Splurge vs. Save: 5 Affordable Alternatives for Lavish Vacation Destinations

Nora Zelevansky
Courtesy HamiltonIsland.com.au

A glimpse of Hamilton Island’s turquoise waters.

Best Secluded Beach Retreats

The splurge destination: Hamilton Island, Whitsundays, Queensland, Australia
When to go: April to September, when the weather is mild to warm
Sample economy airfare: $2,400 from Los Angeles to Hamilton Island
The allure: If the impossibly turquoise waters, white sands and lush greenery aren’t enticing enough, perhaps the diving, snorkeling, sailing, whale watching and wildlife spotting—koalas, wallabies and dingoes, oh my!—will lure you in.

Seshadri says the best time to visit is when it’s summer in the U.S., which is Australia’s winter—and when the weather in Queensland is most ideal. In August you can catch Audi Hamilton Island Race Week—one of Australia’s biggest regattas. Another great draw? Hamilton Island is the only Great Barrier Reef island with its own big commercial airport, so there are direct flights from hubs like Sydney and Melbourne.

For an unforgettable hotel stay, try the splurge-worthy Qualia, on the northernmost tip (from $995 per night). It’s the most upscale resort in the area—the property was ranked best in the world by Condé Nast Traveler in 2013. With its 60 private, beachfront pavilions, this is heaven on earth.

Costa Rica's preservation laws leaves its

Papagayo Peninsula is known for its wild beaches and wildlife.

The budget-friendly alternative: Peninsula Papagayo, Costa Rica
When to go: January to April (peak season), when you’re likely to get the most sun
Sample economy airfare: $692 from New York City to Liberia
The allure: Located on the country’s north Pacific coast, the Peninsula Papagayo offers a good balance of resort life and pristine nature—at affordable prices. Plus, “a brand-new, first-class international airport and a bevy of new hotel openings has made the peninsula much more accessible,” Seshadri says.

That said, 70% of the peninsula must legally remain untouched, so overdevelopment isn’t an issue. Beaches are unspoiled, and the region’s tropical dry forests are home to over 400 species of animals, which you can explore via zip lines and canopy tours. Water activities range from windsurfing to kayaking, and you can catch some major waves at Ollie’s Point at the Santa Elena Peninsula.

Hotel rooms are often open-air and nestled in nature—and reasonably priced. A couple of new properties to consider: the Andaz Papagayo ($350 per night for a standard room) and the Hilton Papagayo ($278 per night for a room with a king bed).

RELATED: When Is the Best Time to Buy Airline Tickets?

Posted in: , ,
  • GillianisGreat

    Wouldn’t it make more sense if the *alternative* used airfare from the same origin as the splurge choice? Otherwise it’s impossible to compare in a meaningful way.

  • Melissa Kennedy

    Describing travel to Chicago as “a little gusty?” If that’s a reference to our major gang/gun problem, you’re not painting the right picture of the city to travelers. Other big cities listed – Bangkok, Hong Kong, Mexico, Costa Rica and Miami – are not immune to crime and danger. Thieves targeting travelers is not any higher in Chicago than in any other popular city. Your readers understand that all travel destinations have some degree of risk so they have to be smart. When you’re a visitor in Chicago – my home – you’re not going to be close to the areas that have become known for their gang and gun violence. People aren’t randomly attacking tourists so no one should feel frightened or gusty to visit the Windy City. Also, you bring up a lot of points that make us a great alternative travel spot. I’d tell anyone who wanted an urban vacation in the US that there are plenty of thing to do, see, eat and places to stay in Chicago that are more budget-conscious than say, New York City or San Fransisco. Just don’t come in the winter and it’s pretty much perfect.

    • Christina Pangburn

      Please look up “guSTy” in the dictionary and that ought to clear up your issue.

      • Hizvondrolon Maltusador

        Christina, your snarky comment aside, Melissa is correct that there is an insinuation that seems out of place.

        • Jill

          What implication? Melissa is talking about a problem with crime, which isn’t even implied in the article. The only even remotely negative item in the article is the aside about the windiness, which is simply a statement of fact. I don’t understand why you and Melissa are both perceiving any negatively in the article.

        • 2cents

          How is she being snarky? And how are they insinuating anything?

    • mere

      It is the windy city, right?

    • Archer

      “gusty” as a play on the “Windy City” – not guTsy which would be your misunderstanding. Learn to read.

    • 2cents

      No one said anything about crime and your rant makes no sense. Are you trying to keep people away from Chicago?

  • Lindsey

    Chicago is called the Windy City because of the politicians, not because of the weather.

  • Paula Lewis

    Apparently we are using different definitions of affordable here. This list does not relate at all to the reality of my life. When Tulum is the most affordable destination on the list, then something ain’t right.

  • Megan

    How is Iceland comparable to Mexico, or Barcelona to Spain? This makes NO sense.

  • Lisa

    So instead of spending $1,200 to fly to Barcelona from NY, I should spend $1,100 to fly from LA to Bangkok?!
    1. How is that a ‘budget-friendly’ alternative?
    2. Interesting that the writer doesn’t mention the costs to fly from LA to Barcelona, or from NY to Bangkok.
    Clearly, ‘affordable’ and ‘budget-friendly’ are relative terms here. Disappointing.