Money Saving Tips for Spain

Spain is not the cheapest tourist destination any more. The euro is a strong currency at the moment and American tourists and others have a dismal exchange rate. Here are a few tips on making your money go farther in Spain:

1. Menu of the day. The Spanish eat their big meal of the day during lunch time. Most restaurants offer a menu of the day from Monday to Friday for lunch only. This is usually a bargain and may cost between 8 to 13 euros, as of writing. Upper scale restaurants will charge a bit more. The menu of the day will be posted outside the restaurant, so one can see if it is interesting before entering the restaurant. For tourists who are on a budget, this is a very good deal and one can save money by having lunch at these restaurants that offer the menu of the day.

The menu of the day usually consists of two plates. The first plate may have an appetizer, soup, or salad. The second plate will contain the main dish, such as meat or fish, accompanied by a garnish like fries. Bread and dessert are also usually included. Many include a glass of wine or beer. The price of the menu of the day should include the IVA (sales tax). A tip is not included. Read the menu of the day carefully to see exactly what is included.

Many restaurants have several menus of the day, each at a different price. When one enters a restaurant, it is worthwhile to ask for the menu (ask for la carta) and read all of the special offers.

Lunch is usually served between 1 pm and 4 pm. Some big chains like VIPS open at 12:30 pm and serve the menu of the day all day.

2. Buy an immersion heater and a plug adapter before you come to Spain. The plug adapter should have two round pins, which is standard for most European countries. You can buy both at Amazon. Electricity in Spain is 220V, 50 cycles. Buy individual packets of Nescafe or tea of your choice. This way you can make your own breakfast in your hotel room. The day before you can buy whatever you have for breakfast to accompany your coffee or tea at the supermarket. Four star hotels charge between 11 and 20 euros for their breakfast buffet. By making your own breakfast, you can save a few euros. When you check in, ask the hotel clerk how much the breakfast buffet is.

3. Tapas.  Instead of having dinner, eat some tapas (small dishes of food to share). Most people will be satisfied eating two tapas. This will be cheaper than eating dinner.

4. Bus. The bus may be the most inexpensive way to travel, followed by the train. If you take the train, you may be able to get the discounts if you buy your tickets on the internet. Buy them 62 days in advance because the discounts may go fast.

For bus travel from the big cities, go to Trip Advisor Things to Do - Transportation, because there may be an article about intercity bus travel and the bus station.

For Renfe travel, here is the Trip Advisor website for instructions:

5. Museums. Go to museums when they are free. Check the website of each museum because many times they have free entrance late in the afternoon or on Sundays.

6. Museum discounts. Many museums and cultural attractions will give a discount to senior citizens who are 65 or over. Bring an identification that show your age. Children may be given discounts also. Be sure to ask before you pay the entrance fee.

7. Supermarkets. Buy food at the supermarket. You can buy bread, cold cuts, cheese, desserts, and wine at the supermarket. You can get good wine in liter cartons for less than a euro and most of the time the wine will be very good. There is no need to eat at a restaurant every day. For the big cities in Spain, there are supermarkets that are open on Sunday. Look at Trip Advisor Restaurants - Supermarkets Open Sundays for their locations. Bring a small kitchen knife and a wine cork opener to help prepare your meals.

8. Wine. At good restaurants, you can order a glass of house wine for 2 euros or less. There is no need to order a full bottle. If you want to order a full bottle, ask to see the wine list first. Usually the house wine will be very good and will be cheaper than the other wines. Do not let the waiter decide for you what wine to order, because he may get you the more expensive wine. They may also have half bottles of wine available.

9. Markets. Go to the local market to buy fruit and veg because they will be economical there. You can also buy cured ham and other goodies, in quantities of 100 grams or more.

10. Tipping. Tipping is not a custom in Spain. If you go to a bar to get coffee or a soft drink, there is no need to leave a tip. If you go to a good restaurant, you can leave a tip if this is your custom. A 5% tip is considered generous. There is no need to leave a bigger tip than that. The Spanish usually leave loose change. However the waiters do appreciate a tip and if you plan to go back and the service was good, you can leave a tip.

11. Exchange rate. The best exchange rate comes from using an ATM card, which usually has an exchange service rate of 1%. If you go to a bank or money exchange company, they will charge you more. If you have to go to a bank or money exchange, ask how much they charge first.

12. The Sales Tax Refund. There is a sales tax, called IVA in Spain, which is a value added tax of 18% on retail sales. If you are a non-EU resident you can get a refund on this if your purchases are at least 90 euros at one store. Look for stores with the Tax Free signs. They will give you an invoice which includes the price and the tax on each item. You can accumulate these invoices if you shop at different stores. When you go to the airport to depart, look for the Spanish customs desk. You must have your invoices and the form asking for the refund filled out. You then show the inspectors the items you have bought and the inspectors will stamp your form. After going through the airport inspection, look for a mail box where you can drop the form. Your credit card will be debited in about 2 months with the IVA refund. Please remember this tax refund only applies if you are from outside the European Union.

13. Timing. Do not come to Spain during the high season, if you can do so. The high season is July and August in Spain, when the majority of tourists come. About 60 million tourists come to Spain every year, and most go to the beach communities during the high season, when hotel rates are at the highest. During the off season, hotel rates drop everywhere in Spain, up to 30% or more. Your air flights from the US will also be considerably lower.

14. Hotel rates. Madrid is a big city with 5 million residents and Barcelona is another big city with 3 million residents. Their hotel rates are 30 to 50% higher than hotel rates in Andalusia . You can have the authentic Spanish flavor by having your vacation in Andalusia in a more relaxed atmosphere, or minimizing your stay in Madrid and Barcelona. Of course you may miss the Prado, the Thyssen and the Reina Sofia museums of Madrid. But Andalusia has a large number of monuments from its Moorish past, such as the Alhambra in Granada and the Mezquita in Cordoba , and many good art museums. Also winters are milder in Andalusia, so travel during that time is not out of the question.

Read "The Best Sights of Andalusia" at Inside Malaga - Background:

15. Driving. If you are driving a car, go to the Via Michelin website to plan your trips. You can get very detailed driving instructions and maps between cities. There is no need to buy a separate map because the website will provide it to you.

16. Map. Ask your hotel desk for a map of the city or ask for it at the local tourist office. There is no need to buy this at a bookstore. You can get a good map which identifies monuments and important buildings at:

17. Chain restaurants. Big cities in Spain have the VIPS chain of restaurants, which are American style of cafeterias, where you can get inexpensive meals at any time. Spanish lunches and dinners are later than American meals, so if you want to have your meal at the time you want to, this chain is a practical way to do so. They also have menus of the day which change every day.

18. Garages. Do not drive in the big cities of Spain because parking is expensive. Commercial garages charge from 18 to 30 euros a day for parking. At hotels, expect to pay about 12 to 17 euros a night for hotel parking. Also it is difficult to find public parking lots.

19. Tap water. Madrid has the best tap water in Spain, which comes from the neighboring mountains. Taste tests versus bottled water showed no differences in taste. Since each small bottle of bottled water costs 1 euro or more, you can save some money. Fill your bottle at your hotel bathroom. Incidentally, the tap water in every big city in Spain is perfectly safe to drink and meets all the sanitary rules. People drink bottled water only for its taste, because the tap water in some cities may have a funny taste for them. Try the tap water first before ordering bottled water. At restaurants, to order tap water, ask for "agua del grifo".

20. Washing. Wash your clothes in your hotel bathroom. Bring clothes made of easy care fabrics that dry fast. Bring two or three wire hangers to hang your clothes in the bathroom after washing them. You can buy liquid detergent at any supermarket.

21. Menus. Spanish law says that every restaurant has to post its menu outside the door. Look at the menu first before entering the restaurant to see if you like any of the food, and look at the prices. Compare prices with other restaurants before you decide which restaurant to go to.

22. Cover charge/bread. When you sit at a restaurant, the waiter will bring you a piece of bread right away. If you are not going to eat it, tell the waiter that you do not want it. The restaurant may sometimes charge from 0.20 euro to 2.00 for each piece of bread.

23. Butter. Do not ask for butter to go with your bread because the Spanish do not eat butter and the restaurant will charge you for it, sometimes a pretty penny. The Spanish take olive oil with their bread, which is healthier than butter, and the olive oil in the restaurants is free.

24. Cover charge. Some restaurants that cater to tourists are not ethical and may bring you a plate of ham and cheese when you sit down. There are no free things in life, so refuse it because they will charge you a pretty penny for it. Avoid these restaurants. They may have signs in English to lure you in. The exception are restaurants in the Costa del Sol, which have menus in Spanish, English, French, and German.

25. Ham. There are many types of Iberian ham (jamon iberico), with different price tags. At the market you can buy the cheaper types and they may be very good. The most expensive is the "pata negra", which is the favorite of Spanish gourmets. You can buy only 100 grams to try it, and this will not break your bank.

26. Share meals. At restaurants, even good ones, do not be afraid to share meals with your companion. One person can ask for a salad and the other may ask for a meat dish. Tell the waiter to bring the plates at the same time. Also do not be afraid to ask for an extra clean plate to share the food. Remember that the consumer is the king. Also ask if the main dish has accompanying vegetables. ¿Hay guarnicion? ("ah-ee goo-R-nee-son") If it does, then you do not need to ask for a salad. Many times the menu will state if vegetables come with it. If in doubt, ask the waiter.

27. Hotel booking.  If you look at travel sites for hotel rooms at a specific city and you decide on a hotel, see what the hotel rate is for a different date. At most hotels, the hotel rates change every day and usually the weekend rate is lower than the midweek rate, but this may be the opposite for resorts, where the weekend rates are higher. You may want to change your schedule to take advantage of lower rates.

28. Flights. When booking Iberia flights, you will see that the rates are different every day for the same hour. You may juggle your schedule to get the lower rate.

29. Free tours. Free tours have been opening all around Europe and Spain is no exception. The best one in Madrid is the Sandemans Free Tour, that starts at the tourist info office in the Plaza Mayor every day at 11.00 and at 16:00. The guides work for tips, so you decide the value of the 3.5 hour walking tour. It is an excellent way to get to know the city, and the guides are very knowlegable. Also, they will give you a free map if you ask them for it, so you don't have to pay for the maps in the tourism office.

30. Health Insurance. If you are a European Union (EU) citizen the free European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) entitles the holder to free or discounted medical treatment at state-run hospitals and local general practitioners. If  you've got an EHIC, you’ll be entitled to the same treatment that local citizens are entitled to - extremely useful in emergencies. It’s completely free and valid for up to five years. Even if you've already got travel insurance, it's valuable extra protection, even if just for visiting the local GP with a query while away. Though you must be over 16 to apply, every family member requires a card. To apply on behalf of a child, just include them as a dependant in the relevant section of the application and you'll each receive a separate EHIC. The terms stipulate you won't be covered if you haven’t got it on you, so don’t leave it behind at the hotel if you’re out and about. Take it to the beach if you have to.