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Visiting Spain, Gibraltar, and Portugal on a Budget

I just returned home from an amazing two weeks traveling across Spain and the Iberian Peninsula. Traveling the world is my very favorite hobby, and I wanted to share with you all both what we did and how much it cost for this big overseas vacation.

Visiting-Spain-Gibraltar-and-Portugal-on-a-Budget

Flights

Our main flight path across the pond was booked using American Airlines miles earned from the AA Executive card. When I signed up, there was a 100,000 point bonus after spending $10,000 on the card. I used manufactured spending to hit the $10,000 requirement and was left with over 110,000 AA miles in my account. The card had a $450 annual fee and granted American Airlines and US Airways lounge access. I have since cancelled the card to avoid a second year $450 fee.

Using the miles to get to Europe was easy, it turned out the hard part was getting out of Portland to a connecting flight. We ended up getting to Spain on a PDX-SEA-LHR-BCN route, with an Alaska flight to Seattle and British Airways the rest of the way to Barcelona. Our return flight route was LIS-PHL-SEA-PDX. We crossed the Atlantic on US Airways and took Alaksa the rest of the way home.

The cost for these flights was $882 out of pocket plus 80,000 miles. Flying British Airways overseas has lots of taxes and fees, which made up most of that $882, but that was our only option to make the dates work for our trip. Including the annual fee from the credit card, our cost was $1,209 for two round trips from PDX to Europe, or $604 per person. This was more than I had hoped to spend, but it is still a pretty sweet deal compared to the list price of about $1,200-$2,000 each.

Long Haul Flight Total Out of Pocket: $882 round trip

Hotels

Barcelona

We arrived in Barcelona on a Saturday evening. We had pre-booked our hotel (Hotel Atlas) on Hotels.com for about €109 per night after a 10% off deal at Hotels.com. I picked this hotel for one reason above anything else: location, location, location. For the area, this was by far the best deal.

The hotel was not a luxury hotel by any means. We had a leaky shower, paint peeling in our bathroom, a TV that hardly worked, and UK outlets next to the bed. But we were just steps from Barcelona’s main pedestrian street, La Rambla, and only a few minutes from Catalonia Square.

I paid with my Chase Sapphire Preferred card, so I got double miles and had no foreign exchange fee. Total cost: $354 for three nights.

Madrid

In Madrid we decided to go the real budget route and stayed at Cat’s Hostel, owned by popular hostel chain Europe’s Famous Hostels. We did spring for a private room and private bathroom, so our cost was more than typical backpackers pay at hostels for dorm style rooms.

This was definitely a party hostel, but being down the hall in the attic rooms kept noise to a minimum compared to past hostel stays. I made the reservation at HostelBookers.com. Our total cost for three nights was $195.

Seville

In Seville we chose a higher end hostel, which was more like a low quality hotel than a hostel. We again got a private room, so we paid more than dorm style accommodations. We stayed at the Pension Nueva Pino hostel and paid $339 for four nights.

This hostel was smaller than the typical giant hostels I have stayed at before, but it was nice to have more peace and quiet. The location is just off the main shopping district and a short walk from nearly all major Seville attractions.

Lisbon

I wanted to end our trip in luxury, and thanks to the tens of thousands of Starwood points I had from my old Starwood Amex card, we had plenty of points to stay at the five star downtown Sheridan.

You can get more value from your points from hotels that offer cash + points redemption. The cost was €75 per night plus 7,000 Starwood Preferred Guest points. In dollars our cost was $243 for three nights.

When you are staying in a hotel with points, you have fewer options on location, but we were very happy staying in the modern business downtown area and taking the Metro to big tourist areas and sites.

Hotels / Hostels Total: $1,131 for 12 nights

Getting Around

We stayed in four cities and visited another country, Gibraltar, during our trip. Spain is a big enough country that taking inter-city busses would be a major time suck, and we wanted to get the best use of our time in our two weeks away.

Spain’s major inter-city rail network is operated by Renfe, and that is how we traveled from Barcelona to Madrid and Madrid to Seville. The AVE train is Spain’s high speed railway, and we bolted across the Spanish countryside at speeds in excess 300 kilometers per hour. That is 186 miles per hour for us imperial unit folks.

The prices can vary widely based on the time you go and how many tickets are still available. We booked our train tickets way ahead so we could get the best deal. I had trouble using my US credit card on the Renfe website, so I paid with PayPal. Our train tickets were $73 for the ride to Madrid and $136 to Seville for two.

There were no great options to go from Seville to Lisbon, but Lisbon’s TAP Airways did have a flight to Lisbon, so we paid cash for that flight instead of using miles. Our cost was $99 each for the one-way flight including checked bags. In our one-hour flight, we were provided a small meal. Talk about good airline service! Total cost: $198.

For our day trip to Gibraltar, my favorite day on the trip and a life list goal I have had since I first created my list. We rented a car for the day and took a GPS as well. Our car rental was $40.

Transportation Total: $447

Activities and Touring

We brought along a copy of Lonely Planet Spain and picked up the Portugal version on our trip at a Madrid bookstore. These books are a great investment and a “must have” for me while on the road in a new country. If we had planned ahead for the Portugal book, we could have saved about $10.

We had a plan of attached for each city, based on the Lonely Planet books and online research. We did some amazing things on our trip.

A top tourist destination in Spain is the country’s wide variety of massive Catholic churches. While I’m Jewish, I can still enjoy the history and architecture. Most churches are free to visit, but some very popular destinations like Gaudi’s Segrada Familia Basilica charged an entrance fee.

I do not stress on entry fees on vacation, because that is half the reason to go explore new cities. I didn’t track our activity costs over the trip, but going back through my history on Personal Capital, I put together a quick reference list.

We also purchased Metro passes in Barcelona and Lisbon to help us get around faster. Here are some top sights and their costs for two adults. I didn’t keep every receipt, so some of these prices are from my financial history and some are from the attraction websites.

Barcelona

  • Unlimited ride Metro Pass – $30
  • Segrada Familia – $32
  • Gaudi’s House Museum – $12
  • Main Synagogue Museum – €5
  • Park Guell – Free
  • Catedral Barcelona – €1 Euro per person suggested donation
  • Picasso Museum – Free on Sunday, normally €14 including temporary exhibition
  • Montjuic Castle – €10
  • Shopping at Zara – I don’t want to talk about it.. Fine, I’ll tell you. I spent about $300 to update my wardrobe.

Madrid

  • Metro Pass – $13
  • Flamenco Show – $58
  • Prado Museum – $30
  • Free Tour – €10 tip
  • Egyptian Museum – Temple of Debod – Free
  • Cathedral – €2

Seville

  • Cathedral – €16
  • Royal Alcazar – $21

Gibraltar

  • Cable Car with Nature Reserve – £19.50

Lisbon

  • Oceanario De Lisboa – Lisbon Aquarium – $37
  • Sao Jorge Castle – €17

Meals

Most mornings we ate breakfast at our hotel or hostel, but other than that we ate our meals out the entire trip. We could have saved a ton of money buying groceries and cooking in the hostel kitchens, but we were on vacation and didn’t want to cook.

Restaurant prices are comparable to the United States in the big cities we visited. Seville was noticeably less expensive for dining and drinks.

A Great Iberian Experience

We had a great trip overall, and our “overhead” costs for flights, hotels, and transportation was $2,460. We may have been able to cut some costs staying in cheaper hotels or skipping the private rooms at hostels, but our trip was a great value for this cost. I am over staying in dorm rooms in hostels at this point in my life, though there could have been extra savings if we had really needed to (or wanted to) cut expenses.

It was a great trip overall. I got three new countries marked off my list, including the not-so-easy-to-visit Gibraltar. If I were going again, I might have trimmed a day from Madrid and added it to Gibraltar, or Seville to take another day trip to visit a town like Cordoba or Cadiz.

Have you ever taken an amazing trip to Spain? I would love to hear all about it in the comments. If you are headed that way, let me know if you have any questions.