It never ceases to amaze me how much “free” travel can be obtained by spending a little bit of time pursuing miles and points earning opportunities. I put free in quotations because there always ends up being a small cost with any award redemption, but when you compare it to booking with cash and realize you’re spending a small fraction of the actual cost, it certainly feels free! By pursuing various miles and points earning opportunities (mostly credit card signup bonuses), my fiance Becky and I have obtained hundreds of thousands of points that are worth numerous “free” trips both in the US and internationally. We’ve already used a dozen or so free domestic flights to visit family and friends, and recently returned from an 8-day New York trip that cost us less than $300 for airfare and hotels!
Our most recent award booking has us particularly excited and the value of the redemption is off the charts! By combining a roundtrip flight to Mexico via Rapid Rewards points and the Southwest Companion Pass with some free hotel nights earned from the Hyatt credit card, we were able to book an entire vacation for only $160!!! Not only are the flights and hotels covered by that price, but we’ll be staying at an all-inclusive resort. That means almost all the food, drinks, and entertainment are also covered under that same cost! It’s hard to spend 4 days at home in Seattle without spending $160! I’ll break down all the details for how we earned and booked this amazing trip below.
The Resort – Hyatt Zilara Cancun
In addition to their more traditional hotels around the world, Hyatt also has two all-inclusive resort brands, Hyatt Zilara and Hyatt Ziva. The primary distinction between the two brands is that the Zilara properties are adults-only while the Ziva brand caters to the whole family. With a couple in Jamacia and 4 in Mexico, there aren’t very many of these properties in existence, but I’ve heard wonderful things about the experience they offer. TripAdvisor currently lists the Hyatt Zilara Cancun as the #2 hotel in Cancun.
Becky and I have been on a couple cruises, so we’ve been exposed to the all-inclusive type package and have really enjoyed the relaxation that comes with paying everything up front (of course in this case, we’re hardly paying anything at all!) This will be our first all-inclusive resort property. Everything from fine dining to a la carte meals, top-shelf alcohol served on the beach, and even nightly entertainment all comes for the price of a room. Not to mention all of this takes place on a gorgeous beach! Needless to say, we’re both extremely excited about the trip.
For all the reasons above, you can typically expect to pay hundreds of dollars per night per person! I’m in no position to say whether or not Hyatt all-inclusive resorts are better or worse than other brands (having never visited any of them), but there is one thing that makes it especially unique. As a Hyatt brand, both Hyatt points and free Hyatt nights can be used at the property!
Earning The Trip – 3 Credit Cards
We set out with the goal to take a relaxing vacation sometime during the dreary Seattle winter and holiday plans meant that January and February would work best. Our original thinking was Hawaii, but a look through the current credit card offers and our current stash of points had us leaning more towards continuing to take advantage of the Southwest Companion Pass we earned early this year. A combination of Southwest flying to Cancun and Hyatt having an amazing credit card offer led us to go after the All-Inclusive Zilara resort. With 3 credit card signups and $4,000 in spend, anyone can spend a long weekend in Cancun for less than $200.
The process of earning the Southwest Companion Pass (details here) involves also getting over 110,000 reward points along the way, which we have been able to use for numerous trips already. We still had plenty left over after booking a couple trips back home to the Midwest and a trip out to Vegas, and the cost to get to Cancun was surprisingly reasonable. Just about every day was available and we ended up settling on a Saturday to Wednesday round-trip for 25,690 Southwest points and $159.76. The fees for international travel are a bit higher than the universal $11.20 for domestic flights, but it still beats paying the ~$900+ it would have cost otherwise. Plus, if you’ve been paying attention, this is the ONLY money we will have to spend for the entire trip.
After finding out there were many flight options available, we focused on the hotel nights by each signing up for the Hyatt credit card. Our signup bonus was 2 free nights at any Hyatt property, a $50 statement credit, AND 5,000 Hyatt points for adding an authorized user. All for spending a mere $1,000 on the card over the course of 3 months! This is definitely one of the biggest value return on spending that’s available today and perfect for just about any budget (you certainly don’t have to do them at the same time, finish one and then apply for the next if desired). For example, taking the hotel rooms at face value ($604/night when I booked), we got $1,258 in travel value for spending $1,000 (twice). That’s over 100% return and doesn’t even count the 5k Hyatt points!!!
WARNING: Sometime after we each applied for the 2 nights + $50 + 5k points offer, they added “Offer only available to you if you have stayed at a Hyatt property since May 1, 2015.” language to that particular application page. If you haven’t stayed at a property in that time frame, be sure to use the other application page to apply. You only lose out on the $50 credit.
Booking the Flights and Room
For some reason (maybe technical problems?), it is not possible to book award nights at the all-inclusive properties online through the Hyatt website. Luckily, they don’t try to hide this fact and make the reward number pretty obvious on the reservation page:
Hyatt Gold Passport award redemption is available for Hyatt Zilara Cancun by calling +1 866 567 7830 from within the US and Canada.
I wasn’t sure if we would need to make two separate reservations since each of our individual Hyatt accounts had the 2 free nights, but since I had to call to book anyway, I figured I would just ask. Luckily, I ended up with a really nice phone rep who was able to book the entire reservation on one phone call and even linked all 4 nights into a single reservation. The whole call probably took about 15 minutes and at the end I could see the reservation in my Hyatt account online. We used free nights this time, but I could definitely see us using Hyatt points to book a similar trip in the future if we enjoy the experience. The Hyatt Zilara Cancun is 25,000 Hyatt points per night, but a couple of the other all-inclusive properties are only 20,000 per night.
After confirming the hotel reservation, I booked the Southwest flight online for the previously mentioned price of 25,690 Rapid Rewards points and $159.76. After less than an hour of putting the final details into place, we had an amazing trip to Cancun officially booked. There’s a nice feeling that comes with finalizing all the details on a trip that took a little bit of planning and work over several months.
Did You Check My Math?
If you were paying attention, you’ll notice I didn’t subtract the two $50 Hyatt statement credits out of the total cost for this trip. Could I have? Probably, but I would also be $100 richer if I didn’t book any trip at all. I didn’t want to upset the Value Police, so I decided to go as conservative as possible with my $160 number. “Value” is a tricky thing, so I can only look at the facts. Starting from a blank slate, we applied for a few credit cards, spent $4,000 on them (spending I would have done anyway), $100 entered my pocket, I spent $160 on airfare fees, and now I have a 4 night trip to Mexico completely paid for. If we want to get technical, I even used my Citi Prestige airline credit for the Southwest fees, so those were even more subsidized ($500 in credits for ~$350 annual fee, not to mention all the other card benefits).
Maybe this trip was free after all…