By Señior Tech from the October 2018 Edition
A few months ago, some close friends told us about an exciting trip they had planned, a visit to China. It included a four-day river cruise up the Yangtze River and various tours around Shanghai.
A month before they were to leave, they received the news that their tour operator had gone bankrupt and that their trip was cancelled. Since they had paid for their trip with a credit card, they were told they would get their money back, eventually. But the trip they had gotten so hyped up about, was no longer an option on the dates they planned.
I may be a rebel, but I have found that I would rather do my own planning and booking. Recently, we spent ten days in Mexico City. For this trip, I used a number of online services to plan, book and arrange transportation. Prior to our trip, I used TripAdvisor.com, Hotels.com, and OpenTable.com to research restaurants, hotels and points of interest in CDMX (Mexico City or Mexico, DF (Distrito Federal)).
TripAdvisor is an excellent resource to get information on hotels, restaurants, and tourist attractions. TripAdvisor users provide ratings that can help narrow down choices while planning. If you still have questions about any hotel, restaurant or attraction, leave a message on any review and you will usually get a response within a few days.
Two to three weeks before flying into CDMX, I spent a couple of hours reading reviews on restaurants in the area close to where we were going to stay. I prepared a list of close to twenty restaurants, including menus, pricing, telephone numbers and addresses. TripAdvisor lists over 5,000 restaurants in CDMX.
I concentrated on those rated within the top 200. I refined the search to only include those in our immediate area.
I wanted to book high-rated restaurants on certain nights to ensure we would get a table. OpenTable.com is an online table booking service. I was able to book a table at about 80% of the restaurants we wanted to try. OpenTable lets you book the time and date; if a table is not available, the app will offer the next available time/date. A confirmation is emailed.
If you have the app on your phone, your reservations will be stored. The app also has the restaurant’s menu, map and other pertinent information including photos and pricing.
We didn’t want to spend our vacation time looking for good restaurants, so the other restaurants on the list were to be used if a craving for a certain style of food needed to be satisfied.
I used TripAdvisor to select a hotel, then booked through Hotels.com. I like their loyalty program. But you can use any of the other services such as Trivago, TripAdvisor, Priceline, Expedia or any one of hundreds of online booking sites.
The hotel we booked was close to Chapultepec Park in the Polanco area of CDMX. See Suzanne A. Marshall’s article on Mexico City in this issue. TripAdvisor provided invaluable information on numerous points of interest such as museums, bus tours and other tourism activities.
If you have an INAPAM card, museum admission is free. The only museum we had to pay admission for was Frida Kahlo’s Blue House which was $15 pesos instead of $200 pesos. The double decker tour buses were 50% off with INAPAM. (see INAPAM discounts here – in Spanish) cheaper booking direct on AeroMexico’s site.
When we arrived at Terminal 2 in Mexico City, I went to the taxi service desk. They quoted me a $350 peso fare to our hotel. I opened the Uber app on my phone and the fare quoted was
$172 pesos. I clicked on the confirm trip button and I was directed to a point in the taxi pick-up area. I was given an approximate pick-up time and the driver’s auto and license number. It was a 5-minute wait.
We used Uber for the rest of our visit. The app is super easy to use. To call for an Uber car, open the app and enter your destination. Remember the restaurant list I made? I input the restaurant’s name and a route map and fare information was displayed.
On clicking the confirm button, a number of Uber cars close to us was displayed; the closest car was automatically selected. At the end of the trip, the fare is automatically billed to my PayPal account and I am asked to rate the driver. Of course, the driver also rates you as a passenger.
The OpenTable app has an Uber button on the confirmed reservations page. To give you an idea how affordable this service is, our taxi fare to/from our condo in Manzanillo was $900 pesos, the total of all Uber fares for ten days in CDMX was $1,182 pesos (that includes tips for good service and fares to/from our hotel and the airport).
In the USA and Canada (Toronto only so far), there is a competing service to Uber called Lyft. There are hundreds of online booking sites. The ones discussed in this article are ones I use.
They all have apps that will work on your smartphone.
If you don’t want to spend the time pre-planning and booking your trips, travel agents and tour companies will be happy to do it for you. But, if you want to control and select the best flight connections, and be assured that your vacation will not be spoiled by tour companies that go out of business, then doing it yourself is the best option. Booking hotels online also gives you the choice of booking and paying at the hotel. This can save you stress if your plans change.
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Señior Tech is a technology addict that loves to share tips. He lives in Manzanillo full time and helps keep the community up on the latest tech tricks and toys.