba + tax. We saw this 12 pack of Coors Light in a grocery store for almost $30!!!
We usually find a local bakery to buy breakfast items and bread rolls for lunches. For dinners, we normally find local restaurants, not touristy restaurants. We LOVE happy hours at hotels for drinks and when we are out on our own, we’ll make our own drinks for the beach.
Summary of costs
Car $141.63 + $9 to fill it up
TOTAL $770.67 or $385.34 each
Travelling like this really opened up a new world to us! We always look at the cash cost of the flights and hotel when we are booking (albeit, we did book a bit late so the prices were probably a bit inflated). We would have been expecting to pay around $800 each roundtrip for the flights, and $1,600 for the hotel!!! $3,200.00 out of pocket before we had even left our house!
This was definitely one of our more expensive getaways due to the fact that Aruba was a high cost destination. However, combined we paid less than the cost of one round trip ticket from Atlanta for 4 nights in Aruba.
Having worked in the travel industry for the past four and a half years, and also having travelled extensively, I hear a lot of fear, complaints, and reservations about “other” airlines that are not the typical, known airlines in Britain and the US (British Airways, United, Delta, and American). Would you know it, these airlines are actually dirty compared to other airlines out there!! Skytrax, the UK based airline consultancy, surveyed passengers recently and compiled a list of the Top 30 Cleanest Airlines worldwide. Their survey is based on passenger ratings of “the standards and quality of cleanliness in the aircraft cabin for airlines. Cleanliness and presentation of seat areas, tables, carpets, cabin panels and washrooms all contribute towards the final results.”
Unsurprisingly, there are a lot of Middle Eastern and Far Eastern airlines on this list of the cleanest airlines in 2018. I am not surprised by the number 1 airline being a Japanese airline as they are always hailed for cleaning up after themselves at major sporting events such as the Olympics and World Cup.
Top 30 cleanest airlines:
1. ANA All Nippon Airways
2. Eva Air
3. Asiana Airlines
4. Singapore Airlines
5. Japan Airlines
6. Cathay Pacific Airways
7. Qatar Airways
8. Swiss International Air Lines
9. Hainan Airlines
11. Korean Air
12. Cathay Dragon
13. Austrian Airlines
14. China Airlines
15. Thai Airways
16. Garuda Indonesia
17. China Southern Airlines
18. Bangkok Airways
20. Air New Zealand
21. Etihad Airways
22. Qantas Airways
23. Hong Kong Airlines
24. KLM Royal Dutch Airlines
26. Oman Air
27. Virgin Australia
28. Air France
29. Turkish Airlines
30. Philippine Airlines
Their rankings then go on to rank the cleanest airline in continents and specific countries. Honourable mention to these below:
Best Airline Cleanliness in Africa- South African Airways
Best Airline Cleanliness in Australia/Pacific- Air New Zealand
Best Airline Cleanliness in China- Hainan Airlines
Best Airline Cleanliness in Europe- Swiss Airlines
Best Airline Cleanliness in North America- Air Canada
Best Airline Cleanliness in South America- Azul Airlines
Best Airline Cleanliness in the Middle East- Qatar Airways
The great thing about this list is that you can book many of these airlines with frequent flier points and bank points that transfer to these airlines or to their partners. Contact us today for more information on booking one of these airlines! Our new booking service can assist with using points you have in a “dirty airline” to book a seat on one of the cleanest airlines!
Have you flown on any of these? Are there any surprises on this list that you see? Maybe you have flown on one of these airlines and differ in your opinion. Let us know in the comments below!
Our friends Nate and Elizabeth are headed to Italy in a month and we sat down with them a couple of weeks ago to talk some general travel tips for Italy as well as some tips for their time in Rome!
We hope this is helpful to anyone who is trying to book trains in Italy, deciding whether to book a train pass in Italy, find cheap accommodation in Italy,
Booking Trains in Italy
Italy has an expansive train system that links the country very well. See this diagram for a map of the major routes- light blue lines are the regional lines (which tend to stop at every small town along the way), while the darker lines are the faster lines. Click the image for it to enlarge.
It is possible to travel between Milan and Rome in under three hours on the highspeed train. The main train company in Italy is the state-run Trenitalia, however, Italo is a private company founded in 2011 to compete with the monopolized Trenitalia. While Italo is not as extensive as Trenitalia, it does serve the major routes- make sure to check the exact station that you are departing from once you have bought your ticket as Italo tends to depart from alternate stations than Trenitalia.
See the pictures below with a cost comparison of the three sites for comparison. This is a one way ticket from Rome to Milan on March 21, 2019. As you will see, Italiarail charges a booking fee for their service, while Trenitalia does not. .
For a similar time, Italo is the cheapest train. For the same train, you will pay a 15 percent markup on Italiarail if you book it with them versus booking directly with Trenitalia.
For these long distance and high speed trains, prices are dynamic like airline prices so make sure you book in advance and read the fare rules carefully- some tickets are only valid for the specific train time that they have been purchased for.
Local trains do not have to be booked well in advance- trains in and around the major cities can just be bought on the day of travel. One HUGE thing to make sure you do when you do get tickets for these trains, however, is to validate them. Because the local train tickets do not have a specified time assigned to them, the tickets must be validated on the day that you use them. Yellow boxes (old model which are common at stations outside of the major cities) or the white and green box are often what you should look out for to validate your ticket- insert the ticket into the validation box and they will be time stamped. Give yourself ample time to get the ticket validated- some platforms do not have validation machines so you may need to go to another platform to get them validated. You can then proceed on the train when it arrives. Tourists are often fined (commonly around 50 euros) for not validating their ticket on the day of travel on these local trains. Sometimes the validation box is marked with “Convalida Biglietti Ferroviari” (Validate train ticket here”)
Train Passes in Italy
You will likely see many ads for train passes in Italy once you have started looking for tickets. Are train passes in Italy worth it? If you don’t make plans in advance and want to be able to be very flexible in your travel- sure. As mentioned above, tickets are dynamic in their pricing so if you suddenly decide one day to go to Milan, then ticket prices could be very expensive. Then, they can be worth it. However, if you have planned out your travel in advance, then booking your tickets in advance can be much cheaper.
Saving on accommodation
When we went to Italy in 2013, our average nightly cost was $51. You read that right. This was a mix of airbnb type accommodations- an entire apartment to our own in Bellano, a cosy room 2 minutes from the beach in Viareggio (used as a base to explore Cinque Terre), a private loft room in a lovely Italian family’s home in Rome (which is no longer on Airbnb) a hotel in Sorrento, and an overnight train.
If you are hard pressed for time, we would suggest trying to stay more central to the sites you are visiting. Our Rome and Cinque Terre accommodation was further out from where we would ideally have liked to stay- however, we had time on our side and could afford a little bit longer of a train ride each morning.
Combine a bed and travel in one- consider night trains where possible. In retrospect, we should have paid more for our sleeper cabin. We were in a cabin with 2 Italian men who smoked and talked loudly for most of the night. When we did try and get some sleep, Melissa was guarding the passports with her life while Peter (who can sleep anywhere) had a lovely night’s rest!! Pay for the upgraded, private cabin and not a shared cabin.
The intercity trains generally have a standard seating section, 4 person sleeper cabin, 3 person sleeper cabin, and 2 person sleeper cabin.
Other than these hacks, if you have points in hotel programs- there are many hotels across Italy that are part of IHG, Marriott, Hyatt and Hilton (to name a few of the major hotel groups) that have hotels available to book with points.
Rome Pass Review
We have had a number of questions about this from people that are going to Rome. Is the Roma Pass worth it? The Roma Pass was one of our best buys in Rome! There are 2 versions- one that is valid for 72 hours (38.50 euros), and one that is valid for 48 hours (28 euros).
Both come with 2 museums free of charge and then discounted rates at any museum after that. They also come with unlimited metro rides. The best 2 museums to use it for to maximise the value (and skip the line!) are the Colosseum (18 euro) and Borghese Museum (20.50 euro).
Some other quick hit notes and general tips for Italy travel:
Set aside a daily budget for gelato- and don’t abide by it at all! You’re in Italy! You won’t get any budget saving tips from us on this one! Eat to your hearts desires! Melissa scored big with “gelato con broiche;” gelato served in a brioche bun instead of an ice cream cone in Cinque Terre!
Beware of your belongings at all times- Rome (and other popular sites in Italy) are known for pickpockets and be sure to know where your belongings are.
Be aware of the gladiators offering to take pictures with you- gladiators at the Colosseum, the Pantheon and the Spanish Steps (among other places) will offer to let you take their picture with them. If you accept, be sure to settle on a price before hand. We saw many tourists having their camera held until they paid an amount that they obviously had no idea about to begin with.
House wine for the win- sometimes cheaper than bottled water, the house wine at restaurants is what the locals are drinking!
Know about closed days- Wednesdays in Rome most (Catholic) tourist sites are closed. The Accademia in Florence (where the David statue is located) is closed on Mondays.
Catacombs- St. Callixtus is regarded as the best in Rome.
Spanish steps, Trevi fountain and other popular sites- go first thing in the morning to avoid crowds
Market days- Villages across Italy have regular market days that are very easily found by googling (or Asking Jeeves- your pick) “Market day _____”. Outdoor markets will have fruits, cheeses, meats, local wines, fish and trinkets. We had many inexpensive lovely lunches from these markets and it is a great way to eat on a budget across Italy, and enjoy a picnic at a historic site.
We have spoken to a number of people who may not be able to open credit cards for one reason or another or are against opening credit cards. That is perfectly fine! There are still ways to earn lots of points without opening credit cards.
One way is through online shopping portals. Think of these as gateways to the sites that you are about to purchase from. You go through the gateway and earn cashback or points for doing so. Since there are SO many shopping portals out there, the best place to start is at Ca$hback Monitor which scans these shopping portals and tracks the best cashback/points available for that store. Their home page lists the most popular stores and the highest earning points that are offered to shop at those stores.
Here are the steps you will need to take to start earning cashback or points:
Go to Cash Back Monitor and search for the store which you are going to purchase from.
You are redirected to the online store, and continue with your transaction. Make sure you do not close this tab as the tracking will be lost. Pay for your order and wait for your items to be delivered. ***BONUS*** Some stores offer in store pickup so if you were planning to go in to purchase the item anyway, making your purchase through the shopping portal earns you extra cashback or points.
The shopping trip is logged, your purchase is verified by the shopping portal, and soon thereafter you earn cashback/points for your purchase.
We're going to use the example of FedEx Office as recently, Peter had a purchase that he needed to place with Fedex Printing.
Starting with cashbackmonitor, he searched for FedEx Office and saw that shopping through the British Airways shopping portal was awarding 6X Avios points* per dollar spent at FedEx Office (Avios is the currency of the British Airways Rewards Program). While there were other options and it would have been possible to earn cash back for the purchase, our preference is points as we can then turn those into travel purchases.
Clicking the link for the British Airways Shopping Portal, he then logged in and proceeded to "Shop Now".
Each transaction is logged with a click ID and the points then go into pending status. When the purchase has been verified, the points are awarded and go into the British Airways account. For each dollar spent at FedEx, we earned 6 Avios points.
This order was going to be placed regardless of whether he had gone through this portal or not, so earning the points was a cherry on top! Had he chosen to earn cashback from Top Cashback (the highest earning cashback portal with FedEx), this would have returned 5.5% in cashback! It is your preference to select the best shopping portal to earn points or cash back of your choice.
So, which shopping portals our favourite, and what stores are on shopping portals?
First of all, our favourite three portals:
Ebates: Ebates is a cashback site that is consistently at the higher end of payouts. Use our referral link here to get started today. You will earn a $10 bonus after your first purchase of more than $25. NOTE- if you have an American Express Credit Card that earns Membership Rewards you should opt to earn these points instead of cashback. Use this much better link to start earning Membership Rewards instead of cashback- we don’t earn anything from this link but it is a MUCH better way to earn points if you would prefer them over cashback.
Airline portals: Delta Skymiles shopping, American Airlines Advantage shopping, United shopping, Southwest shopping, or from the above example, British Airways shopping - earn airline miles for your purchases
Extra Bux: another cashback portal.
Literally every major US store is on the shopping portals. Plus- through the British Airways portal, all the major UK stores are available. Where do you commonly make purchases? A sampling of the stores that are on shopping portals:
Amazon- Top Cashback pays 10% for womens, mens and kids apparel. 8% for devices, 4% for garden and outdoor purchases to name a few (Note- Amazon does have a list of excluded purchases)
JC Penney, Kohls, Macy's- these stores frequently pop up offering big payouts- currently JC Penney is paying out 10 United Airlines miles per dollar spent.
Home Depot- buying a fridge? Top Cashback is paying out 12% on purchases made at Home Depot through their portal.
Apple Store- consistently pays out 3% cashback and 3% in airline miles
The big picture
If you are already shopping online, why not top it off by earning points or cashback for your purchases?
We booked a trip to Cancun over Christmas when we saw last minute availability with points. We have wanted to review the Intercontinental Presidente Cancun ever since we stayed and wrote a review about the Intercontinental Presidente Cozumel in March 2018.
With a combination of points and one free night earned through our IHG Rewards Credit Card, we stayed five nights. The hotel was retailing for $418.00 per night (plus tax) for our dates. We used 35,000 IHG points per night for 4 nights, in addition to our free night. Our out of pocket cost for the room was $0!
The hotel is older than others in Cancun, but the beach at this hotel is widely regarded as one of the best beaches in Cancun Hotel Zone. The lobby and check in area for the hotel is very modern, and there is a bar that features Hora Feliz (2 for 1 drinks) from 7-9pm each night.
See these pictures of the dreamy white sand beach. Again, we had read in many forums and reviews of the hotel that it has the best beach in Cancun.
There were plenty of palapas and beach chairs available and they were not all claimed by 8am like we have seen at other hotels. Closer to the resort, there were many palm trees which provided adequate shade. The palapas did have electricity which was a huge bonus as we were able to charge our phones here one afternoon. At night, the palapas’ lights came on and they look amazing.
Because of our status as Platinum Elite Members with IHG (this comes automatically with the credit card), we were upgraded to a Deluxe Ocean View Room. Our 10th floor room had amazing views of the ocean!
The room was smaller than the Intercontinental Presidente Cozumel hotel room that we had (albeit, in Cozumel we had a suite). As you can see from the pictures, there was not a lot of additional room. It is officially listed at 366 square foot and you definitely felt this smaller room size- in the evenings we found ourselves not wanting to stay in the room too much as there was not really anywhere comfortable to sit. Viewing the hotel website, the club rooms are larger so these rooms are not indicative of all the rooms at the hotel. We were offered the opportunity to upgrade to a Club room for $55 + 19% tax per night. Club rooms come with access to the Club Lounge at this hotel which comes with breakfast in the morning and drinks and hors d'oeuvres in the evening.
There are a number of restaurants on the property- Le Cap Beach Club, El Caribeno and Cafe Urban Restaurant. Prices were reasonable for an upscale hotel- “expensive” for Mexico though- 230 peso for 3 tacos ($11), compared with 45-48 pesos at off-resort hotels. We did have lunch on the beach a few times from Le Cap- the Mediterranean Pizza was fantastic.
As we like to eat local, we passed on this and instead ate dinner twice at El Galeon del Caribe, where we had some of the best seafood, ceviche and amazing pescadillas (fried fish tacos) for 16 pesos each. Another night we ate dinner at El Poblano ZH, a lovely family owned restaurant that was within walking distance from our hotel. We also had breakfasts at VIPS- a Denny’s style restaurant that was also within walking distance of the hotel.
The Intercontinental Presidente Cancun Hotel attracts a much different crowd than hotels down the strip- there was no loud music blaring like the Riu Hotels, no dancing competitions like at the Dream Sands Hotel, no volleyball competitions like the Fiesta Americana Cancun Villas. On the expansive beach of the Intercontinental Hotel, a lovely volleyball court was available for guests to use but we did not see any real games of volleyball take place- just some families knocking a ball around every now and then.
One thing we noted, was the number of airline staff that checked into this hotel on a daily basis. This could explain the "sleepiness" of the hotel as the airline staff tend to check in for a night and depart soon thereafter.
Overall this is a great hotel with an amazing beach. If you want the atmosphere of a club, the Riu Hotels would be a better option.
In areas without reliable public transportation, or in places that we know we are going to need to take a multiple hour drive to reach an attraction, we love to rent a car and enjoy these sites at our own pace. No company shooing you along on their time, no stopping at 10 resorts to pick up people, and no crammed bus. We enjoy taking our time, visiting local restaurants instead of the tourist traps that these tours take you to and most of all, in Cancun and Cozumel, we enjoyed going to off the beaten path beaches that we could not have gone to without a vehicle. Just look at that beach!!
The main roads in Quintana Roo are in fantastic condition. In Cozumel, the road that rings around the island is a wonderful highway with breathtaking views on the eastern side. Just watch out for dune buggys on the days that cruises are in town!
There is a new toll road between Cancun and Merida is a beautiful straight shot and while hefty in price (up to US$25 if you were to drive the whole way), it is well worth it to take this road and get to Chichen Itza before the crowds! (Peter- It is also a VERY fun road to drive on because there is hardly any traffic and you can go VERY fast! Melissa…… we do not promote speeding, Peter! )
Our experience from Cancun in November 2018 and Cozumel in March 2018 is hopefully going to help anyone else who is considering renting a car on holiday in these areas. We got a DIRT CHEAP car in Cozumel- we have posted a picture of the proof of this, below- $4.34 was the TOTAL cost of our 3 day rental!
See these tips below for renting a car in Quintana Roo.
Hack to avoid the mandatory insurance
Oftentimes, the cheap cars come with a catch- once you go to pick up the car you are surprised by the mandatory insurance that is required and end up paying much more in insurance than you did on the vehicle.
When paying for our car rentals, we use our Chase Sapphire Reserve card that, not only earns 3X points on travel purchases, but also comes with built in primary auto collision damage waiver. While this is great, Mexico law mandates liability insurance coverage and this can be much more expensive than the rental fee paid. Your cheap car for the week all of a sudden turns much more expensive when you have to purchase the insurance on the spot.
Be sure to look for a rental that includes the liability insurance. In both cases of our rentals in Cozumel and Cancun, when we got to counter we just pointed out to the reps that the liability insurance was included in the price of the rental and as a result, did not have to pay one more cent over and above what was already paid for!
Watch out for those topes
Topes are speed bumps along the roads. We did not encounter many of these in Cozumel in March 2018, but in Cancun they were widespread. They are littered across the roads to control speeds- and in all honesty are rather effective at what they do. However, if you are not aware of these, they could easily leave some damage to your vehicle that could leave you in some financial and physical pain!!
Carry cash to fill up
Most fuel stations that we filled up at in Mexico did not take credit cards. Be sure to carry cash for these fill ups. As a bonus, in both Cancun and Cozumel we encountered full service stations where you can have your windscreen washed, car filled up, and at most fuel stations they also offered to check out oil levels (we declined this though). See the note below of why you should NOT stay in your car.
Watch out for the fill up scam (aka don't be a dumb tourist!)
There are two frequent scams that we had read about in multiple forums, but had no issues with whatsoever in our time in Cancun or Cozumel.
a. You are waved up to an open bay and the pump is not zeroed out. Your car is filled up and all of a sudden you are faced with the bill for your fill up, and the bill for the person who was there before you. Get out of your car and make sure the pump is zeroed out! In Cozumel, there were signs with this warning.
b. The old switcheroo scam. After filling up your car with 500 peso, you are told you only gave the attendant a 50 peso bill. The bills are a similar colour and if you are not aware of this, you may pay a lot more than you expect! Learn some Spanish, greet your attendant, be attentive, be friendly, and say the amount you are paying to the attendant. Peter counted the amount he was handing over to the attendant and gave the exact amount- before handing it over, he confirmed that it was the correct amount.
We found driving in Quintana Roo very safe, very cheap, and very fun and would do it again! We were able to get to beaches that we would not have been able to get to without a car.
It is important to know about the above to help you and your budget while in the area!
Let us know if you have ANY questions about renting a car in Cancun or Cozumel.