Hipmunk: How to Visit Cuba on a Budget

This post was originally published on Tailwind by Hipmunk on April 12, 2016.

Now that Cuba’s tourism industry is up and running, we’re doing everything we can to educate our readers about how to make the most of their Cuban vacations. From knowing which cities to visit to learning how the country has changed and prepping for your trip, we’ve got you covered.

If you’re ready to visit but worried about finances, we’ve still got your back. Simply implement the following strategies in order to enjoy a budget-friendly trip to Cuba.

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It helps to know Spanish.

Overwhelmingly, travelers to Cuba report that you’ll be more accepted if you speak Spanish—and that means you’re more likely to be offered lower prices and to haggle successfully. Even if you don’t have time to become fluent before your visit, learning a few key Spanish phrases will surely make the trip a little easier.

Don’t withdraw or exchange cash in Cuba.

Cuba currently uses two types of currency: the CUC, which is designated primarily for tourists, and the CUP (the peso national), which is civilians’ primary currency. (The government has announced plans to eliminate the dual currency system, but has yet to do so.) For the most part, tourists will be dealing in CUCs, but budget-friendly travelers may want to keep a few CUPs on hand (more on that later). In either case, it’s smart to exchange your money before arriving in Cuba—otherwise you’ll incur a 10% penalty to exchange dollars to CUCs. Similarly, avoid using credit cards whenever possible, as fees are quite steep.

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Plan for exit and entry.

You’ll be charged $25 CUC to enter Cuba, and another $25 CUC when you fly out of the airport. Go ahead and set aside $50 CUC before your trip so you aren’t caught by surprise on the way in or out of the country. While you’re at it, set aside another $20-$25 CUC for the taxi ride from the airport.

Take advantage of cheap eats.

Want to save money on food? Then seek out local establishments that operate on pesos (namely, street food vendors and peso restaurants). This can be a serious money saver—think the difference between paying $0.80 or $8.00 for a sandwich. If you’re staying in a casa particular (aka a private homestay), this is also a good place to eat cheaply—meals tend to be huge (meaning you can split one dish between two people) and less expensive than meals at touristy restaurants. Or hit up hotel buffets for a meal that will fill you up for around $8 CUC.

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Pack your own snacks and toiletries.

Basic toiletries and medical supplies—think sunscreen, Aspirin, and contact lens solution—are either very expensive or totally unavailable in Cuba, so don’t assume that you can pick up supplies once you’ve arrived. Instead, bring along any toiletries that you can’t go without. Same goes for your favorite snack foods.

Get mobile like a local.

Cuba has designated tourist buses, and (not surprisingly) they can  be a bit of a money trap. You’ll save on transportation by taking public buses, camiones (i.e open-backed trucks), or shared taxis. As an added bonus, local transportation tends to operate on a more flexible timetable than the tourist buses.

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Entertain thyself.

Cuba has a vibrant nightlife scene, and you can drink for change if you stick to local establishments. (A good rule of thumb: Avoid any club that charges an entrance fee.) If you’re not sure where to go, ask your casa hosts or local street vendors for suggestions. If the club scene isn’t your thing, you can still find cheap entertainment in the form of museums, which typically charge only $1-2 CUC for entry. Just be aware that many museums charge an additional fee for anyone who wants to take photos.

While Cuba may not be the cheapest destination around, there are plenty of deals to be had for the frugal traveler. Just remember: When in doubt, act like a local.

Hipmunk Hotels: The Best California Destinations Along The Pacific Ocean

This post was originally published on Go 4 Travel Blog by Lauren Davidson on April 15, 2016.

Let’s face it. There’s no denying the warmth, beauty, and good weather in California, especially the parts of this awesome state that overlook the Pacific Ocean. What draws so many eager tourists to California each year is that it’s fantastic as a vacation destination, simply because there is so much to see and do. Whether you’re planning your trip to Cali or you’ve just got the travel bug and want to know more, here are the best California destinations to visit along the Pacific Ocean. 

Best California Destinations Along the Pacific Ocean

Glendale

Situated between Pasadena and Los Angeles, Glendale is a one-of-a-kind vacation destination without the year-round crowds of Los Angeles and San Francisco. In fact, there are several fun things to do for all sorts of travelers. Head to the Glendale Galleria, a 3-storey mall with plenty of well-known shops and boutiques, or learn something at the Autry Museum of the American West. If you’re traveling with children, the Universal Studios Hollywood Park provides a fun-filled day out. Book a room at the Hilton Los Angeles North/Glendale for an affordable stay.

LA Glendale Galleria Trolley TracksLA Glendale Galleria Trolley Tracks by Ed on Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Napa Valley

Napa Valley, or Napa County, is located north of San Pablo Bay in Northern California. Renowned for its vineyards and wine tasting, Napa Valley welcomes visitors to attractions like the Castello di Amorosa and the Napa Valley Wine Train. If wine isn’t really your thing, catch a show at the Napa Valley Opera House. When you stay in Napa Valley, the Kenwood Inn and Spa is the perfect choice of accommodation. Here, guests can sample the local food at the popular restaurant or take a dip in the pool after a long day exploring.

Dusk, Napa Valley Dusk, Napa Valley by Deb Harkness / CC BY 2.0

Oakland

Although the San Francisco Bay Area is one of the most expensive areas to visit in the U.S., it’s also one of the best. Without the hustle and bustle of nearby San Francisco, Oakland is a stunningly low-key destination that still offers plenty to see and do. Take the kids to the Oakland Zoo or Children’s Fairyland, and catch some live music at the Fox Theater. For accommodations in the center of the city, stay at the Oakland Marriott. If you’re traveling on a tight budget, the Rodeway Inn & Suites is a good option.

Oakland SkylineOakland Skyline by Jesse Richmond on Flickr CC BY 2.0

Roseville

It’s safe to say that Roseville is California’s hidden gem. Located 20 miles north of Sacramento, this small city offers numerous activities and attractions for visitors. Mix things up by visiting the eccentric Roseville Telephone Museum, or savor the area’s history at the fascinating Maidu Museum & Historic Site. The Courtyard by Marriott Roseville provides its guests with trendy rooms, a 24-hour fitness center, an indoor pool, and a convenient location in Roseville.

Trees in Roseville, CaliforniaTrees in Roseville, California by mitzume on Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Sonoma

Also known as wine country, Sonoma attracts a steady number of tourists each year. Situated in Northern California, Sonoma not only has its own Museum of Art, but it also boasts beautiful Victorian architecture and a vast selection of vineyards. The El Dorado Hotel is just a 15-minute drive away from the stunning Quarryhill Botanical Garden.

 

Quarryhill Botanical GardenQuarryhill Botanical Garden by Jessica S on Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0

Hipmunk’s Guide to Landing the Lowest Sumer Airfare

The post was originally posted on the Hipmunk’s Tailwind Blog on April 12, 2016.

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Gas prices are down, the temperature is heating up, and travelers are inevitably looking to take advantage of both this summer.

In fact, with all the sunny news about oil prices you may be itching to plan an escape of your own. But summer is three whole months long, airfare is usually priced at a premium, and there tends to be a lot of confusion for travelers around the optimal purchase date to obtain the best deal. Indeed, the most asked travel advice question posed to Hipmunk Navigators concerns the best time to purchase a ticket.

As of March 31, 2016, overall domestic summer airfare (flights departing and returning during June, July, or August), is down from a median price of $330 to $286.

Similarly, flights from the US to major European countries – Great Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Greece, Switzerland, Austria and Ireland – follow the same trend: travelers this summer are paying about 15 percent less than last year, from a median price of $1331 to $1129.

And those savings seem to translate into a higher proportion of people planning longer getaways: In 2015, 46 percent of summer vacations that involved flights lasted four days or fewer, while just 33 percent lasted between seven and 10 days.

In 2016, however, 40 percent are four days or fewer, while 38 percent are between seven and 10 days, indicating a shift towards longer vacations.

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To ensure that the hardest decision you’ll have to make this summer season is which umbrella drink you’ll order, Hipmunk analyzed its historical booking data to find the best time to buy summer flights on a monthly and holiday basis. Further, you can find an an interactive guide to summer airfare that show the best times to book flights book flights from the top US cities to trending destinations for summer 2016, as well as Memorial Day, Labor Day and July 4th here.

Let’s dive in.

When to Buy: Summer Holiday

An analysis of Hipmunk’s historical data found that flights booked at least five to seven weeks in advance of major summer holidays—Memorial Day, July 4th and Labor Day—generally lock in better airfares.

Memorial Day: 5 weeks prior
The kick-off summer holiday weekend is also the second most popular travel time of the season and flight prices rise rapidly. The optimal time to buy according to historical data is five weeks prior to the holiday. (31 percent less than the week-of high.)

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Fourth of July: 6 weeks prior
The most popular time to travel during the summer season is the week leading up to the July 4th holiday. To avoid steep price hikes, it’s best to book six weeks prior. (21 percent less than the week-of high.)

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Labor Day: 7 weeks prior
The unofficial end of the summer also has the longest lead time. A safe bet is to purchase tickets towards the end of July when prices are their lowest—about seven weeks before the holiday weekend. However, if your plans are up in the air, you might be able to secure that same price up to three weeks in advance. (60 percent less than the week-of high.)

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When to Buy: Vacation Month

If your dates are more flexible and you’re trying to decide when to buy tickets to score the lowest prices for a particular month, our data showed that there were two times when travelers could optimize their purchasing power: two months before the beginning of summer or five to seven weeks prior to their departure month, with a vacation in August needing the least amount of lead time and a vacation in July the most.

June: Now, or mid-May

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July: Now, or the first week of June

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August: Next week, or the last week of July

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Now that you know the best times to buy for your summer vacation, it’s time to start planning. Try Hello Hipmunk, your free personal travel agent, to get flight and hotel recommendations straight to your inbox.

METHODOLOGY
Hipmunk analyzed its historical roundtrip airfare data from the top 30 US airports to determine the best times to purchase airfare.

To compare summer 2016 airfares and vacation lengths to those in summer 2015: Hipmunk calculated the median weekly round-trip flight prices for all flights booked during the first week of Jan 2015 through the last week of March 2015 for flights that departed and returned between Memorial Day and Labor Day, as well as the number of days of trip length for those flights, from the top 30 US airports (flight prices were included the week in which the flight departed). Hipmunk performed calculations with the same criteria for 2016 flights, and compared the results.

To find the best times to buy for lowest airfares: Hipmunk calculated the median weekly round-trip flight price from the top 30 US airports, for flights booked from the first week of April 2015 to the last week of August 2015 .

Hipmunk considered a flight for a holiday weekend one that departs up to three days prior to a holiday and returns up to two days after.

Every Steph : Brooklyn’s Most Glamorous Hotels

This post was posted by Steph on Every Step-h on February 27, 2016.

Are you dying to visit the Big Apple, but you are scared it might be too expensive? Think again! New York doesn’t have to be crazy expensive if you don’t mind a short subway ride to Brooklyn.
Stay in one of these glamorous hotels in Brooklyn, the glitz of New York awaits you!

Image by Jim Nix via Trover.com

Lxure Brooklyn Suites

Just a 15-minutes drive from Brooklyn, Lxure Brooklyn Suites offers top-notch guest service and fancy rooms. Everything in the stylish suites screams luxury, from the heated marble floors to the crystal chandeliers and leather sofas in the living-room area.
The hotel offers plenty of amenities: guests only need to decide whether to hit the indoor pool, the spa tub, or the business center first. Rates include a lovely continental breakfast delivered each morning to your room.

The Box House Hotel

Located in Brooklyn’s Greenpoint neighborhood, The Box House Hotel is a contemporary and designer hotel.

The modern lofts and suites feature works by local artists, 42-inch LCD TVs, and iPod docking stations. If you need more space, some of the suites are split-level and have modern kitchenettes and a living-room area with pullout beds that can sleep a few extra people.

Guests enjoy a state of the art fitness center which also includes steam showers and a sauna, a 24-hour business center and free shuttle rides to the city center in classic 1970s Checker cabs. Room rates average $160 a night.

Lefferts Manor Bed & Breakfast

Lefferts Manor Bed & Breakfast is a small hotel that combines tradition with modern comforts. The ten vintage-themed rooms are exquisitely decorated with wooden furniture, are air-conditioned and provide complimentary Wi-Fi.

Guests can enjoy complimentary coffee and tea in the lobby all day long or relax in the hotel library. Lefferts Manor is located in the historic district of Brooklyn, and it’s just a short walk from Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, and Prospect Park Zoo.

Brooklyn Motor Inn

Located in Red Hook neighborhood, the Brooklyn Motor Inn is a comfortable hotel which comes with an affordable price tag.
Rooms are basic but include everything you need, including climate control with air conditioning, cable TV, a refrigerator and a microwave. The strongest selling point for this hotel is its location: Brooklyn Motor Inn is very close to Brooklyn Bridge, which means that with a short drive, guests can relax in Battery Park, visit the 9-11 Tribute Center, or take a ferry to the Statue of Liberty.

Condor Hotel

Very well linked by public transportation, Condor Hotel is a luxury hotel featuring designer rooms with an urban vibe.

Rooms offer plush bedding, a deep soaking bathtub, rainfall showers, and a kitchenette with microwave and refrigerator.

Mornings start with a kick thanks to the complimentary continental breakfast which includes muffins, bagels, fresh fruit, and made to order Belgian waffles. Guests can take advantage of the business center and meet fellow guests in the living room. Condor Hotel is one of the most competitively priced hotels on the luxury side in Brooklyn; rates start at $160 a night and can go up to $380 for luxury suites with two sleeping areas.

Hipmunk Hotels: Boutique Hotels for Tourist in New York City

Boutique Hotels for tourists in New York City via @DishOurTown

This post was posted on Dish Our Town.

Finding accommodations in New York City can be daunting for a tourist. As a New Yorker, I believe that location is most important, especially for first-timers and families. Don’t pay for transportation when you can situate yourself with a place to stay where it’s convenient to get to most top tourist sites.

 

Some of the best Hotel offerings are in the Boutique Category. Often you will get Five-Star Service and accommodations for a price much less than you would from the more renowned names in the industry. Below are some top picks:

 

The Iroquois Hotel

 

As one of the Top Small Luxury Hotels of the World, this gem of a hotel, located near the Heart of Times Square, lives up to its billing. Upscale service and amenities include Frette Sheets, turndown service with some Le Belge Chocolates, Molton Brown Bathroom Products, and complimentary coffee/tea and an afternoon beverage in the lobby. Theatres, Top Restaurants, Shopping right outside your front door. Starting at $116/night. WiFi and Fitness Center.

 

The Shelburne

 

Those who are looking to travel as a family, this hotel is a top choice. Located near Grand Central Station, The Empire State Building and Macy’s. The rooms are a nice mix of 60’s retro and modern design. Suites have a kitchenette, and the hotel offers “kid-friendly” amenities, such as board games and a shop for children’s sundries. For adults, there is a wonderful rooftop bar to enjoy a post-sightseeing or pre-dinner drink. Suites start at $132/night. WiFi and Fitness Center.

 

Club Quarters Midtown

 

Few are better located than this lovely boutique hotel. Just right off World Famous Fifth Avenue, staying here brings the guest within walking distance of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Rockefeller Center, Times Square, and some of the best shopping in the world. The rooms are well appointed, affixed with luxurious leather and wooden features. There are unlimited chilled bottle water and complimentary in-room coffee. Starting at $149/night. WiFi and Fitness Center.

 

The Benjamin New York

 

This hotel prides itself on client experience. Upon walking in, one can’t help but admire the beautiful photography hung throughout. The service is impeccable and the rooms luxuriously appointed with lush beds and high thread count sheets. The aesthetic is muted, with relaxing neutral colors. There is a fine restaurant connected named, The National Bar and Dining Room, created by renowned chef, Geoffrey Zakarian. A great getaway, especially for a romantic one. Within walking distance to all major sights, which include the Museum of Modern Art and Central Park. Rooms start at $179/night. WiFi and Fitness Center.

 

Ink48 New York

 

With a high energy lobby and a popular rooftop bar, this is the fashionable choice. This very stylized hotel is located in, the now popular, Hell’s Kitchen Neighborhood. Views of the Hudson River from most rooms. Set within the center of the Theatre District, this hotel is a treat for a culture seeking traveler. Starting at $199/night. WiFi and Fitness Center.