Guatemalan Vacation Secrets: How to Hack the Travel System for Fun, Profit…and Cures?

By June 20, 2012 Health, Travel No Comments

Antigua, Guatemala. January 4th. 9:06am

I wake up to warm sunlight cast over freshly laundered sheets on a hostel bed. My friends are already awake, bent over their beds, packing their bags one final time. We’re ready to return home after having spent the last half month traipsing through jungles, climbing Mayan pyramids, swimming through underwater caves with water so clear you could see the 15 meter-deep bottom, cracking jokes over 3 hour dinners of lamb steak with handmade tortillas and tea-wine concoctions, hiking volcanoes, and engaging in other such adventures as we traveled across Mexico, Belize, and Guatemala.

One of my travel buddies, Nick Winter, at the Mayan pyramid in Tulum, Mexico. photo credit: David Estes





















The airport “colectivo” bus is arriving at noon, sharp. After breakfast, we have just enough time to make the walk across town to send off some postcards, and walk back for the bus. But wait! There is still one thing I have yet to investigate, and it’s not the post office…As we’re walking across the cobblestone street, the sign of the building catches my eye. I stop in the middle of the street and almost get run over by a tuktuk taxi. “Hey, the Medica Bioclinica is open!” I point excitedly to my friends.

Lab test orders in Spanish

An hour later, we end up having our blood drawn for lab tests at a huge discount relative to U.S. rates, in lieu of sending postcards. By the time we make it back to the hostel, the airport shuttle is waiting for us.

Cheap Cures through Medical Tourism

The cost for a panel of 6 hormone tests was $111 USD, when it would normally cost more than twice that much in the United States ($242 at and $277 at

The cost for half a month’s worth of vacation in South America or Southeast Asia is less than rent where I live in Silicon Valley: $700 USD (excluding airfare, which is free with frequent flyer miles).

How to Save Money on Travel

One could use this for medical tourism out of necessity like I did, or just save money on flights and hotels in general.

So far in 2012, I booked 2 free round trip flights, one from San Francisco to Philadelphia, and another to Boston. And, free hotel stays at the Marriott for a cumulative one week at metro locations like Harvard Square in Boston and “Center City” neighborhood in Philadelphia. I still have enough points for a free flight to an international destination for a vacation in December (most likely Thailand or China). The fun never ends…
Here’s how to do it for upcoming trips:
Three or more months before your trip, sign up for one of the best frequent flyer mile deals available below.
I have cards #3 and #8, Chase Sapphire, and Chase Continental Checking, which no longer has the reward points deal as of 2012.
I have cards #4 and #7, the latter of which I ended up using for a roundtrip airline ticket instead of hotel stays.
Credit score concerns:
Your credit score won’t decrease as long as all bills are paid in full every month. You may even increase your credit score due to the increase in total available credit. Most cards have annual fees of $50-200, but the first year is free on all but one of the cards I’ve used in the last 3 years of doing this. As soon as I get a new card, I mark my calendar for the same date of the following year, and cancel each card before its 1 year mark.
Credit score is also affected by length of your longest credit line. So I plan to keep one card forever (AMEX Starwood card, for their excellent customer service), keeping it in active use (by setting automatic monthly charges of my cell phone bill), so that I have a long credit history with them ( = good credit score), while cycling through other cards on short time periods (which would otherwise decrease credit score).
By just signing up for one card, you receive a free enough reward points for a round trip flight (expect to pay $10-50 in airline taxes, while saving on baggage fees if your card has a “free baggage” perk, which is common) at any destination in the U.S. Most card bonuses offer enough points for 1 round-trip domestic or 1 one-way international ticket.
Feliz viaje!