The Cost of Seven Weeks in Mexico (And How to Minimize it)
What does a seven week trip through Mexico cost? For us, it’s just over $1,000 per week. The budget comes to $7,668 for all lodging, food, transportation, entertainment, and miscellaneous expenses.
|Travel budget for 7 weeks in Mexico for a family of 5|
|5 weeks apartment rental ($500/wk)||2500|
|1 week free hotels (26k SPG points)||0|
|1 week hotels ($71/nt)||500|
|Food Total ($40/day)||1,960|
|treats ($6/day incl. beer)||294|
|airfare (+ 100k frequent flyer miles)||408|
|bus (Raleigh to Charlotte)||79|
|intercity buses in Mexico (1,600 miles at $0.50/mi)||800|
|local buses and taxis ($8/day)||392|
|Entertainment and Attractions ($15/day)||735|
|Miscellaneous ($6/day; laundry, doctor, toiletries, etc)||294|
|Grand Total for 7 weeks in Mexico||$7,668|
|Savings from not living in Raleigh for 7 weeks||-1750|
|Net Vacation Cost ($121/day)||$5,918|
We plan on staying in apartments rented by the week for most of the trip. Two great resources for this are vrbo.com and airbnb.com (with Airbnb offering $25 off your reservation by clicking through that link).
Since there are five of us, a two bedroom apartment or house rental provides tons of space for us to spread out. Hotel rooms can get cramped with three kids, so we will stay in hotels when we are only staying in one place for a few nights or less.
The weekly rentals might end up cheaper than the hotels. For planning purposes, I’m assuming we pay $500 per week and can’t find any places that will offer discounts for stays longer than one week.
I have $40 per day budgeted for food. Breakfast, at $4/day will mostly be something we eat at home. Fresh fruits like mango, bananas, and oranges are incredibly cheap and plentiful in Mexico and will be a breakfast staple. Delicious breads and pastries are also ridiculously cheap from the panaderias (bakeries). Eggs and yogurt are also good breakfast options.
We’ll probably eat lunch out most days since we’ll already be away from the house. At $12/day on average, this should afford a healthy serving of tacos, tortas, and other simple meals. We will spend more at sit down restaurants occasionally, but also spend less from time to time by dining at home or packing a picnic.
At $18/day for dinner, we can get some good fresh meats and veggies from the market or grocery store and eat well at home perhaps half the time. We might spend $28 on dinner at a restaurant one night then $8 on groceries for dinner the next night, and end up with $18/day on average for dinners. Or maybe we blow the budget and dine out all the time if the food is unbelievable.
For transportation expenses, we booked flights using frequent flyer miles and ended up paying $408 for taxes and fees. The local and intercity buses in Mexico are cheap as are the taxis. Hopefully we can walk to some destinations, but we’ll still need to take a bus or taxi occasionally to get around town (for $8/day). Buses are about $0.40-.50 per person and taxis are a few bucks for short trips.
Intercity buses are very affordable. For the 280 mile route from Mexico City to Oaxaca (the same distance as Boston to Philadelphia or Los Angeles to Las Vegas), first class deluxe service is $37. And the Mexican buses are really nice. Children ride at half off adult fares, so our family of five can make the roughly seven hour bus journey for $130 (with the potential for discounts when buying tickets online). For planning purposes, I assumed a rough cost of $0.50 per mile for our family of five for intercity bus travel (or $.15/mile for someone traveling alone). The route through Mexico City, San Miguel de Allende, Oaxaca, and Cancun is roughly 1,600 miles which leads to an approximate cost of $800 for all of the intercity bus travel.
To put bus costs in perspective, flights from Mexico City to Oaxaca would cost around $400 if we happened to fly on the cheapest day and reserve tickets weeks ahead of time. We can save $270 by taking the bus and only spend a few extra hours, drink in views of the countryside, and enjoy the luxury of the first class bus instead of the cramped second class economy seats aboard a plane. We might be able to fly from Oaxaca to Cancun for just a little bit more than the price of bus tickets, so this may be an option although we would miss seeing large parts of Mexico.
For entertainment costs, I threw $15/day into the budget. That will be museum admission fees (usually a couple dollars for adults, less for children), movie tickets, and throwing a few pesos into street performer’s upturned hats.
Miscellanous costs of $6/day include things like laundry, toiletries, and the rare doctor visit.
Save money by going on vacation?
Will the trip really cost us $7,668? No.
Since we won’t be living our normal lives in Raleigh, we’ll be saving about $1,000 per month out of our $2,700 monthly early retirement budget. What costs are we skipping at home?
- Utilities (likely to be paid by housesitter) – $280/mo
- Groceries – $520/mo
- Dining Out – $80/mo
- Entertainment – $80/mo
- Gas – $40/mo
For 7 weeks, that adds up to $1,750 in normal living expenses that can be subtracted from the cost of our trip, leaving us with a net cost of $5,918. This is actually more than the $5,350 we planned to spend on travel in 2015, and we already spent $325 earlier in the year on a cruise.
Two thoughts come to mind. The first is that we can afford it. Check out our February 2015 financial update. Our investments keep growing and we can afford to live it up a bit during these times of plenty. The other thought is that we won’t be taking trips like this every year. Or will we? The plan is to cut back on spending when our investments drop below a certain point.
Flights to Mexico City from Raleigh were about $600 per person and flights to Cancun were $400 per person. We spent 100,000 frequent flyer miles plus $400 for taxes and fees for five tickets to Mexico City and returning from Cancun, which means we saved about $2,100 versus paying cash for five tickets (taking the average of the two ticket prices).
I learned that it’s pretty tricky to book five tickets on the same flight for some frequent flyer programs. United had the best availability going to Mexico, but I found an even better deal with American Airlines on the way down. Using British Airways Avios points to book the American Airlines flight, I only spent 10,000 points per ticket for a non-stop flight out of Charlotte. Sure, we have to get to Charlotte, but we’ll also land in Mexico City at noon instead of flying on crazy routes with long layovers using other frequent flyer programs.
For the return trip, I couldn’t find anything to Raleigh or Charlotte in late July on any of the programs I belong to. Except one flight with really crappy routing on United for 17,500 points per ticket. When I returned to United the next day to book the tickets, they were gone. My choices at that point were to fly back home out of Guatemala City or Cancun. Cancun had the best redemption option on Southwest at 10,000 points and excellent routing through BWI on the way to Raleigh for a total flight time of only six hours. Sold.
For us, having a diversity of frequent flyer accounts made it much easier to find flights that fit our schedule (as long as we remained flexible on the location of the airports). With points at United, American, Southwest, and British Airways we have four chances to find good routes with short layovers and low point cost. By booking through Southwest, we even saved about $70 on fees compared to the other airlines’ “free” tickets.
For our free hotels, I’m using Starwood Preferred Guest points. There are a few Category 2 hotels in Mexico that are very nice and don’t cost many points. We will probably book the Four Points by Sheraton in Mexico City and the Aloft in Cancun. Each hotel is 3,000 points per night on weekends and 4,000 points during the week. Or 26,000 points for a week. The standard offer for the Starwood Preferred Guest Amex card is usually 25,000 SPG points plus another 5,000 from meeting the spending requirement. That means one credit card bonus is good for a week of free hotel stays!
Here’s a quick summary of the cards we signed up for to get enough points for our trip:
- Chase British Airways Visa – currently 50,000 points bonus offer
- Southwest card by Chase – 25,000 points bonus offer (sometimes as high as 50,000)
- Starwood American Express – 25,000 bonus points offer (sometimes as high as 30,000)
Whether it’s hotel points or airline miles you seek, it certainly helps stretch the travel dollar. Check out some of the airline or hotel credit card offers if you would like to get free flights or hotel nights too. It won’t take long to accumulate enough points to travel the world for free, even if you have a family like us.
Handling travel expenses while on vacation
We will use a combo of credit cards and cash withdrawn from an ATM (= cheap way to get local currency). To keep track of spending and make sure we aren’t going crazy, all transactions automatically go into Personal Capital (review here).
I’ll use our Chase Sapphire card or another card with no foreign transaction fees to avoid a 3% surcharge on every purchase.
Cash is king in the markets and for street vendors, so we’ll have to keep plenty on hand for small purchases. Larger purchases like intercity bus tickets and sit down restaurant meals can be charged on the credit card (to earn more points toward our next vacation!).
On our trip to Canada, we managed to spend significantly less than we budgeted ($77/day instead of $125/day) and there is a chance the same thing will happen on this trip. Mexico offers a lot of opportunities to get by on a shoestring budget, although that isn’t our goal this time around.
Other Mexico trip posts:
Any money saving tips for Mexico (or in general) that I’m missing?