Vacationing to the Philippines: What to Expect in Spending and Enjoying

On the first week of September, I will be flying back to Manila after a 2 year wait so I can be able to save up for a decent vacation. Unfortunately 1 house trouble, 1 ER run and a Jaw operation later- I lost about a good $1000 of my hard earned vacation money that I scraped up in 2 years.

So for the past few months I have been frugally setting aside money for my vacation so as not to put a dent on my savings and my family finances.

To be able to stretch out my budget and still enjoy my vacation took  a great deal of planning on my part.  First I laid down what I want to do during my trip within a 3 week period.

Originally I was planning to go to Coron for 3 nights a $150 deal which you can get via Coupon Deal sites like Metrodeal, but since I was arriving during storm season, I’m pretty much restricted to the city.

Screencap of deals offered in Metrodeal

Screencap of deals offered in Metrodeal

Below is my wish list of what I plan to accomplish

Massages and Spas – Like really good Spas
Salon makeover
Dinner with friends in a good restaurant
Staying over a nice hotel with friends
Giving out gift money to nieces and nephews
Modest shopping in Divisoria
Getting my family some nice gifts and eating out.

I also had to consider the cost of getting around and other unforseen fees like travel and commute money, tips, minor groceries and such.

The good thing about making US Dollars is that $20.00 can go a long way in the Philippines. Places like McDonalds are cheaper and even do delivery. And a luxury spa can cost between $15-25.00 for 90 minute massage.

But there are things that match up US rates in commodity, like gas and clothing.

In fact Forever21 in the Philippines cost more. A $12 shirt here can cost about $15-17.00 in Manila.

And with gas prices just as much as US rates, many would opt for public transportation.

I made some calls and a little research and drafted up a Peso and Dollar conversion table of what my estimated expenses would be.

Expenses PHP Equivalent Dollar $ Equivalent at $1= Php 43.25         Good For
Toll gate/E-Pass (Manila) ₱ 1200 $27.00  1 week commute via skyway
Gas Money ₱ 2000 $46.00
Restaurant Meal for 2 (3 star) ₱ 700 $16.50
McDonald Meal for 1 Php85.00-120.00 $2.50-5.00
Taxi Fares Paranaque-Makati Php175.00 $5.00 Sometimes can cost Php 250
Tamaraw/FX fares per trip Php20.00 Between Php 20-40.00 depending on distance
MRT Fares (railway) Php15.00 $0.50 or Php 20.00
Jeepney Fare per fare Php9.00 $0.50
Tips 8-10% for a 500Php Meal Php500.00 $12.00 Tip Between PhP20-50.00 Per meal. Good for 10 Tips
High end Hair Cut/Salon Php800.00 $20.00 Can be as low as Php500 expensive Php1200
Mani/Pedi/Foot Spa Php400.00 $10.00 Can be as low as Php 350.00
Movies 3D Php300.00 $7.25 Regular Php 230
Movies Imax on SM Cinemas Php400.00 $9.50 Select SM Malls only
Massage and Spa 1 Hour Php800.00 $18.00 Some can cost as low as Php400 High end PhP1300
Pocket Money to carry Php800.00 $18.00
Pocket Money in Malls Php1,200.00 $30.00
Hotels
1 Night Hotel Stay 4 star Manila Php3,500.00-4100 $83.00-120 Tax and other fees may apply
1 Night Hotel stay 3 star Manila Php3,100.00 $58.00
Hotel packages via Metro deals Php1400-2000 $32.00
Airfare Manila-Boracay RT Php3,175.00 $75.00
Php3,175.00 $238.00

In the past few months Im saving at least $40 of my paycheck to go to above expenses on top of my original pocket money. this way I won’t break the bank on my Manila Trip.

Since hotels were expensive I was able to book myself a fully furnished condo in the heart of the city via AirBnb.  By filtering out the location I want and price range that I need, I was able to book myself a nice fully furnished Condo near the Greenbelt shopping district located in Makati for under $65/night. Here’s a look below of the great deals you can get via Airbnb in the Philippines

An AirBnB condo for rent at the Gramercy in Makati

I will update this cost table with the current Philippine rates as far as commute, eating out and other expenses once I return from my trip for future reference.

Planning a Trip to Manila, Philippines- Budget Airfare Planning

On the first week of September, I will be flying back to Manila after long two year wait while saving up enough funds for a decent vacation.   Unfortunately 1 house trouble, 1 ER run and a Jaw operation later; I lost about a good $1000 of my hard earned vacation money that I scraped up in 2 years to pay for the said expenses.

For the past few months I’ve been frugally setting aside money for my trip so as not to put a dent on my savings and my family finances. And when you become desperately frugal, you learn a good trick or two when keeping all expenses within budget.

So lets start with the  Airfare.

Before that here are some crucial tips when booking for your plane ticket that I learned from the travel pros

  • Fly out and return a weekday between Sunday-Thursday. RATES ARE CHEAPER ON THESE DAYS
  • Scout out for tickets on a Tuesday Morning. Always before 1:00 PM  Pacific Standard Time
  • Best time to book is between 3 months to 8 weeks before your flight. However there may be some good rates as early as 5 months before.
  • Sign up for a mileage membership on your choice airline. You get perks plus access to lounges when you fly to their  airport hubs. (Examples: Mabuhay Miles, Delta Skymiles). If you fly with them often enough, you will be able to redeem your points for free upgrades, extra free check in baggage and free flights
  • For existing mileage club members like for Delta Skymiles or Star Alliance, you can still redeem points outside of flying when you book at affiliated hotels or even when shopping at suggested retail brands. Just refer your membership #.

When flying to the Philippines, the best way to get the lowest fare is to know when to fly and when to book. It’s all about timing.

In the Philippines, summer starts by the end of March ending middle of May a timeframe that offers the lowest airfare rates to fly to Manila.  Airfare Tickets from California- regardless if you are in LA or San Francisco are the lowest around these dates.  Kayak.com has a great app that buzzes your phone when rates on a chosen dates goes up or down.

Philippine Summer Best Time to Fly (lowest rates)
First week of March- Middle of May

Estimated airfare rates as of 2014 flying from California w/ tax and fees $790-920.

The Best rate I found were  Delta Airlines $860   Japan Airlines  $920 during my previous searches back in March for an April-May flight.

If you are willing to spend a little more on airfare for Travel comfort, I highly recommend Japan Airlines  to travel to Manila and even offers direct flights from San Diego CA.

An ideal flight travel duration for flying would be 12-14 hours for nonstop and 16-19 hours for those with short stopovers. Stopovers in  Tokyo. Japan and Seoul Korea are worth your time especially if you want to get unique gifts for friends and family back home (example Sake, chocolates).  Duty Free items bought inside airports will not be considered as check in luggage and may be considered as separate items from your carry on- especially during stopover/layovers – to be safe always check with your airlines on rules on big Duty Free purchases (electronics, toys, wines, clothing) once you get to the airport.

Airfare comparison during a March Flight via Kayak and All Nippon Airways

Airfare comparison during a March Flight via Kayak and All Nippon Airways

Philippine Airlines may release a promo for a non-stop flight for as low as $850 but always read the fine print. Mostly they are Budget Promos  meaning  no refund and only One Free Check in Baggage allowed.

Flights around the middle of May up to end of August will cost you from $1200-1300 even as high as $1400. Not to mention June is the start of the rainy season in the Philippines which is not an ideal time to visit.

The next best time to fly will be in September to Mid November. I was able to buy a Delta airlines flight for $860.00

For December flights it will be impossible to get a cheap flight close to Christmas no lower than $1150 but the best time to fly will be during or after Christmas

If  you are flying around July-September keep in mind that you will coming during the middle of heavy monsoon season and may experience occasional typhoons, so depending on where your final destination in the Philippines may be, you may experience heavy rains and up to knee height in flooding.

Below is a quick table guide on for estimated Travel Rates and Date Ranges for Round Trip Flights to Manila, Philippines. Searches are done 6-8 weeks prior of intended date of flight

Beginning Ending Estimated RT Rates from LAX (tax incld) Estimated RT from San Diego (Tax incld)
2nd week January Middle Febuary  $790-**1100 $870-1100
Early March End of April $839-**1220 $890-1100
Middle of Aug First week of Dec $790-**1150 $895-1200

** Philippine Airline flights from LAX or SF are normally withing the $950-1100.00 range.  Rates for as low as $870 are a special Budget Promo Special with restrictions and limitations on check in baggage.

For me I keep 3 handy websites to find my flights

*Please note that the cheaper the airfare this may mean either longer layovers, travel time up to 30 hours or only ONE check in baggage allowed.  Always review the flight details before selecting your ticket choice.

  1. Kayak – Has a fare calendar that gives you a forecast of possible rates up to 12 months and the app gives you a Buzz alerts of lowest fares found by users
  1. ITAMatrix you cannot book from this site but they give you a raw look of how much airfares cost, which you can use as base reference when booking directly through an Airline or travel sites like Expedia or Kayak.  I sue this to negotiate a good ticket rate with my travel agent.
  1. All Nippon Airways (ANA) and Asiana Airlines – Even though Philippine Airlines offers the only straight flight from LAX or SF to Manila, these two airlines can beat their fares. The stop overs aren’t bad either. Mostly 1-2 hours. But do check with the rules for their connecting flights as they sometimes use a different airline (US Airways or American Airline) and other rules or fees may apply.  On promo fares flights to Manila between ANA and Asiana even Korean can get as low as $780 RT tax included.

If you live in California, pick up one to those Philippine newspapers  like Asian Journal and look at the travel ads. Some of the travel agencies like Mango Tours and SNS Travel in National City would advertise flash promo rates as low as $850 on certain flights. The advantage of going with travel agents is that they occasionally offer better deals (especially for holidays) than directly from the airline or travel insurance. But again, always read the fine print before signing up for the cheapest deals available.

Once you have booked your flight especially when using  a travel site like Kayak or Priceline, call your airline and confirm your flight is reserved/booked. This way you won’t get blindsided by hidden fees or lost/cancelled reservations. Make sure to also inform your airlines of your frequent flyer # if you have one.

And for your comfort take advantage of choosing your seats through the airlines website so you can find an area that may offer better legspace for you even when you are flying coach/economy.  In any case that you bought your ticket directly from an airline say example for $900 and later the rate goes down to $850, call the airline immediately where you can ask for a credit back or an upgrade to better seating like economy comfort. (this happened to me btw)

So  for this Philippine trip:

Jackpot airfare cost :  Delta Airlines  $860.00   Flying out in September. Ticket purchased in May