Friday, May 18, 2007

Vacation Economics: Travel to an Alternative Universe

Vacation travel is by definition an exercise in constant decision making, from the planning onward. The goal is to have a good time. While there are multitudes of strategies to travel economically, even on a Price Sensitive Affluent's budget, it still requires constant evaluation about what expenditures are worth it. Splurges are lovely, and a big part of the purpose of travel, but you're not going to enjoy getting ripped off.
Having just enjoyed a glorious 3-week vacation there were many opps to think about this. I prefer to make decisions and pay for things in advance, like hotels. That way I have pretty much forgotten how much they cost by the time I arrive, and can just enjoy. I can see the anxiety-lowering benefits of an all-inclusive tour: making the decision once, paying one bill, and then sitting back and letting others do the work. But of course for many, being in charge of your daily destiny is the whole point. What will we see today, where will we eat, what will we buy? That is the vacation agenda.
Once spending a tidy sum for vacation "overhead" - airfare, hotels, et al - some would argue that it doesn't make any sense to niggle over little amounts, unless of course you are bargaining in a Shuk somewhere. On the other hand, the old "this-is-not-worth-it" evaluator doesn't stop working on vacation.
Two vacation decisions come to mind. When I checked into a pre-booked very beautiful hotel in Eilat, a seaside resort town overlooking the Gulf of Aqaba, the clerk asked if I'd like to upgrade to a high floor, for a fabulous view, for 60 shekels extra a night. That adds up to an extra $15. While the concept of paying extra annoyed me, and made me feel like the room I had booked was not "standard" but rather substandard, I thought further. Who would benefit from the upgrade? Me, my daughter, and her friend who was joining us. The rooms have balconies and we really would enjoy it. Other times a view would make no difference, but in this case, I went for it and had no remorse.
In Athens, we stayed in an elegant hotel in The Plaka, the old part of the city. (Score for Costco Travel!) The room included the requisite mini-bar. Sitting atop it, looking inviting, was a bag chips the size of airline freebies, maybe 2 oz. For this the hotel was charging a princely sum of 2.5 Euros, over $3.50! And at the same time they offered complimentary apples in the lobby. While I was hungry, no way would I use the mini-bar. Why do hotels do this? It is insulting, when you're paying over $200 for a room. I can see it for liquor, but for a teensy bag of chips?

What is worth it to pay extra for, in your experiences? What are your Vacation Economic Principles? Please share.