My $480 chicken bus tour through Belize

A few years ago, my wife, kids and I went on a cruise, and after hours of debate and discussion, we all agreed on doing the “Jungle river tour along with a 90 minute guided tour of the countryside” when we dropped anchor in Belize.  It was pricey at $120 each, but it had something for both adults and kids – so we bit the bullet.

In a nutshell, the cruise line bought a couple dozen “tour company” t-shirts, gave them to a bunch of villagers who had never been out of their tiny town of 100 people, and bought a couple chicken busses. They then instructed the villagers to “Make some crap up to tell the tourists we’re going to send your way to pass the time on the 90 minute ride on the chicken bus we’re going to cram them into.
Seriously – I think the tour guides had bets on how much crap they could get away with making up.  Although I’d have been fascinated to hear about life in the village they lived in, they felt the need to embellish the most mundane, worthless information possible – just to fill the time on the 90 minute squeaky-as-hell bus ride.
  • And this is the gas station used not only by people who live in the community, but ALSO by people traveling through the town.” 
  • And do you see those tall trees with big green balls on them? Those are our country’s national tree – the coconut tree!” (Umm… No. Their national tree is the Mahogany (which is also one of the country’s main exports.)
  • “Our national language is Creole. So for example – instead of saying “Yes”, we say “Ya’mon”. Dude… That’s just wrong and I’m pretty sure you’re insulting the heritage of people from at least 4 different countries.
  • It reminded me of my first speech class when I had to speak for exactly five minutes and I ran out of material after one and a half.
  • Most painful “guided tour” ever.
Anticipation was building as we got close to the “Jungle river”, and as we pulled up – we saw a big stack of inner-tubes. Not even real inner-tubes. I’m talking about flimsy wal-mart inner tubes that could only be stable to float in by tying at least 8 together. Seriously? The “River” was a nasty-ass muddy creek about 4 feet deep, my kids are strapped between us and zinc-nosed tourists who insisted on telling bad jokes the whole time, and the guide we were required to be tied to managed to find every sharp eye-endangering branch possible for us to float through.  On top of that, the cruise line’s insurance required that they have employees along side the river every couple hundred yards. But they ran out of company shirts, and they refused to talk or smile. So instead of feeling safe and protected, it was just creepy. It felt more like the grubby t-shirt, cheap sunglass wearing thugs were there just to make sure we floated into the trap they had set for us around the bend – where we would be kidnapped and held for ransom.
Well, at least we had the “authentic Belizean lunch” to look forward to.  At the end of the ride, we were given juice boxes, and bean & cheese burritos in saran wrap. “Umm. My wife is gluten-free. Have you got anything she can eat without permanently damaging her intestines?” They gave us an extra bag of Cheetos, and shuffled us back onto the chicken bus for our ride home.
 
The best part of the day was when we discovered there would be no stories on the 90 minute ride back and we got to take a nap. (That, and finding out that what they were being paid was triple what most of them were earning before they started working as contractors for the cruise line, but come-on [cruise-line-omitted-to-keep-from-getting-sued]… Spend a few hundred bucks on a copywriter to give them SOMETHING to talk about.)
The moral of the story – Excursions can be fun, but whenever possible – do your homework in advance and talk to people who have actually been there.  If taking a cruise, make sure they’ve been docking at that port for quite a while, so you know they’ve had a chance to work out all of the kinks and adequately train the people running the excursions.
Got any funny travel stories? Feel free to tell me about it in the comments below.

Book VIP – Scam or legitimate company?

Actual Screenshot of Facebook ad from Book VIP

[Disclaimer: The JGOOT Way of travel does not condone timeshare ownership OR strategies that Book VIP uses to get vacation discounts. This is simply a review of an alternative method to getting great deals on vacations.]

BookVIP.com is a discount vacation reseller that is able to offer significantly discounted vacations at all-inclusive resorts. The catch? You have to be willing to sit through a timeshare presentation at that resort. 

If you visit their site, most of their trips appear to be too good to be true (and when you Google them online, you’ll find a lot of complaints about them).  HOWEVER, in your research, you’ll also find that they’re an A+ rated company with the Better Business Bureau.

How can a company with so many complaints about them be an A+ rated company with the BBB?

Easy. The BBB knows that they have 10+ times as many happy customers as grumpy ones. Although they don’t censor complaints, they don’t count a complaint against the business if the complainant is about something that was disclosed in the terms of service, or if they see that the business owner remedied the situation being complained about.

Book VIP certainly isn’t for everyone, but for the person who is willing to make a couple sacrifices in order to save 60 to 90% (AND actually reads their terms of service) it can be a great way of finding a bargain vacation.

In a nutshell, Book VIP gets a bad wrap because of all of the people who don’t read the fine-print and complain about them. However…

  • If you dig deep enough, you’ll see that their positive feedback out-numbers complaints from people who didn’t follow the rules by 10 to 1.
  • As long as you read that fine print (including strictly enforced age & income requirements and MANDATORY timeshare presentations that cause you to give up a half-day of valuable vacation time), it can be a really good deal. Especially for people who might not otherwise have enough in their budget for such luxury accommodations.

I used to link to Book VIP resorts with my trip alerts because I do believe if you read their fine print (and are OK with it) – it can be a great way of getting luxury accommodations you might not otherwise have in your budget.  I’ve removed that info, but could be swayed and convinced to put it back up if enough people want that information.

My biggest complaint about BOOK VIP? Their $2 an hour call center out of the Philippines who barely speaks enough english to be able to help you. (But my recommendation is:

  1. When buying ANYTHING online, just remember: Caveat Emptor (Buyer beware)
  2. Read the fine print about what is required of you to get the discount being offered.
  3. After you decide you are comfortable with their requirements, do your research on your own for the resort you are thinking of staying at on TripAdvisor.com (I do the same when booking hotels through Expedia or Travelocity because they usually have 10 to 20 times as many reviews.)

If you do the above three things, you can decide if it’s a fit for you. Then – book directly online without the painful experience of talking on the phone with them, and have a great experience.)

If you have a strong opinion about Book VIP, I’d love to discuss it in the comments below.

50% to 90% off “Butt in seat fares”. Why they happen & how to find them.

Every airline in existence uses sophisticated computer algorithms that determine how to get the highest price possible for every seat on their planes. 99% of the time, they do a really effective job of extracting every dollar possible out of every seat on their plane.

However… About once every 300 or 400 flights – they get it wrong and under-sell seats – and that can cost them tens of thousands of dollars in cancelled/rescheduled flights. To avoid that problem, they need to get a handful of butts in a handful of seats… and they need to do it in a hurry.

This isn’t just for last-minute flights either.  To avoid cancelling as many flights as possible, they start error-correction as early as 9 months in advance.

Some people call these “mistake fares” but it’s never a mistake when this happens. In fact, it’s very deliberate. (I prefer to call them “Butt in seat” fares because the airlines will reward you handsomely for putting your butt in their otherwise un-sold seat.)

It works something like this:

  • 9 months before a flight, if the flight is not at least 20% booked, the airline will slash prices drastically in order to sell at least 20% of their seats.  As soon as they fill those seats, prices go back to normal.  If they don’t fill those seats, they cancel the flight, go through the expensive process of rescheduling existing passengers and crew, and again – prices go back to normal.
  • 6 months (+/-) before the flight, they go through the same process if they’re not at least 40% booked.
  • 3 months out? Same thing if they’re not 60% sold.
  • Then again  2 months out, 1 month out, 2 weeks out…
  • You get the idea.

They can’t advertise these sales because they usually only have a handful of seats at that price.  Instead, they just quietly slash prices, knowing some lucky traveler will stumble across that fare and snatch it up.

  • These opportunities present themselves every day from every airport in the country, and can be anywhere from a week in advance to 9 months in advance.
  • Sometimes it means getting a $300 flight for $30 or $40 and visiting friends and family even when you weren’t planning on it.
  • Other times, it means getting a $1200 flight for $200 to $500, and taking that vacation you’ve been putting off for years.
  • With the tiniest bit of flexibility, it can mean traveling two or three times as often on the same budget as one trip “the normal way”.

Unfortunately, airlines refuse to pay commissions on those types of flights – so there is no incentive for traditional travel sites or travel agents to find those opportunities for you other than you stumbling across them when searching for your trip.

If you want to find trips like this, you’ve got 3 options:

  1. Rely on luck of the draw and hope to stumble across something whenever you plan a trip. (Every once in a while, you’ll get lucky (and the more locations you’re willing to search for, the luckier you’ll get.)
  2. Set up free fare watches through a site like Google Flights or Airfare Watchdog from your home airport, watch every day, and when one of those locations has a drop in fare – snatch it up. (Again – the more locations you watch, the better your odds.)

Sound like a lot of work?  It’s not hard at all.  Tedious… But not hard. Either of the above options will take 10 to 15 hours of research a month (depending mostly on how many destinations you keep an eye on.)

Option 3: Subscribe to a trip alert service that is not on commission (because most of these fares don’t pay a commission), and focuses solely on finding those types of fares.

When something jumps out at you, it’s usually far enough in advance that you can plan around it, and you’ll find yourself traveling more often – for less money.

To see if I offer a trip alert service in your home airport, click here.

Happy travels!

–Joel

 

 

It takes a village. (A “JGOOT Village”)

Got a question about an area you’ll be visiting soon?
Have pictures & advice to share from a place you’ve recently been?
Want to brag about the price you paid to get there?

Introducing JGOOT Village:

A free place for travelers to discuss places they’ve been, places they’re going to, and anything else having to do with “The JGOOT Way” of travel.

I literally started this group 10 minutes ago, so to encourage sharing from group members, each week, I’ll give away a free quarterly JGOOT premium membership (worth $47) to:

  1. One group member who adds a useful post about a place they’ve been – and gets the most “likes”.
  2. One group member who comments on someone else’s question with useful information about things to do (and gets the most likes).

Join the Village Here

Let the vacation find you…

It takes a village

“Are you a travel agent?”

I get requests on a daily basis to look into trips for people.

Unfortunately, I am not a travel agent – nor can a travel agent help you with the majority of the trips I send you. (since they are mistake fares that don’t pay a commission.)

However… Every single trip I post to the site has convenient links you can click through to book directly online with the travel search engine of your choice. There is no need to call me, or a travel agent.

For more help on how to book any trip you find, click here.

Southwest ups signup bonus – making companion pass an easy possibility

[Please note: Southwest changed their terms, and signing up for two different credit cards is no longer allowed.  They also reduced their signup bonus to $40k.]

Chase Southwest 50,000 bonus link

A good friend shared this in our premium member area, and since the last time this happened, it only lasted a couple days, I wanted to share. After all – there isn’t a credit card bonus out there that gets you (the equivalent of) 220,000 FREE frequent flyer miles.

Whether you’re into point-hacking or not – these signup bonuses are worth dipping your toes into the water without concerns about becoming one of those geeky credit-card hackers juggling a dozen+ credit cards. (Hey – I resemble that comment!

The skinny on Southwest’s companion pass:
Fly 100 one-way flights, or 110,000 miles – and you’ll earn the ability to take a companion with you for free through the end of 2019.  100 flights is hard work – even for the savviest of travelers. But 110,000 miles – when you basically stumble across the first 104,000 is a cake-walk.  Here is a link to Southwest’s terms of service on earning a companion pass.

By the way: This isn’t a single use companion pass. It’s unlimited use until the end of 2019. I did this myself back when the signup bonus was 60k, and Michelle has already flown with me as a free companion 3 times. We’re going on our 4th trip this month on a trip to Turks and Caicos with the kids. (Yes – Southwest flies to Turks-and-Freakin-Caicos!) 

How to get it:

  1. Check your credit at Credit Sesame to make sure your score is at least 690. (Chase doesn’t typically accept applicants with scores less than 690, so any less than that is a roll of the dice, and a temporary 10-point ding against your credit score.)*
  2. Sign up for a Rapid Rewards account (free) and make note of your frequent flyer number.
  3. Chase allows two credit card applications per month, and if you apply for two in one day, it only counts as one credit-pull. So if you’re approved for the first card, turn around and apply for the 2nd one.
  4. 104,000 frequent flyer points on Southwest is a great reward in itself, but if you decide to keep the cards around until you spend another $6000 (or fly 6000 miles), you’ll automatically become eligible for a companion pass – effectively doubling the value of your 110,000 points.
  • Click to apply for the plus card
    • $69/year (Worth it considering 50,000 points on Southwest is as many as 5 round-trip flights)
    • 3000 bonus points each year
    • 50,000 points after you spend $2000 on your card**
  • Click to apply for the premier card
    • $99/year (Still worth it considering 50,000 points on Southwest is as many as 5 round-trip flights)
    • 6000 bonus points each year
    • 50,000 points after you spend $2000 on your card**

Questions? Feel free to comment below.

–Joel

* Disclosure: If you use my referral link above, I will be given 10,000 bonus points from Chase, and I may receive compensation from Credit Sesame if you ever pay anything for their services. (Don’t pay though. Just use their free service.)

** Please use credit responsibly. I am in no way endorsing spending money you don’t have the ability to pay off within 30 days.  Carrying a balance on a credit card for even just a few months would cost more than the value of the points themselves and is not a good idea.

 

 

 

Getting to champagne destinations on beer budgets

A lot of people express an interest in places like Budapest, Morocco, Maldives, Bali, and sure – I post great deals that fly directly there.

But Daniel – our most veteran JGOOT traveler – shared a tip in our private Facebook group that I had to repeat.  (If you haven’t read Daniel’s story, it’s quite inspiring & funny. Click here to read it.)

When it comes to expensive/popular destinations, one of the best ways to get an even better deal is to fly somewhere close, and then grab a commuter plane/train/ferry to that destination.  Not only can you save a few hundred dollars per passenger on airfare, but you’ll get to check multiple countries off your list.

For example;

  • Instead of Getting a $600 or $700 flight to Morocco, grab a $350 flight to Malaga Spain, and take the $25 scenic ferry ride across the straight of Gibraltar.
  • Instead of spending the $1000 to $2000 rack-rate it often costs to fly to Bali, grab a flight almost anywhere in Southeast Asia for $400ish, and take a $50 commuter flight to Bali. (I post SE Asia flights in the low $400’s all the time.)
  • A flight to Budapest or Croatia can easily set you back $1000. However, I regularly find flights under $500 (if not $400) to Italy, Switzerland, Germany, France, and London – and you’d be shocked at how inexpensive it is to get around – once you get yourself to Europe.

To check rates I’ve found to any of the above areas, simply visit the “Where” section of your JGOOT premium member site.

 

Marrying beer budgets and champagne tastes when traveling

I don’t know about you & your travel partner, but when it comes to travel, my wife’s & my preferences are like oil & water. (Or better yet – I have a beer budget, and she has champagne taste.

  • I like to go where the deal takes me so I can travel two or three times as often – knowing I will have seen as much as possible during my time here on this beautiful planet.
  • Michelle has a specific list of amazing places she wants to check off her bucket list. Everything else is just getting in the way of checking off that bucket list.
  • I love to visit a country with camera in-hand, be up early and see/do lots of cool “off the beaten path” stuff. The place I stay doesn’t really matter because it’s simply a place to put my head after a long day exploring.
  • Michelle loves to relax, recover, and sleep in when on vacation. Because of that, she likes to stay in as nice a place as we can afford. 
  • If I’m out and about, I like to grab something quick at the closest local food joint, and squeeze one more activity in before we head back to our room and crash.
  • Michelle likes to enjoy the local cuisine and atmosphere – which means room service after sleeping in and then heading back late in the afternoon. That way, we have plenty of time to get dressed & ready in time for a nice sunset dinner at a place she researched and made reservations for long before we visited the area. (And I must admit – she always does an amazing job at finding amazing cool/memorable places.)

We manage to find a good balance between our wants/needs, but…

Our opinions on how to spend vacation funds are like oil and water.

Early in our marriage, that was a bit of a struggle. (I was grumpy about how much we had to spend on each trip, and she was not getting that “relaxed and recovered” feeling with the quality of places we stayed. Don’t get me wrong – we stayed at nice places, but they weren’t the same quality as what she was accustomed to when going on her girls’ trips and fitting 3 or 4 friends into a large room/suite in the nicest resort that they  could afford.

🤷‍♂️ [Side note: Does it make me a bad person if I can’t help but picture slo-motion pillow fights in nighties every time they go on these girls’ trips? I digress…] 🤷‍♂️

Fortunately, we’ve figured out a way to get the best of both worlds (With travel. Not pillow fights):

  1. We still go to where the deals take us by watching for mistake fares. Now, we’re just a little more picky about which deals we pounce on to make sure we’re checking cool bucket list destinations off of our list. (Right now, we’re keeping an eye out for a few European cities, as well as a few cities in South America for this coming summer.)
  2. Then there’s the lodging.  Before I discovered point hacking (which is like paying for flights & hotels with Monopoly money), this was a big struggle for us because I had a really hard time spending what I hoped to spend on activities – on one or two nights at a posh resort.

We still have to negotiate lodging most of the trips we take because we could stay much longer at places I’d be happy with, but considering paying with points is more like using monopoly money than real cash, staying at the nicer places is a MUCH easier pill to swallow.

I get to do my activities and check lots of destinations off of my list, we get to sleep in ocean-front rooms with 1800 thread-count sheets and turndown service, and there is still plenty of room in the vacation budget for excursions and “dress-up evenings out.”

I know credit card hacking has a stigma to it because of all of the folks out there who juggle binders full of credit cards in order to support their habit of circling the globe 3 times a year, but it really doesn’t have to be that complicated.  You could spend as little as 30 to 60 minutes per year getting one or two new credit cards that will give you $1000 to $8000 in “play money” to use however you like. (Which, by the way, is WAY less time than what most people spend trying to find reasonably priced flights or lodging “the traditional way” when reasonable flights or lodging don’t exist.)

If you are disciplined about finding flights that are cheaper than the cost of driving there, you won’t even need the points that often.

You can save (extremely) valuable frequent flyer points to open doors that would never otherwise have been opened:

  • A backup plan for when you can’t find flight prices you’re happy with.
  • Business/First class flights
  • Hotels/resorts that would otherwise break the budget. (Sometimes including $1500/night over-water bungalows for under $100.)
  • Free bags
  • Free lounge access before/between flights (saving $50 to $200 in free food/drink per trip)
  • Free Global Entry passes or TSA Pre-Checks

Here is a free report. Try it with no strings attached. I think you’ll like it.

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Want us to help you find trips that are so affordable – you wouldn’t even waste frequent flyer points on them?
Click here. If you live near an airport we watch fares from, we’d be glad to help.

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The most important ingredient when making Pho

Hien – one of my best friends of over 40 years is an amazing cook. He taught me to make authentic Vietnamese Pho (Which is pronounced like the first part of a certain 4-letter word, without the “ck”).

Anyway… thanks to $39 round-trip flights, I was recently able to escape the Colorado cold, and visit he and his brother’s family outside of L.A. While there, we fixed a big pot of Pho and had a big gathering of with their whole family.

Instead of his normal process of taking 4 to 6 hours to cook the broth over medium heat, we decided we’d try to get more flavor by lowering the heat & cooking it overnight.

Best. Pho. Ever!

It turns out the most important ingredient when making a good pot of pho is time.  Low & slow baby. Low and slow.

 The recipe is actually pretty simple: 

  • 4 to 5 lbs beef bones
  • 2 tbsp ground cardamom
  • Handful of star anise
  • 12-15 sticks of cinnamon
  • 1/8 cup salt
  • 1/8 cup sugar
  • 5-6 bay leaves
  • 1-2 onions – grilled
  • 1 piece of ginger – charred
  • Put all of the above in about 2-3 gallons of water and simmer on medium-low for a minimum of 4 hours. (Although low for 12-24 hours will get a better result)
  • After several hours, adjust ingredients to taste, and continue to simmer.
  • When done, strain broth. Add rice noodles and protein of your choice.
  • Garnishes include Vietnamese basil, bean sprouts, limes, siracha sauce, or plum sauce to taste.

Want to pay the best price ever for your next vacation?

Hunt for your vacation the same way; Low & Slow.

  • Rather than DRASTICALLY limiting your options by trying to squeeze a vacation to a specific place at a specific time into a pre-determined amount of time, decide to look start looking for a trip some time 6 to 9 months from now. By planning long ahead, you can figure vacation time out AFTER you find the right deal. (Don’t worry – It doesn’t usually require that much adjusting.)
  • Pick a minimum of 10 destinations you’d want to go to and set up a fare-watch for each of those destinations.
  • Check out prices every morning, but don’t plan on booking anything for at least a couple weeks.
  • You’ll see a couple good deals that are tempting, but trust me – you’re not just looking for “good deals…” You’re looking for “Are you phoking kidding me?” AMAZING deals that you think are a mistake.  When you find one that looks good, there’s no need to wonder if you should wait for it to go down any lower… You snatch that fare up before someone else does, and you do everything in your power not rub it in the face of every other sucker on the plane who paid 3 to 10 times as much as you.

By having the patience to plan well ahead, and the discipline to look daily for the deals that are out there for the taking, you’ll be shocked at how much less you’ll have to pay for a vacation (or weekend trip) to a place you never even thought you could justify going to.

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Of course if that sounds like too much work, you could always just let JGOOT take care of it all for you.
We’ll do the daily digging so you can look over the “Are you phocking kidding me?” deals in less time than it takes to sip your morning coffee.
JustGetOutOfTown.com/upgrade
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PS – My wife is a 2nd grade teacher and hates that I use the F word. But hell – when you’re REALLY trying to get a point across, “effing” just doesn’t cut it.  Besides, when it comes to travel… Do you want an “effing good deal” or an “un-phocking-believably good deal?”