One Month in Downtown Cancun and an Airbnb Fiasco

I stayed in Cancun from December 6th to January 6th. This wasn’t a vacation as I was working my document review job most of the time I was there. The main purpose of this trip was to get away from the cold weather in Missouri and to get some alone time. The trip was successful for those purposes.

I decided to go on this trip after finding a $345 round trip ticket from Springfield, MO (SGF) to Cancun. SGF is a very small airport so it can be difficult to find cheap fares to international destinations starting from SGF. I paid for the airfare using credit card points so I wasn’t out of pocket for the airfare.

The trip started off fine. I stayed the night before in Springfield since I had an early morning flight. I got a shuttle from the hotel to SGF about an hour and a half before my flight was to depart. It took about 5 minutes to get through security. I have TSA precheck, but there was no line so it would have been just as fast without precheck. The first leg of the flight was from SGF to Dallas. This was a small plane and seating was 4 across in 2 groups of 2. The guy that was sitting next to me moved to sit next to his friend so I had my own row for this flight. For the Dallas to Cancun flight I was assigned a middle seat. I was hoping the flight wouldn’t be very full so I could switch seats, but as I boarded the plane I could see it was going to be almost full. I was pleasantly surprised when I got to my row and my seat was taken. The lady sitting in my seat told me she had moved to sit by her husband and asked if I’d be okay taking her aisle seat. I gladly took that switch.

The flight was smooth and we actually arrived in Cancun about 20 minutes early. To save money I took a bus from the airport to the downtown Cancun bus terminal. The ticket cost me $6 USD. If I’d had Mexican pesos it would have only cost about $4.75 USD. Still it was a lot cheaper than the $25 a taxi would have cost.

After arriving in downtown Cancun, I pulled up my Airbnb address on Google Maps and started the approximately 10 minute walk to my Airbnb. I had no problems finding the neighborhood. After that I started The problem I had was the address listed on Airbnb didn’t exist. It was a short street so it should have been easy to find the address. I asked several residents on the street and none of them knew where the address was. I pulled out my phone and pulled up the Airbnb listing so I could contact the host. At this point, I still thought this would be a minor problem.

I called the number listed on Airbnb and it was for Spain. Nobody answered, but a message in Spanish came on. My Spanish wasn’t good enough for me to understand what it was saying. I left a message and hoped it was actually going through. I then decided to contact Airbnb support through their chat feature. I got a message that they were unusually busy and it would be a while before they could get back to me. It was over an hour before I got a response from Airbnb support. They had no clarification on the address and stated they would contact the host and get back to me.

I decided to go to dinner and hope that they would have the issue resolved by the time I finished. The entire time I was walking around with a heavy backpack since I didn’t have anywhere to put it while looking for the Airbnb. It took me over an hour to eat dinner and return to the area where the Airbnb should have been. I didn’t get a response from Airbnb, until after I had returned to the area. The response stated that they had been unable to contact the host and that they would keep trying to contact the host and get back to me. I let them know that I needed somewhere to stay right then and asked for help locating a place. I received no response to that message.

At this point it was dark and a light rain had started. Walking around in the rain all night didn’t seem to be a good option. I got a hotel room for the night at a cost of $71 and decided I would figure out the Airbnb situation in the morning. I didn’t get any further response from Airbnb support that night.

When I woke up in the morning, I had a message from Airbnb support that they still hadn’t been able to contact the host and I could cancel the reservation for a full refund if I wished. That was fine, but I still needed a place to stay. I asked for assistance in finding a place to stay and once again did not receive a timely response. I had to be out of the hotel by 11am so at 10am I got on Airbnb and looked for a new place for the month. Since I was now booking at the last minute and needed a place that allowed instant booking, the amount of places available was much fewer than it had been when I originally booked my Airbnb. There were no places left that were close to as cheap as my original room. I ended up having to pay $300 more than my original room for the new room.

Everything went smoothly with the new place. It was easy to locate and was as described. Airbnb eventually got back to me with a refund of the original room. I left a poor review of Airbnb support, but they never followed up on it. Overall, I was seriously disappointed with Airbnb support. I’ll be much more reluctant to book Airbnb in the future and will make sure to have a plan B if things go wrong.

The rest of the trip went smoothly. My room was in a good location. I could easily walk to Parque de las Palapas or Mercado 28, both of which had many places to eat. There were also a couple of grocery stores, several convenience stores, a Walmart, and several other restaurants within reasonable walking distance. When I had extra time, I would take the public bus to the beach or the mall. The bus fare was only about $1.

It wasn’t the most exciting trip since I spent most of it working in my room. Still I enjoyed the trip. Being able to take long walks in the sunny weather almost every day helped improve my physical and mental health. Overall, the trip was well worth the cost even though the trip got off to a bit of a rocky start.

One Week of Travel Spending

This is what I spent during one week of travel. My travel didn’t go exactly as planned . Two days before I was set to travel to Thailand to get some dental work done and visit my Thai girlfriend, the dentist contacted me and stated that my scheduled appointment dates would no longer work. They offered two new times for appointments and stated no other times would be available during the time of my Thailand trip. This led me to have to change my travel plans and cost me money in the form of two new airfares that had to be purchased. Also the new dates required me to make two trips to Pattaya while in Thailand when I previously could have gotten all the dental work done during one trip to Pattaya. This did not make me pleased with the dentist. I will be asking for a discount on the remaining dental work, but I doubt I will receive any compensation for my inconvenience and additional expense.

To make things worse one day before I was set to travel my girlfriend told me that she would not be able to visit me in Pattaya as planned. This didn’t cost me any additional money, but it did mean that the two air fares I had purchased for her would go unused and be a waste of money. This wasn’t a great start to the trip.

Sunday 9/29: The day started with a $1.50 bus ride to the airport to catch my Southwest flight from Kansas City to Chicago. This required taking two buses and quite a bit of time. While I was waiting to transfer to the second bus I realized I had forgotten my water bottle. I had time to walk over to Walmart and purchase a bottle of water for 50 cents. The second bus ended up being a half hour late. I had plenty of cushion built in to my arrival time at the airport. Still, I was about ready to call an Uber when the bus finally showed up.

Once I was in Chicago I needed to take the train to my hotel. This was a bit of journey because I landed at Midway airport and my hotel was near O’Hare since that was where I would be flying out of the next day to Bangkok. This required taking two trains. The total travel time was about an hour and a half. One ticket was good for both trains and cost $3.00. The train ride went smoothly. I did make a mistake in not using the bathroom while at the airport. I assumed there would be one at the train station and there was not. I really had to pee by the time I switched trains. After arriving at the second train stop I needed to take a city bus for $2.25 to travel the last mile to the hotel.

Before checking in to the hotel I bought a $3.33 McChicken meal from the McDonald’s across the street from the hotel. After a couple of hours of watching football I was hungry again. The snacks in the hotel snack bar were predictably overpriced so I ended up having another $3.33 meal from McDonald’s. I had a McDouble the second time to switch things up a little bit.

Total spent for the day: $12.41. That is a pretty low amount for transportation to and from the airport and two meals.

Monday 9/30: I try to eat light or not at all on days that I’m flying. My flight was at 12:55pm so I wanted to eat something before the flight. I bought a pack of mini-donuts for $1.50. That and water from my refilled water bottle was all I needed for the morning and kept me from spending any money on food or drink at the airport. I took a free shuttle from the hotel to the airport. The rest of the day was spent on the plane so I didn’t have an opportunity to spend more money.

Total spent for the day: $1.50

Tuesday 10/1: I was on a plane for most of the day which made it easy to not spend money. Arrived in Bangkok about 9:30pm and took a free shuttle to my hotel. Went to 7/11 to buy a cold bottle of water for twenty cents, then returned to the hotel and slept.

Total spent for the day: $0.20

Wednesday 10/2: This was a very lazy day. I woke up after just a few hours of sleep and was tired all day. Spent $2.02 for some snacks from 7/11 and some grilled meat from a street food vendor for breakfast. Spent $4.66 for more food from 7/11 for lunch and dinner. Spent $39.34 on airfare from Bangkok to Phitsanulok to see my girlfriend the following week.

Total spent for the day: $46.02

Thursday 10/3: Had a free breakfast at the hotel. Checked out at 11am and took the free hotel shuttle to the airport. Bought a bus ticket from the airport to Pattaya for $4.25. Once I arrived in Pattaya I took a mototaxi from the bus station to my hotel for $3.93. Had lunch at the McDonald’s in the mall across the street from my hotel for $4.55. I wasn’t very hungry in the evening. I bought 2 donuts for 65 cents from the Mr. Donut shop in the mall and called that dinner.

Total spent for the day: $13.38

Friday 10/4: I took a baht bus from near my hotel to the Terminal 21 mall. The Terminal 21 mall is an airport themed mall that is interesting to explore. I had a meal a Thai macaroni dish and a soda at the food court there for $1.80. After that I went to the movies and spent $13.12 for the ticket, a large popcorn (it would be a small popcorn at a U.S. Movie theater) , and a bottle of water. That is about what I would pay for a movie and a popcorn in the U.S., so it wasn’t that great of a bargain for me. After the movie I took the baht bus back to my hotel. The baht bus cost 66 cents round trip. During the afternoon I bought a plane ticket for $43.83 from Phitsanulok to Bangkok for the return portion of my trip to visit my girlfriend. In the evening I bought some snacks for $1.15 from 7-11.

Total spent for the day: $60.56

Saturday 10/5: Spent $4.57 for breakfast at Burger King. Spent $6.56 at Carl’s Jr. for lunch. I should really stop eating fast food all the time since it cost more than Thai food and is bad for me. I spent $7.32 at the grocery store in the mall for snacks. This wasn’t a frugal expenditure as approximately $5 of that total was for a bag of cheese curls. I crave my fast food and junk food too much. I broke my reading glasses and bought a replacement pair from the Daiso store in the mall for $1.97. I usually get my reading glasses from the dollar store. Although these glasses are still very cheap they seem to be better quality than the dollar store glasses. I bought a big pork pao for 92 cents from 7-11 for dinner.

Total spent for the day: $21.34

I ended up spending $155.41 for the week. The two plane tickets made up most of that total. I also paid $450 for my October rent and $19.89 for my Regal Unlimited monthly membership fee. I didn’t include those in the total since they had nothing to do with my travel. Spending almost all of one day on an airplane and crossing the international date line helped keep my expenses low. My hotel stays had already been paid using credit card points so there was no hotel expense.

If my girlfriend had joined me in Pattaya I would have spent more money since we probably would have visited some local attractions. My entertainment was mostly limited to free activities such as walking around the mall, walking along the beach, and swimming in the hotel pool. Since I’ve been to Pattaya before I didn’t feel a need to visit any attractions on this trip. The primary purpose for this trip is to finish my dental work and visit my girlfriend. If this trip were for entertainment I would have spent more, although probably not a lot more.

Why You Should Always Pay in Local Currency When Traveling

When you are using a credit card in a foreign country and asked whether you would rather pay in dollars (or whatever your home currency is) or the local currency, you should always pay in the local currency.  This is because if you choose to pay in your home currency rather than the local currency you will be overcharged.

This is due to a scam called dynamic currency conversion. This “service” is provided by the credit card payment processor. It is touted as a benefit to the consumer since it is easier for them to understand how much they are paying when the price is paid in their home currency. However, it is obvious to me that this just a way for the merchant and card processor to make actual profit. If it was actually a service the merchant would explain the choices and disclose that there is a fee for using the home currency. In my experience they never disclose that it will cost you more to choose your home currency.

When you use dynamic currency conversion you are charged an extra fee for converting from the local currency and home currency and a much worse exchange rate is also used. This results in you being overcharged for your purchase by several percentage points. Even though this overcharge is just a few percent it can really add up over several purchases or on a large purchase.

I have a couple of examples from my current visit to Thailand. I am having some dental work done that is going to cost me a little over $1200. After my first visit I was asked to pay for half of the cost of the dental work. I was asked whether I wanted to pay in dollars or baht. Since I was aware of the dynamic currency conversion scam I knew to choose to pay in the local currency of baht.

Out of curiosity of how much extra I would have paid for using dollars, I noted the price for the dollar option. By paying in dollars I would have paid $637. By paying in the local currency and letting my credit card company convert the currency from baht to dollars I only paid $616. If I had opted to pay in my home currency I would have been ripped off of $21 by the dynamic currency conversion scam.

Unfortunately, sometimes the merchant doesn’t even ask you if you want to pay in your home currency or the local currency. I had that happen at a Thai pharmacist. He didn’t say anything about paying in dollars or baht. It wasn’t until after I signed the credit card slip that he gave me an additional slip showing that the price was charged in dollars.  The credit card slip I signed showed the price in baht, although it may also have displayed the price in dollars somewhere on the slip. I will be sure to check my credit card slips more carefully from now on and specify that I want to pay in baht even if they don’t ask what currency I want to use. Although I was only overcharged $1 by the pharmacist I will be disputing the purchase amount. I do not want them to profit at all from this scam.

I am hoping that someday merchants will stop using dynamic currency conversion or the credit card companies will not allow the payment processors to add-on dynamic currency conversion charges. For now, all I can do is decline to pay in my home currency and stop frequenting merchants that try to rip me off.

I need to get a dental implant in addition to the dental work I’ve already had done. Since my current dental office tried to rip me off I will not be getting the implant from them. After my current dental work is done and payment is completed I will let them know why I am not getting the implant from them. Perhaps if enough people complain and stop using merchants that employ this deceitful practice it will stop being used.

In addition to always paying in the local currency, you should make sure that you always use a credit card that does not charge a foreign transaction fee. This a fee (usually 3%) that many credit card companies charge you for making a transaction in a foreign currency. There are many credit cards that don’t charge this fee so the fee can be easily avoided. Make sure that any credit cards you bring for international travel do not charge a foreign transaction fee. I brought three credit cards with me for this trip and I made sure none of them charge foreign transaction fees. There is no reason to pay more than you need to.

Were you aware of the dynamic currency conversion scam? Have you ever been victimized by this scam?

Four Nights in Vegas for $41.62

One of the suggestions last week when I asked for ideas to spend my money on was travel. I didn’t have any travel plans for the rest of the year at that time. Since I go to Vegas almost every year and hadn’t been there yet this year I decided to research the feasibility of a Vegas trip.

Another reason I wanted to go to Las Vegas was that I knew I’d be able to get some great bargain there due to having Diamond status with Caesars Total Rewards. It usually takes a lot gambling to obtain Diamond status, but I acquired the Diamond status when I purchased a one year Founders Card membership. One perk of having Diamond status is that you do not have to pay resort fees on your hotel stays in Vegas. With resort fees of over $30 a night at many properties, this perk alone can save a frequent Vegas traveler a lot of money.

Wanting to see what deals were available I logged into my Total Rewards account and reviewed the nightly rates for Caesars properties in Vegas for October and November. I was pleasantly surprised to see lots of low rates available and quite a few comp (free!) nights available as well. I decided to book four nights at Harrahs, from the Friday after Thanksgiving through the following Monday. The rates were super cheap on Friday and Saturday. Sunday and Monday were completely free. My total for the four nights came to $41.62 with taxes and fees. A nightly rate of just over $10 is a great deal. Friday and Saturday nights rates for Vegas Strip properties are often well over $100 a night even at lower end properties so getting a center Strip property for this low of a price is a super bargain.

Of course, I have to get from Kansas City to Las Vegas as well. I managed to book airfare there and back for free. For the flight to Vegas I will be flying Spirit.  I’ve never flown them before, but they were by far the cheapest option for that day so I’m giving them a chance. The Spirit flight cost about $60. I booked the flight through the Chase Sapphire Reserve travel portal for a little over 4,000 Ultimate Rewards points making the flight free for me. The return trip was booked through Southwest using Rapid Rewards points. I did have to pay the $5.60 security fee for this flight. However, I paid it using a Southwest gift card I received for my birthday. The result is that I have round trip airfare with $0 out of my pocket.

My only expenses in Vegas will be food, transportation to and from the airport, and gambling. The food should be pretty cheap. As a Diamond member I can enjoy free drinks and snacks in the Diamond Lounge. I plan to take advantage of that benefit. I’ll make at least one trip to In-n-Out Burger and probably sample some other local fast food as well. My overall food cost will be pretty low.

It is possible to take a city bus from the airport to Harrahs and I usually do take a bus to my hotel when in Vegas. Since I’ve saved so much money elsewhere I might splurge for an Uber on this trip. Gambling could be a big expense or if I’m lucky it could result in my making a profit for the trip. I’ll set aside $100 or so for gambling and hopefully not use it all.

My Diamond Card also allows me to see two free shows while in Vegas.  If my girlfriend had been able to come with me on this trip I definitely would be using this benefit. Since she isn’t coming, I’ll see what they have available and make up my mind on attending a show at that time. Even if I don’t see a show I will be getting great value.

How I’m Getting 3 Hotel Nights in Las Vegas for $47.51

Welcome_to_fabulous_las_vegas_signThis week I’ll be in Las Vegas from Tuesday to Friday. This trip was planned about a month ago. I had some airfare credit on  Southwest from volunteering to be bumped last year that was about to expire and decided to use it for a trip to Vegas. With my airfare covered a hotel room was the only major expense I needed to pay. I originally only planned to stay two nights in Vegas. Then I found out my mom had also planned a trip to Vegas with a couple of my aunts and they would be arriving the day after I left. Therefore, I decided to stay another night which will allow me to have lunch with my mom and my aunts at the airport when they arrive. I felt it was worth paying for an extra day in Vegas in order to get to meet them. I also get the value of another day to do stuff in Vegas and as I explain in this post the extra day isn’t going to cost me much.

I had several options to choose from to get cheap or even free hotel rooms in Vegas.  I have Starpoints that I could have used to book a free room at a Four Points. I decided not to use the Starpoints since hotel rooms are already cheap in Vegas I could get a lot better value from my Starpoints using them elsewhere.

I also could have used some of my Chase Ultimate Rewards to book three hotel nights. I decided not to use my Ultimate Rewards for a couple of reasons. One is that when booking through the Chase site your Ultimate Rewards only cover the base hotel cost and taxes, they don’t cover resort fees. I’d still have to pay the resort fees out of pocket. I could write a rant post about resort fees, but I’ll save that for another day. Another reason for not using my Ultimate Rewards is that although I can use them to pay for a hotel without paying anything out of pocket it isn’t really free to use them.  Ultimate Rewards can be redeemed for cash so using them to pay for a hotel basically costs you the amount you could have gotten by redeeming the points for cash. For example, if it cost me 2800 UR points to book a hotel which I could have redeemed for $28 in cash then I’m basically paying $28 for the hotel. When you add the foregone cash to the resort fees then the hotel night from using my UR points wasn’t really free. Using the UR points would still have been an okay deal, but I had a better option.

Wyndham Rewards currently has a promotion awarding you with $100 in Wyndham gift cards when you stay two times with them during the promotion period.  I stayed at a Wyndham property once during my April hike and once during my July hike and satisfied the terms of the promotion. The $100 in Wyndham gift cards is awarded as four $25 gift cards and only one gift card can be used per each hotel stay. Also, the cards have to be used by October 31, 2016.   That makes it a little difficult to take advantage of all the gift cards since you need four different stays to use up the gift cards.

I mostly solved that problem by booking one night at three different hotels. Wyndham has a lot of properties in Vegas making it easy to stay at three different hotels. It will be a little bit of a hassle to have to check in three different times, but these are small properties so I don’t anticipate a long check-in line like you sometimes have at the mega hotels. My first night I’m staying at a property that doesn’t have a resort fee and I’ll only be paying $7 and change for my room. The other two nights I’m staying at properties that have casinos and I’ll be paying $20 and change each night for my room. I could have saved a little more money by staying at non-casino properties. However, the casino properties had much better locations for my purposes so it was worth paying a little extra. After all, $20 a night is still pretty cheap.

My only other expenses will be bus, food, and gambling.  The bus will be pretty cheap. I’m going to get a 24 hour pass for $8 the first day and I might get another 24 hour pass for the last day. The max I think I’ll spend on the bus is $16. Food will be cheap since I like cheap food. I don’t consider food a travel expense since I eat out all the time when I’m at home too.  I’ll be sure to eat at In n Out at least once and I’d like to try Shake Shack while I’m there too.  I also have a couple of free buffets from playing My Vegas Slots.  If I’m not too unlucky gambling the entire trip should cost me less than $100 out-of-pocket.  Although I’m far from a master at travel hacking, I hope this shows how it is possible to travel without spending a lot of money.