We fell in love with Mérida, Mexico before we even landed. With several million hotel points we could have had our pick from just about anywhere, so why did we spend money on an Airbnb when we could have stayed for free?
Why Mérida, Mexico
I read an article in Condé Nast Traveler more than a year ago while in Bangkok. One of the editors of that magazine along with the photographer that took the cover photo (and several others in the magazine) of the very issue upstairs in our room, sat next to us at the Park Hyatt Bangkok during breakfast on the hotel’s launch weekend. It was very travel-geeky of me to hold onto the magazine for as long as I have and to hold the destination in my heart as I have done, but such is life.
The city is the capital of the Yucatán state, located on the northwest corner of the eponymous peninsula. A three-hour bus ride away from Cancún, the city is more or less the antithesis of Cancún, Cozumel, Playa Del Carmen and the recently trendy emphasis on Tulum. It’s old Mexico. Close enough to the coast to get to the beach if you want (30 miles and about 40 minutes drive – $11 in an UberX), it’s sunny and hot. Halfway to the coast, north of the city center is Dzibilchatlun, a Mayan ruin site famous for a building that perfectly welcomes the spring and fall solstice; the site includes a cenote. The old town has several large plazas, imposing Cathedrals, excellent food and serves as a resort city for those that want to get away from Mexico City but have no interest in the foreigner crowds of Cancún and Cabo.
We Have Hotel Points Coming Out Of Our Ears
I have several million hotel points across most chains with top-status from Hyatt, Hilton, IHG, and SPG/Marriott. My wife has points as well, and we hold the Hyatt credit card. We shouldn’t pay out of pocket for hotel stays for several years worth of vacations. This isn’t to brag, others are in similar situations and still, others have many million more points than we do with perhaps still higher hotel status. It’s just to show why this was such a counterintuitive move.
The city offers chain hotels from Hyatt, Hilton, and IHG. The Hyatt is a full-service Hyatt Regency in the heart of a new development area and historic government buildings. The Intercontinental and Holiday Inn properties are nearby as well and all boast the possibility for a reasonably priced (both in points and cash) and very welcoming stay. Staying at Hyatt or Hilton would have also included breakfast, though not at the IHG properties because they hate their elites. The Hilton properties, while limited-service brands, would have also cost us less than one-night at a mediocre airport hotel in the US.
Smart use of our money would have put us in any of these absolutely reasonable and accommodating properties and in the case of Hyatt and Hilton, perhaps even in a suite. I was close to pulling the trigger on the IHG property despite the fact that they hate their elites but then I checked Airbnb.
Then We Found This Airbnb
They say, when you know, you know. While the city has an unfathomable amount of beautiful properties in the historic city center, the one we chose stood head and shoulders above the rest. I have decided against including the listing, but interested parties can source it for themselves if they are so inclined. The below image is just a random renovated Colonial-style building near our Airbnb.
The listing appeared stunning and the prices were reasonable. For $150-160/nt, how could we not book this three bedroom, three bathroom property?
Travel Is About Experience, Not Cost
While we could have saved a considerable amount of money for our small family by booking a hotel using points, the experience of living in a converted colonial home in Centro, Mérida was far more valuable. We felt like locals, though we were not. Hotels can be soul-less, and the very reason we love them (a reliably positive experience) can be a little too uniform for some trips.
It was more money than using points, yes, but it was so very worth it.
Feeling At Home Vs. Hotel Pampering
There is a lot to like about hotels. There is a lot to love actually. Pancake breakfasts as a family are a rarity at home but in hotels, they are part and parcel with the stay. Some of the accommodations can be over-the-top, while we have rarely found such delightful surprises with Airbnb rentals. We never have to pack toiletries (though sometimes we do just to avoid KenetMD), service is always a phone call away, we can mostly check in and out whenever we want. There are no odd rules to follow and generally, hotels go way above and beyond their required duties in our experience.
If Airbnb had a loyalty program, maybe we would be more active members and customers than we are now. In the last two years, we have used Airbnb just twice, both were very unique circumstances. Last year, my family had an extended holiday slow traveling through Asia and set up shop via Airbnb. Before that, just two other stays come to mind, stretching back more than four years.
While Airbnb kitchens come with their own unique set of risks (Carly, I am looking at you), they allow for cooking and better-utilizing budgets by making small meals and bringing home leftovers. It also allows you to really make yourself at home. Lucy was busy shopping in the markets for decorative items to make “her room” more her own. We had a pool to ourselves, a garden, our own not-yet-ripe orange trees. We had a key, a private address, a home. There was something very settled about that, something hotels can’t deliver.
Have you found an Airbnb that you were compelled to book over free nights in a hotel? Should we have tried something else?