Of course, “top-notch guest services” is subjective. You could stay at a five-star hotel where the concierge is snooty and there’s constant construction, whereas you could find a gem of a two-star hotel where you’re treated like royalty by a warm, welcoming staff. That’s why it’s so important to value guest reviews over star ratings. Guest reviews give you an indication of what it’s actually like to stay at the hotel.
Using a website like Hotels.com or TripAdvisor, set your minimum guest rating level high (start with four stars and above) and be open to hotels at any star rating. Once you’ve eliminated all but the highest-reviewed hotels, sort by price from low to high. As long as the hotels on the list have a reasonable number of reviews – around 100 or more – it’s a fair bet that the hotel makes the best of whatever amenities they have.
Why: Peru’s northern beaches are an excellent option for budget travel, and Trujillo is no exception. The vibrant coastal city is awash with warm-colored colonial façades dating back to its status as a colonial powerhouse, and it offers excellent cultural and adventure activities, as well as upscale restaurants that are surprisingly affordable ($10-15). Accommodations are also very inexpensive; for example, the four-star Costal del Sol Wyndham can run as low as $65. Trujillo is home to the former capital of the Chimú people, the behemoth archaeological site of Chan Chan. Its Spanish-influenced architecture and bohemianism were an inspiration for the illustrious author Cesar Vallejo, and it continues to keep traditions alive by hosting prestigious events such as the month-long Marinera Dance Festival. For some action under the sun, check out the famous beach Huanchaco, Latin America’s first designated world-surfing reserve. Watch wave chasers in their caballito de totora boats and cool off with a plate of fine ceviche at its birthplace. Trujillo flies under the radar for tourists who focus on Cusco and Machu Picchu, but with its rich heritage — in addition to year-round sunshine, delicious food, vibrant dance and beaches — you’ll have plenty to write home about.
Northern California also has many riches and wonders to offer. Nothing beats the morning mist swathing the Golden Gate Bridge during a San Francisco vacation. Be sure to hike at Batteries to Bluffs Trail and take in the expansive ocean views. If you’re craving sparkling pools, shimmering night skies, and majestic mountain scenery, instead of bay views, spending your vacations in Palm Springs is the way to go. Hollywood’s Waiting Room for Heaven is the ultimate desert playground for people-watching and wandering through art galleries.
Why: Following the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria, travelers might be reluctant to visit the territory of Puerto Rico. But, on a recent visit to the island to help rebuild some of the most popular tourist attractions, I was thrilled to see that Puerto Rico is thriving and really is open for business. If you don’t have a passport — or if you have one that’s closed to expiring or being filled — one of the best parts about visiting Puerto Rico is that no passport is needed for U.S. citizens. With plenty to see both in San Juan — from the charm and bright colors of Old San Juan to checking out where one of the most famous rums in the world is made at the Bacardi Factory ($15 for a historical tour) — and outside, such as a trip to El Yunque National Forest, you'll be kept busy. Flights to San Juan generally will run you less than $250 from the East Coast, making it a perfectly close and affordable getaway. While there are several affordable chain hotels, boutique hotels flourish — especially in Old San Juan. Check out The Gallery Inn or Decanter Hotel.
Why: You’ve heard of the French Polynesian islands of Bora Bora and Tahiti, but there’s a good chance you’ve never heard of Mo’orea. Why? Well, it’s known as “The World’s Most Beautiful Island You’ve Never Heard Of.” And that is great for the wallet! You can find great deals on Airbnb starting at $40 a night and five-star hotels at $200. For example, the InterContinental in Bora Bora averages at $1000 a night, while the Intercontinental Mo’orea is around $250. The water is warm and crystal clear, providing you with a lot of free fun. If you want to do more organized tours, Tahiti Legends and Tahiti.com offer many at $50 per person. Like most French Polynesian islands, food is expensive, but there are many grocery stores on the island that sell sandwiches for as low as $3. If you want to splurge on a romantic dinner, many restaurants offer free shuttle service to and from hotels. The best part? Mo’orea is really easy to get to from the U.S. It’s a quick 30-minute ($15) ferry ride from Papeete, Tahiti, whose airport offers direct flights from many cities in the U.S.
JetBlue TrueBlue. U.S. News & World Report ranked JetBlue TrueBlue as number one on its list of Best Airline Rewards Programs. JetBlue primarily flies out of the East Coast and Florida, but if you live in either region and tend to travel domestically, this is one program to consider. Points can also be earned by traveling on its partner airlines, Emirates and Hawaiian Airlines. You can also earn points with hotel stays, car rentals, and “purchases with retail partners” – so you can rack up a whole bunch of points on a single trip.
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How cheap is it? Very. Its largest city -- helpfully named Panama City -- is the world's third-cheapest major city. And it is major! Panama has the fastest growing economy in Latin America, with abundant new restaurants and luxury hotels; it's pretty much the most (and arguably only) truly global/metropolitan city in the region. And still a bunk in a cheap but well-reviewed and centrally located hostel will set you back only $14 per night, while those seeking luxury accommodations can stay at the damn Waldorf Astoria for $149 per. Which is stupid cheap, all things being relative. A public bus ride in the city is just 25 cents. You can eat on the cheap for under $20/day for all three squares if you hit up cafés for breakfast, the beach fish markets for lunch, and restaurants without English menus for dinner. Beers will cost you anywhere from $1.25 to $3 a pop. All in all, you're getting huge bang for your buck -- oh also literally your buck, as US currency is interchangeable with the Panamanian balboa.
Caribbean - Last-Minute Holiday Sale offer: Valid on new bookings at participating resorts made 10/29 - 11/25/18 for select travel 10/29/18 - 1/5/19. Offers vary by hotel and may be category-specific, require advance booking, be restricted to specific days of the week and/or require a minimum night stay. Booking and travel dates vary by hotel. Blackout dates may apply.