I booked a mystery flight to the Caribbean for only $197 round-trip
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Last Tuesday, I planned to spend the weekend working on my taxes. By early afternoon on Wednesday, my girlfriend and I had flights booked to one of the hottest spots in the Caribbean — for $197 round-trip. Oh, and we let someone else pick where we’d end up. How in the world did we score last-minute tickets to paradise for barely more than the cost of a night out in New York City? A new service called GetLost Travel, and a willingness to roll the dice on a weekend getaway.
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Booking with GetLost
GetLost offers deeply discounted last-minute flights to a handful of destinations, letting you lock in a trip within between two and 21 days of your booking date. While you can select your departure city — right now, it’s limited to the New York City area — and a general range of times, you don’t get to choose your specific destination.
Instead, you can choose from one of four categories of trips, outlined below:
- Just Go: Charleston, Chicago, Denver, Savannah, Tampa, New Orleans
- Island Time: Antigua, Aruba, Bermuda, Grand Cayman, San Juan, St. Thomas
- Life’s a Beach: Charleston, Miami, San Juan, Sarasota, Savannah, Tampa
- Nightlife: Chicago, Denver, Las Vegas, Miami, New Orleans, Orlando
And, if you’d like, once you pick your category, you can exclude one specific city for $20 per person.
I decided on Island Time for $197 per person — paying with my Chase Sapphire Reserve card to earn 3x points on travel — entered my name, date of birth, credit card number and other details, and clicked to book. While I was hoping I’d find out where I was headed right away, it turns out that isn’t the case — the confirmation note said I’d hear back within 24 hours.
My email confirmation, meanwhile, listed 24 to 48 hours — when you’re booking just a couple days in advance, that’s a very important distinction!
Less than six hours after receiving that email, I had the flight confirmation. We were going to Aruba (AUA)! And on nonstop United flights nonetheless. Best yet, GetLost had booked us in regular economy, rather than basic economy, so we were eligible for seat selections, regular mileage earnings and upgrades.
We were confirmed on a 7:08 a.m. departure from Newark (EWR), but just for fun, I checked flights later in the morning to see if any had upgrade availability — the “PZ” fare class, with United. As it turns out, there were two seats in PZ class on the 8:30 a.m. departure, and since the flight had been booked less than 24 hours before, I was able to move to that flight free of charge in the app. As a Premier 1K member, we appeared at the No. 1 and No. 2 positions on the upgrade waitlist, and a few minutes later, our complimentary upgrades cleared into business class. What a score!
While I was thrilled to have scored an upgrade, most United flights operate out of Newark, which can be a costly ride from my girlfriend’s apartment in Brooklyn. My 15% Lyft Pink discount (courtesy of the Chase Sapphire Reserve card) brought the cost down to $67.57, and the ride took just over 30 minutes — not bad for the early morning journey from Bedford-Stuyvesant to Newark.
We cut it fairly close, with a Newark arrival just before 7 a.m., but still had time to visit the United Club — which was free, since we had both been upgraded to regional business class. And, after pushing back nearly 10 minutes early, we were on our way.
With nearly five hours onboard, the flight overlapped with both breakfast and lunch. The flight attendant didn’t prioritize meals based on status, so “scrambled eggs” (which turned out to be chilaquiles) was all that was left. It was mushy and a mix of spicy and overly bland, if that makes any sense.
Just before landing, we asked for economy snack boxes, which the flight attendant brought over right away, waiving the usual charge.
The journey didn’t exactly fly by — it was honestly a bit far to travel for a one-night trip to Aruba — but our eyes certainly lit up the moment we saw the sunshine, and clear blue water below.
See my detailed review of United’s 737 business class for a better idea of what to expect onboard.
We ended up landing a few minutes ahead of schedule and made it through the automated immigration checkpoint in just a minute or two. Even with a 10-minute (and $25, after tip) taxi ride to the Renaissance, plus a boat to Renaissance Island, we managed to make it to the beach in only an hour and change after landing.
For the return flight, meanwhile, my PlusPoints upgrade request didn’t clear, since the cabin checked in full. We ended up with free Economy Plus seats, though, and the middle seat stayed empty for the long flight home. Also, although we had a Boeing 737-900ER for both legs, the return flight didn’t have seat-back entertainment, while the outbound did. The streaming entertainment worked just fine, though.
While we didn’t hear a peep about coronavirus during our stay in Aruba, it was certainly on our minds, so we gave our seats a thorough rubdown with some antibacterial wipes, as recommended in this post.
Row 12 had a misaligned window, but I didn’t mind leaning forward to catch some sunset takeoff views!
Meanwhile, our food experience was far from outstanding. There was some turbulence after takeoff, so the crew didn’t come by with food or drinks until a couple of hours after takeoff. The hot meal option of a BBQ chicken sandwich wasn’t fantastic, either, though the flight attendant did waive the $10 charge for both of our meals, thanks to my 1K status.
We also ended up being delayed a bit on the ground in Aruba — a warning light prompted a return to the gate for a mechanic to get onboard, resulting in a delay getting home to Newark. It wasn’t the end of the world — just gave us an excuse to spend more time looking through pictures from our incredible weekend quick getaway!
Don’t miss my United Economy Plus review, for a closer look at the carrier’s regional coach experience.
A night at the Renaissance
While we did spend much of our weekend flying to and from Aruba, that certainly wasn’t the purpose of the trip. Since we were only in town one night, I wanted to make the most of our stay by securing access to Renaissance Island, available exclusively to guests of the Renaissance Aruba Resort & Casino. Paid rates exceeded $600, but I was able to book a stay for 40,000 Marriott Bonvoy points, valued at $320 — in other words, we scored quite a deal. (This hotel is going up from a Marriott Category 5 to 6 property on March 4.) Eventually, GetLost plans to offer discounted hotel stays as part of a travel package, but that side of the operation isn’t up and running just yet. That’s OK though, that’s what hotel points are for.
A 40,000-point redemption secured us a base room at the main Marina hotel, but a suite was available at the waterfront Ocean Suites building, so the check-in agent was happy to upgrade us for the night thanks to my lifetime Titanium Marriott status.
We were assigned an “Island Suite,” which has a “garden view” from the attached balcony. The garden turned out to be more of a “parking lot,” but I didn’t mind much since we had such a short stay. The room could use some love. I wouldn’t have been thrilled with the decor had I paid $600+ for the night, but it was fine for a 40,000-point redemption, especially considering the access to Renaissance Island.
Regardless of which room type you book, all guests get to visit the island — a world away from the busy marina area. It’s a spectacular spot.
You can order food and drinks on the island, but it’s a bit of a mixed bag — the tuna portion was fairly modest for $18, and the $7 chips came with guacamole that had clearly been squeezed out of a tube. I did score a 10% Marriott elite member discount, though.
After catching the last boat from the island — at 6:45 p.m. — we walked 20 minutes to Barefoot Restaurant, an especially popular spot.
The menu prices seemed entirely reasonable to this New Yorker — $14.50 for the “Two Tuna” starter, below, while my “Romance of the Sea” entree combo of grouper, snapper and mahi-mahi cost $34.50.
After a fun dinner on the beach, we headed to the main hotel for a quick blackjack session at the casino — where I won $50 — headed straight to bed, and woke up around 7 a.m. the next morning, eager to make the most of our half-day at the beach.
As a Titanium member, I was offered a choice of 1,000 points (worth $8, based on our valuations) or complimentary continental breakfast for two. I chose the breakfast. You pretty much always want to choose the breakfast.
Cold items are included free of charge if you select continental breakfast as your welcome amenity, or you can upgrade to the full buffet for just $6 — an entirely reasonable fee, especially considering the top-notch omelets.
While we did have to put some extra effort into fighting off the aggressive wildlife, we had a fantastic breakfast — it kept us full for most of the day.
From there, we headed straight to the Renaissance Island ferry, where a dozen or so other guests were already in line. It arrived a couple of minutes later, but was almost full after loading passengers at the main hotel first. The captain let everyone else onboard, but stopped us just before we stepped on, saying the boat was full, but that another would be arriving in “one minute.” Another boat did come by about 10 minutes later, but it bypassed our stop entirely since it was already full.
Finally, about 30 minutes after we arrived at the pier, we boarded the first boat, after the captain had completed a round-trip.
Despite the delay, we managed to have a fantastic day of swimming, plane-spotting and flamingo-watching on the island — I’ve already detailed the Renaissance Island experience here, so I recommend checking out that post for more of what to expect once you arrive. We did get to try a bit more of the food this time around, though — we were sitting next to a very friendly guest on a work trip, so she was being especially generous in offering us a variety of local fare, including some delicious fresh-grilled shrimp.
We decided to have our final meal back at the hotel, including some poolside chicken tacos. At $17, they were quite a letdown — the tortillas were soggy, and the entire dish was cold, with the same squeezed-from-a-tube guacamole we had on the island.
There was plenty of entertainment around our table though, courtesy of a dozen or so iguanas — including this duo fighting over a piece of lettuce!
It’s pretty incredible how much we were able to pack into a one-night stay. While the hourlong tarmac delay meant we didn’t get to end the trip on the highest of notes, we were both in disbelief at how affordably we were able to pull off a last-minute trip to paradise by trusting a site to pick our final destination.
As for GetLost, I can’t see how it’s sustainable to collect $197 from me only to turn around and book a $387 flight with United. I certainly appreciate the savings, but considering the taxes for my itinerary came to $127 on their own, unless I’m missing something, it might be challenging for the company to ever make money on some of these flights — even if it’s able to secure a steep discount from the airlines. GetLost may need to sell flights at a loss, depending on revenue from hotel bookings and excursions, instead. Time will tell how this plays out, but our overall experience heading to Aruba for the weekend for $197 in flights each was pretty fantastic.
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