I like to think that I’m pretty savvy when it comes to booking flights, hotel and rental cars. I maintain status with airlines, hotel chains and rental car companies and that usually means priority check-in, lounge access, upgrades and general queue skipping.

I also check travelzoo.com each Wednesday as that’s the day they publish their Top 20 deals. These deals aren’t mistake fares and I’m pretty sure that there isn’t a huge team at Travelzoo who just run test bookings on other travel websites just to come up with these deals – rather these deals are fed to them by travel agencies and the whole thing runs like an affiliate program. Nonetheless, you can find good deals in the Top 20.

So it was last Wednesday 7th January when I saw this deal on the UK version of the Travelzoo site:

TravelZoo Cuba Top 20
TravelZoo Cuba Top 20

Sounds like a great deal. I checked Trip Advisor for both of the hotels and the reviews were good. I checked the Virgin Holidays website and found that 10 nights in the Varadero hotel with Virgin flights was £1472 per person – I couldn’t find a way to mimic the two-centre stay on the Virgin website. I noticed that this price included airport-hotel transfers.

I continued reading down the Travelzoo page:
Add return transfers for £40 per person. Checked luggage (23kg) is included.
A tourist visa costs £15 per person.
There’s a £350 supplement per person for solo travellers
Upgrade to the The Royalton Hicacos Diamond Club for 24-hour room service, 20% discount on spa treatments and more (contact The Holiday Place for more details) from £149 per person for seven nights

I decided that I should book the Royalton Hicacos Diamond Club as I remember how much better Club Premium was in the Barceló Punta Cana and Fuerteventura. It looks like these are the main benefits:

  • Personalized check-in – it’s always nice to skip the check-in line and I think you’re more likely to receive a better room from the premium check-in reception
  • Cold towel service upon arrival
  • Unpacking and packing service – don’t think I’d want this and not sure how I would answer the ‘did you pack these bags yourself’ question at the airport
  • Personalized nightly turndown service
  • Bath preparation in the room (upon request)
  • Beach towels in room – this sounds like a saving as hotels often charge for beach towels
  • Butler service menu
  • Diamond Club service desk
  • Exclusive beach area with waiter service
  • Unlimited reservations for the à la carte restaurants – this is important as it’s always difficult to get reservations in the à la carte restaurants
  • Selected premium drinks – availably in the Lobby Bar
  • À la carte lunch (in one of the restaurants)
  • Pool grill with assorted brochettes
  • In-room breakfast service coordination – I suppose breakfast on the terrace could be good
  • 24-hour room service with special menus for breakfast, lunch and dinner – handy if you become ill during your stay
  • Mini-bar (restocked daily with upgraded beverages) – this is important as it means that you’ll have bottled water in the room
  • Bathrobes
  • Special discount on spa treatments
  • Special discount on beauty parlour services
  • Special discount on laundry services

Having never been to Cuba, I wasn’t able to think of any other smart moves to make and so I called the Holiday Place who were the actual sellers of this deal. I spoke to a friendly lady and asked about the deal, whether there were any deals on Virgin Atlantic upgrades to premium economy etc. The upgrades were too expensive and so I resigned myself to a long-haul economy flight – after all it was a great deal.

  • I wanted to fly on dates just outside that deal – so an extra £99. Ching!
  • We talked about transfers at £40 each. Apparently it is a 2.5 hour journey to Varadero and the coach stops at other hotels en route. Well, yes, I think we better have private car transfers. These were per person and not per vehicle. Ching!
  • I said I’d like the Royalton Hicacos Diamond Club at £150 per person. Ching!
  • The lady explained that the hotel in Havana, that was part of the deal, was 20 minutes outside the centre. And as we were only there for a few days, we’d be wasting time taking taxis to and from the centre. But they had a good deal on a central hotel. Ching! I should have been smarter here as the deal wasn’t good at all and was almost as much as the hotel would charge if you just rolled up at reception. I questioned this later and it turned out that the original hotel was almost free as part of the TravelZoo deal.
  • Then there was £15 per person for visas and a 2% surcharge for credit cards. Ching!

After recklessly booking all of the above, I used the Virgin flight reference to choose seats on the flights. I haven’t flown Virgin for a while and despite both of us being Silver Card holders, the good economy seats were about £50 per person per flight. Would put ‘Ching’ here but I have a plan to reduce this cost.

After all of this, this great deal was 50% more than originally advertised. And I’m still flying economy! It’s probably still a reasonable deal, just not a great deal. I’m sure I’ll prefer staying in central Havana, transferring by private car and enjoy the Royalton Hicacos Diamond Club.

If you see a great deal, check the minimum extras you’ll need to pay – in this case it was £40 per person for transfers and £15 for visa. And if that is your budget then stick to that when you call the agent. Chances are you’ll be offered upgrade options at a much lower price during your trip.

If you do decide that you want all the upgrades offered, check the final price and then go away and look at what you could get for that price elsewhere.

Or you could just be reckless like me and hand over your credit card!

My plan for Virgin seat charges: I have a BA Gold Card and I’ve read that Virgin were aggressively status matching last year when they were running their little red service between London and Manchester. Let’s hope they will still match as Virgin Gold card holders don’t pay for seats – plus we’ll have access to the Virgin lounge. I’ll let you know how my status match request works out.