Miami is a curious mix of big city and beach resort. Venetian Pool, Coral Castle, peacocks, NASCAR, tennis and miles of beach immediately conjure Magic City. A study in architecture from Spanish-Mediterranean to art deco, Miami is a surf-and-sun playground for those possessing a taste for the good life and flush bank accounts.
Neighborhoods range from Overtown and its historic Lyric Theater to Coconut Grove and its Vizcaya Museum & Gardens, Coral Gables and the University of Miami, Little Havana and its Viernes Culturales, and artsy Wynwood and its muraled warehouse district.
Add half a dozen beaches and an equal number of shopping districts, and your wallet may be straining. We're here to help with some unavoidable details so you can get more Miami for your money.
Finding Cheap Flights
Booking about 6 weeks in advance for round-trip basic economy Wednesday flights, we found that American Airlines had many of our best deals. We started checking fares at Boston's Logan International. We found 3½-hour American flights totaling $217.
Departure was a 5 a.m. liftoff, and the return took off a little after noon. For comparison, the same trip was $333 traveling Choice Essential, $573 traveling Choice Plus and $706 for first class.
From Seattle, an American redeye departure and evening return combination came in at $379, with flight times 6 and 6¾ hours, respectively. Traveling Choice Essential cost $495 while Choice Plus totaled $699.
A first class seat was $1,699. From Minneapolis-St. Paul, American would fly nonstop for a $207 round trip with early morning and late evening takeoffs; Choice Essential was $323, Choice Plus $527 and first class $864.
From the country's remaining corner, a nonstop American flight using Los Angeles' LAX came in at just $253; departure was at 11 a.m., and the return took off at 5 p.m.
That, however, was evidently a highly desired flight. When we checked American's site a few hours later, the best that we could do was $299 for Choice, $415 for Choice Essential and $655 for Choice Plus. Only one first class fare was available, and it totaled a painful but "refundable" $4,409; meanwhile, you could travel "business" for $2,907.
We also discovered that Frontier would fly Discount Den members from Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International to Miami International for just $15; book at least 3 days in advance, and travel on a Tuesday or Wednesday.
That $15 one-way flight was already sold out, but another $39 deal was available to Den members – $49 for non-Denners; otherwise, Frontier's ticket ran about $130 each way. They listed similar deals between other cities, with the most expensive $59 and open to anyone.
Check out our GET.com guide to finding cheap flights and our guide to using credit cards to save on in-flight expenses for more tips and tricks.
Finding Cheap Accomodation
While the well-heeled may be able to stay on Fisher Island for $600 a night or take an oceanfront suite at Bal Harbor's Ritz-Carlton for $800, finding more affordable options in Miami can prove challenging.
Hotels that listed free breakfast actually had breakfast and parking surcharges as well as additional "resort fees;" free Wi-Fi services were often available only in public areas. Reliable, well-reviewed lodgings under $200 a night were elusive.
In South Beach, a 1-queen room typically cost at least $150 a night while 2 fulls ran just under $200; king rooms usually crossed the $250 mark. If you want to know what to expect, check how many pillows are on the bed!
For South Beach, after reading reviews, we finally opted for the Hampton Inn. A king room was $214 a night (normally $268). With taxes, that $214 was actually $244 a night. The hotel wasn't beachfront but just a block away.
Further north in Miami Beach, four-star Hotel Croyden had either a queen or two-double room for $179 a night (normally $258) and an "excellent" rating. It had free Wi-Fi in the rooms and a free airport shuttle but additional parking, resort and spa fees. The stay for the week came to $1,621, with $325 of that taxes and fees.
Forgoing ocean settings, we found a king room for $160 a night (normally $200) or a 2-queen room for $176 (normally $220) at Courtyard by Marriott Aventura Mall. Rooms had Wi-Fi, and prices included free breakfast. Best of all, cost for a full week came in at less than $1,400.
A studio island apartment with a view of the Miami Skyline for $135 a night on Airbnb brought our week's stay to $1,100. For a little more ($141 a night, $1,250 a week), a deluxe queen suite offered ocean views and direct beach access.
It accommodated five people and had all the perks, including free parking, Wi-Fi, pool and gym. Properties are available all along the coast; read the reviews carefully to find the one that's best for you.
Note that if you use American Express, you can redeem your Membership Rewards® points towards Airbnb bookings (and Uber rides).
Using the rewards you earn with a hotel credit card is an obvious saver, and many of these have high welcome offers that can add up to several nights (or a whole vacation if you don't mind simplicity) of hotel accommodation.
Check out our guide to getting cheap hotel stays for more ideas.
If you're in Miami Beach and trying to stay under $10, try La Sandwicherie at South Beach (and downtown in the Brickell area) for perfect croissant or baguette sandwiches, picture-perfect salads and a juice bar extravaganza.
On Washington Avenue, Blocks Pizza Deli adds pockets, calzones, salads and an extensive list of healthy seasonal toppings to the pizza and daily lunch specials; everything is scratch-made from their "mother dough" and customizable.
On Alton Road, GOGO Fresh Food specializes in savory and sweet empanadas, or hand pies, soups, custom salads and even veggie burgers.
For Mexican, try Taquiza, a "traditional Mexican taquería crafting authentic tacos and street fare" on Collins Avenue, or seek out authentic Cuban sandwiches or all-day breakfast at Las Olas Café on 6th Street.
For ethnic food in general, few cities offer better quality or a larger selection than Miami. Whether you opt for empanadas from Ricky Bakery in Coral Gables, a slice of Key lime pie from Fireman Derek's Bake Shop & Café on North Miami Avenue or a Cuban specialty from Tinta y Café on 8th Street, whatever you've been longing to try, you'll find it here.
No matter what your tastes, using one of the many good restaurant rewards credit cards out there always adds up to savings.
Go Miami Card
Go Miami cards are available from Smart Destinations and are similar to the ones the company offers in other large cities. Since Miami is so large, you have many options.
The "All-Inclusive Pass" offers up to 55-percent savings. You can purchase 1-, 2-, 3- or 5-day passes that provide access to nearly 30 attractions for 2 weeks; adult passes run $65, $99, $132 and $175 while children's cost $52, $80, $110 and $145, respectively.
Pick a more limited "Miami & The Keys Explorer Pass", and you cover admission to 3, 4, or 5 attractions over 30 days, saving up to 45 percent; adult passes run $85, $105 and $125 while children's cost $65, $80 and $95, respectively.
The "Build Your Own Pass" lets you choose two or more attractions at 20-percent savings. Check the website carefully, as covered attractions range from museums to food tours and experiences.
Keeping It Free
Much of Miami is strictly "pay-per-view," but the city does have a few freebies. The Miami-Dade College Museum of Art + Design is always free. Other institutions set aside regular or specific free days:
- Biscayne National Park has free Second Sundays January through May for Family Fun Fests.
- University of Miami's Lowe Art Museum grants free admission to military as well as University of Miami students, faculty and staff.
- The Wolfsonian-Florida International University (FIU) Museum is free every Friday after 6 p.m. It's also free for students, faculty and staff of the State University System of Florida.
- Miami Children's Museum has Target Third Fridays from 3 p.m. to 9. For U.S. military personnel and veterans, regular admission is just $6 per family of four.
- The Jewish Museum of Florida-FIU is free on Saturdays.- Gold Coast Railroad Museum has First Saturdays except in March.
- HistoryMiami Museum has free Second Saturday family activities, and from Memorial Day through Labor Day, "admission is free for active-duty military personnel and their families."
- The Bass Museum of Art will reopen in fall 2016 following renovations and usually has free admission the last Sunday of each month from noon to 5 p.m.
- For North Miami residents, city employees, veterans and children under 12, the Museum of Contemporary Art North Miami is always free. On First Weekends, Bank of America card holders can enjoy free admission, too.
- The Deering Estate at Cutler schedules a number of free and reduced-admission days throughout the year; check for special offers on their website.
- The Pérez Art Museum Miami offers both First Thursdays and Second Saturdays.
If you're debating which attractions are most worth seeing, the Miami-Dade Public Library System allows library card holders to check out for 1 week four free family passes to a number of Miami museums on a first-come basis:
- The Coral Gables Museum
- The Patricia & Phillip Frost Art Museum at FIU
- The Deering Estate at Cutler
- The Preston P. Bird & Mary Heinlein Fruit & Spice Park; the HistoryMiami Museum
- The Lowe Art Museum
- The Pérez Art Museum Miami
- Miami Children's Museum
- The Wolfsonian-FIU
- The Jewish Museum of Florida-FIU
- Vizcaya Museum & Gardens
Thanks to the Museums on Us® program you get with your Bank of America credit card, you can enjoy free entrance (show your card and ID at the desk) into these attractions on the first full weekend of each month:
- Coral Gables Museum
- Miami Children's Museum
- Museum of Contemporary Art
- Pérez Art Museum Miami
- History Miami Museum
Miami is a high-end, artsy shopping mecca situated on lovely expanses of beach. Original artisan everything is everywhere. Galleries are tailored for collectors, and shopping districts full of boutiques and specialty shops have mastered the art of parting shoppers from their dollars.
Admission fees can easily run $45 per adult (nearly as much per child), with inside food proprietary and photos pricey. Hotels add surcharges to cover amenities you may not use, and services may come with fees instead of smiles.
In a city throbbing with well-to-do vibrancy, don't forget that the Miami area includes 2 national parks (Biscayne and Everglades) and The Barnacle Historic State Park. Take time to breathe, climb a lighthouse, or snorkel beneath a Cyprus dome. Collect memories you'll want to last forever.