The Power of Travel Flexibilty: Our Cancun Trip Gets More Complicated

Not too long ago, I discussed an awesome Cancun trip that Becky and I booked for very little money out of pocket.  In fact, the title of the post was How We Booked 4 All-Inclusive Nights in Cancun for $160.  A few months after booking that trip, we got an email from Southwest informing us that our flight schedule changed.  This isn’t too abnormal, especially for flights that are still several months away, so I was expecting a shift of 10-60 minutes on one of the legs of our journey.  At first glance that’s what it looked like, a simple schedule change that moved the first leg departure back 5 minutes.  On second glance, I realized they actually moved the flight UP an entire day (minus 5 minutes)!  Luckily, we were able to make it work and it was a lot easier to do so thanks to those credit card benefits we’re always chasing.  I’ll explain how we did it below:

A 4-day Trip Turns into a 5-day Trip

With Southwest moving our flight back an entire day, there were a couple immediate things we had to figure out.  First was whether or not out work schedules would allow for the extra day.  Luckily, Becky wasn’t scheduled to work the night before our new departure and my work is flexible enough to allow me to shift vacation time to that extra day.  After that was taken care of, it was time to find a hotel for that 5th night.

The 4 nights we had originally planned for were all at the all-inclusive Hyatt Zilara Cancun property, so the most obvious thing would be to book another night at the same place.  We used all 4 of our free Hyatt nights earned from the credit cards already, but we did have enough Chase Ultimate Reward points to bring our Hyatt balance up to 25,000 to pay for the night.  Unfortunately, all the basic rooms at Hyatt Zilara were completely booked for the extra night we needed!

Having remembered a couple blog posts praising how awesome Hotel Hustle is, I decided this was the perfect opportunity to try it out.  Hotel Hustle checks award night availability for you and alerts you when a room becomes available on points.  The process of setting up an alert was easy, but unfortunately it didn’t catch any room openings before the trip started.  Still something I recommend trying if you’re waiting for award availability to open up for a hotel.

There were suites available when I first looked, but I didn’t have any interest in paying over $700 for a single night at the hotel.  It was time to start looking at other options.

Other Cancun Hotels with Award Nights

My first stop when checking what kind of award nights are available is usually Award Mapper.  They let you simply put in a destination and then show you all of the different chain properties that can be booked with hotel points (or free nights) and their standard cost:

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Cancun Chain Hotel Overview courtesy of Award Mapper

Lucky for us, there are numerous hotels available and several of them with points currencies I have available.  One note is that Award Mapper does not seem to know about the Hyatt Ziva property at this time.  As always, it’s best not to rely on a single source for your travel hacking availability information.

Speaking of the Hyatt Ziva property, it did happen to have availability for that extra night we needed.  It cost the same 25,000 points as the Zilara, but since most of those were coming from Chase UR which are worth at least 1 cent each, I didn’t feel like it was worth the (>$200) price for one night.  The Zilara was a different story because it would be extremely convenient to already be in the same place as the next 4 nights, but the Ziva isn’t super close to the Zilara (~30 min. walk) so I thought we could do better.

We had already burnt all of our SPG points on booking the honeymoon hotels in Fiji, otherwise the Westin for 7,000 points wouldn’t have been a bad option.  I have yet to collect a single Marriott point and I certainly wasn’t going to transfer 30k+ of my UR to book a night as the value would have been terrible.  I also haven’t jumped on any of the Wyndham cards yet (although 3 free nights is tempting…), so that rules out the Ramada.

What’s left?  Two IHG properties and IHG points happen to be a currency I have several points in.  This was even before any of my Priceless Surprises mail-in points or Accelerate 2016 mattress run points posted, so I still had some left over from the credit card signup bonus and 10% points rebate from our NYC trip.

I’m not sure if I’ve been tricked by their marketing department, but I seem to keep going out of my way to accumulate more IHG points!  They’ll come in handy eventually.  Right?

Anyway, the two IHG options in Cancun were a Holiday Inn: Cancun Arenas all-inclusive resort for 35k IHG points or the InterContinental : Presidente Cancun Resort for 30k IHG points.

The Holiday Inn was interesting because while points booking were all-inclusive, if you paid cash you had the choice between all-inclusive or “European” plans, which I think just means “Not all-inclusive”.  The difference in cash price was about $130 between the two.

The Intercontinental on the other hand was cheaper at 30k points, but not all-inclusive.  This property definitely looked nicer from the pictures and reviews, plus after looking at the general location of the two, it was a bit closer to the Hyatt Zilara which would be convenient for switching hotels.  These two factors (mostly the reviews) caused us to choose the Intercontinental property.

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Presidente Intercontinental Cancun Resort – picture courtesy of the IHG website

Oh Yeah, I Also Have a Free IHG Night

At first, I went ahead and booked the Intercontinental Cancun property with 30k IHG points.  About a week later, I realized I had a free night for any IHG property since I recently paid the $49 annual fee on my IHG credit card!  I had a reminder in my calendar to figure out a use for it later this year, but I realized we didn’t have any trips planned in the next 11 months that didn’t already have the hotels figured out (and it wouldn’t have been convenient to move an existing night to an IHG property).

It wouldn’t surprise me if sometime came up later this year (I do seem to end up in Vegas at least a few nights per year…), but I’m definitely one to burn miles, points, and free nights aggressively instead of waiting for the perfect redemption.  Using the free night with an expiration date instead of 30k points I could keep alive indefinitely seemed like a good option, so I booked a night at the same property on the same day with the free night.  Once it was confirmed, I simply cancelled the night booked with points and had them refunded to my account almost immediately.

Crisis Averted

Alright, it’s probably unfair to call it a crisis, but I can see how a full day schedule change only a couple months away from a trip could really throw a carefully planned vacation off.  Southwest didn’t give a formal reason for the change, but it appears they no longer offer ANY flights to Cancun from Seattle on the day we originally had booked.  Luckily, it wasn’t difficult for us to add that extra day to our vacation schedule and we didn’t have any problem finding accommodations.

Flexibility is preached as being important in the travel hacking space and this particular trip was a great example of that.  Thanks to aggressively chasing signup bonuses, it was even possible for us to add another hotel night at a convenient, upscale property for only $49!  I think the face-value was ~$300 when I booked the room, but realistically we probably would have went with a $100-150 property if we were paying cash to cover the extra night.  Either way, that’s a great value!

That brings the cost of our 5-night trip to Cancun to a grand total of $209!  And 4 of those nights are at an awesome all-inclusive property!  Needless to say, we’re both super excited to take a break from the Seattle winter and hit the beach.

See original post for more details: How We Booked 4 All-Inclusive Nights in Cancun for $160

I’ll probably post pictures on Twitter if you’re into that kind of thing.  Follow me @Money_Metagame.


2 thoughts on “The Power of Travel Flexibilty: Our Cancun Trip Gets More Complicated

  1. We stayed at the Intercontinental Presidente Cancun this fall for 4 days. It was wonderful. Excellent service. They will most likely offer you an upgrade to club level at check in. It was worth the extra $ for us, but we were travelling with kids. The flyertalk thread has all that info. Did you consider taking the ferry to cozumel? The IC there is supposed to be even better.

    1. The Intercontinental Presidente was alright, the heat in our room was broken and the overall weather was windy and rainy which made the pool and beach less than ideal. Obviously not anything the hotel can do about that part, but it wasn’t a big deal since it was just for one night.

      The Hyatt Zilara was great though and the weather got better for our time there. We didn’t look into leaving Cancun for this trip, as the Zilara was our main destination.

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