Stiles Bennet, vice president for WIMCO, the Caribbean's largest villa management company, shares his top tips for squeezing the most value out of your vacation budget.
1. Engage an Expert
"You could spend a week just surfing villa websites," says Bennet. "But if you want to find the best deals and the most suitable home for you, working with an agent who knows the destination and the villa inventory well is more important now than ever." Bennet recommends finding a reputable villa manager, telling them your budget and preferences, and then allowing them to do the legwork. Best of all, their expert advice won't cost you a penny extra.
2. Have a Breakdown
Just because a villa is advertised as three bedroom, it doesn't always mean that you have to rent the entire place. Prospective renters should always inquire about breakdown rates, which allow them to occupy only the bedrooms they need (others are locked off) at a reduced rate. You still reap the space benefits of a larger place, but at a price you can afford. "It's a win-win situation," says Bennet. "The owner's operating costs are lower, and renters get more space, more privacy and better value."
3. Speak Up
Bargain-hunting favors the bold, and you have nothing to lose by asking for what you want. Request to have the kitchen stocked with complimentary groceries for your first night, or inquire about a free rental car or transport to and from the airport. "In St. Barts, WIMCO clients get a dining card that gives them a 10 percent discount at select restaurants," says Bennet. "But whatever the destination, the deals are out there; you just need to ask."
4. Fly Direct
"In the Caribbean, regional flights and ferries have the potential to add significant cost and hassle to your vacation," says Bennet, who recommends more easily accessible destinations, such as Jamaica, St. Thomas, Puerto Rico, Barbados and St. Martin. A family of four can save up to $1,000 on flights if they choose a destination with direct air service from the U.S., Bennet says.
5. Follow the Dollar
Even though the U.S. dollar has recently strengthened against the euro and the pound, your money will still go farther in destinations with dollar-based economies. "You'll always pay a premium on islands like Barbados and Mustique," says Bennet, "but in the USVI and the Bahamas, for example, you'll never have to worry about a fluctuating exchange rate."
Ready to rent? These experts can help plan your escape.
A. Anguilla Luxury Collection – 239-344-7810 anguillaluxurycollection.com
B. Blue Escapes – Caribbean-wide; 800-556-4801; blueescapes.com
G. Luxury Retreats – Caribbean-wide; 877-993-0100; luxuryretreats.com
L. St. Barth Properties – 800-421-3396; stbarth.com
M. Unusual Villa & Island Rentals – Caribbean-wide; 800-846-7280; unusualvillarentals.com
N. Villas of Distinction – Caribbean-wide; 800-289-0900; villasofdistinction.com
O. Wimco – Caribbean-wide; 866-483-4071; wimco.com
P. JAVA – 773-463-6688; firstname.lastname@example.org
Online Editor's Note: Ready to own your own piece of paradise? Check out the latest scoop on Buying Caribbean Real Estate.