While it is a lot of fun to see and rack up the miles and points, it is even more fun to plan out and execute a trip using those miles and points. We have been fortunate to travel all over as a result of miles and points and it is just one of the coolest things knowing it is possible to just pick a place on a map and go for pennies on the dollars.
This post will help you to do the same. If you are newcomer to the world of miles and points, this post will take you from buying to where you can redeem them in true vacation fashion. If you are a veteran with miles and points, at least this will give you another option for where you can redeem your miles and points!
Build A Getaway Points Package To Costa Rica!
Last year, my wife and I went away with some friends of ours to Costa Rica. We had a fantastic time, even though the trip was only a few days. Our destination – Liberia, Costa Rica – was chosen because it was the closest airport to our final destination, the all-inclusive Hilton Papagayo resort (unfortunately, as of this year, this resort is no longer in the Hilton family).
When it comes to miles and points for “free” travel, there are always some other expenses. In most cases, one of the largest expenses for these types of vacations is the cost of food. That was one of the things I loved about the Hilton Papagayo – being an all-inclusive resort meant that we got all of our food for free as well! So, the only thing we had to pay for was the transportation to the hotel and the exit tax out of the country.
Getting To Costa Rica
The reason for this post now is that Southwest had just recently announced that they are going to by adding another international flight, this one to Liberia, Costa Rica. With the approval of the government, this service will start between Houston’s Hobby airport and Liberia, Costa Rica on November 1, 2015. This service will be once a day between these two cities.
Great Flight Times!
I love the times of these flights. They depart from Houston at 10:35am and arrive in Liberia at 2:05pm, pretty much a perfect time for hotel check-in times. On the return, it departs Liberia at 3:00pm and arrives back in Houston at 6:35pm. Again, the departure time on the return is perfect for those who wish to milk the last hour or two before checkout at their hotel/resort.
Another great thing about the times is that the departure/arrival times for Houston coincide nicely if you are connecting from another city.
Cost In Cash Or Points
The fares for this city pair will start at $174 (one way). Of course, since this is about points, you won’t actually be paying that but the price is important since the amount of points is tied to the actual price of the ticket. That translates to 8,960 points per person one way (plus $24 in taxes and fees each way).
So, let’s see what sample pricing for travel to Liberia, Costa Rica is in points. The cheapest days for travel are going to be weekdays. Since it is a vacation destination, weekends are more popular (thus more expensive) travel days. If you can travel during the week, you will save a few thousand points per person.
As you can see from the price, each ticket will cost $46.92 in taxes and fees. This is not bad at all compared to some other international destinations. The cost in points is 17,920 points per person.
One thing to remember with connecting flights – your departure city will have to have Houston as one of its hub airports for direct access. That does not mean that you cannot fly out of Houston if you cannot connect directly there, but you will need to book a separate ticket and most likely spend the night before. The cost for this ticket was $52.52 in taxes and fees per person and 23,520 points per person.
Getting The Points
Fortunately, all Southwest credit cards (the Premier, the Plus, and the Business Premier) are currently at 50,000 points for signing up and meeting the spending (the business card is at 60,000 points). That means signing up for only one of those cards will still be enough points for a couple to book a getaway flight to Costa Rica on Southwest.
Of course, the better course of action is to go for two of those cards so that you can earn a total of 110,000 points. That gives you 110,000 points for redemption purposes plus it gives you the Companion Pass. The Companion Pass allows you to take a designated companion on any Southwest flight without redeeming points for that companion. The only thing you will do is pay the taxes and fees for the companion.
Using the companion pass means that you will only redeem the points for one person, essentially getting a two person trip from Houston for only 17,920 points (at the low end of the price) – that is just amazing!
Click here to read about and apply for the Southwest cards. The best strategy for getting the Companion Pass would be to apply for the Business Premier card (60,000 points) and the Plus card (50,000 points). After making the necessary $2,000 in spending on each card, you will have a total of 114,000 points.
Staying In Costa Rica
Of course, I am partial to the resort we chose last year! It is just down the road from the excellent Andaz Papagayo which also gets wonderful reviews, but I like that the Hilton Papagayo was all-inclusive. However, with the Papagayo Resort no longer in the Hilton family, we will look at the Andaz Papagayo as our points destination hotel
The Andaz Papagayo changed its award category shortly after opening and actually dropped the category ranking. It is now a Category 4 requiring 15,000 points per night or 7,500 points and $100 per night. Cash rates for our test case of November are coming in just under $300 per night making it a perfect spot for a points redemption.
Award Stay vs. Points+Cash?
There are a couple of major advantages to redeeming for points+cash instead of an outright award stay. One of the chief reasons is for Diamond members. Booking a Points+Cash rate allows you to use one of your Diamond Suite Upgrades for an upgrade to a suite during your stay. That rate also gives you credit towards elite status as well as taking advantage of any special promotions that Hyatt may be running for paid rates at the time.
However, if you do not have Diamond status, then the outright award stay would likely make more sense unless you are strapped on the points and do not mind mixing it up with cash. If you do go the Points+Cash route, you will have to call in to book that rate as you cannot do it on Hyatt’s website.
There is one other option but it is only available for Hyatt credit cardmembers who have had their cards for at least a year. The anniversary free night works for Category 1-4 hotels and this hotel, as a Category 4, would make a perfect redemption opportunity. If you are traveling as a couple and both of you have the card, you could redeem those nights back-to-back and request to stay in the same room when you arrive.
Getting The Points
If you go for an outright points stay and decide to stay there for 4 nights, it would cost you 60,000 points for the stay. If instead of the outright award stay you opt to go for Points+Cash, it would cost you 30,000 points and $400. That basically means you are “buying” points for 1.3 cents each – which is not a bad rate.
The best, fastest, and easiest way to accrue these points is through applying for a Chase Ultimate Rewards earning card since Ultimate Reward points transfer to Hyatt at a rate of 1:1. Lasting for only another week, you could apply for the Chase Ink Plus card that currently has the increased bonus of 60,000 points for spending $5,000 in 3 months (after this special bonus offer, it drops to the normal 50,000 points). That would give you enough points to transfer to Hyatt for a 4 night stay at the Andaz Papagayo hotel.
A final option is to have a couple each apply for the Chase Hyatt Visa card which will give you 2 free nights per card. Since the free nights are good for any Hyatt, using them at a Category 4 may not be everyone’s first choice since it is basically assigning a value of only 30,000 points to the credit card offer.
See this page for the offers on the business Chase cards.
Because the flights do not start until November, there is no rush to get the cards right away. I would get the Southwest cards now and apply for either the Chase Ink Plus this summer (it will be at 50,000 points then) or the Chase Sapphire Preferred (it is at 40,000 points). That gives you plenty of time to meet the spending on the Southwest card(s) now and be ready to lock in your flights first. Those can be shifted around for free and even rebooked when sales come up.
If you do not go for the two Southwest cards (and thereby forgo the Companion Pass this way) and only get one card, that will be enough points for a couple to travel to Liberia, Costa Rica when this route starts. You would also need the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Chase Ink Plus for the hotel book (unless you opt for free nights and get the Chase Hyatt Visa). So, at the small end, you would only need 2 cards total for a couple to travel to Liberia, Costa Rica for 4 or even 5 days. Costa Rica is fantastic and I would love to go back sometime. Now that the Hilton Papagayo is gone, I have more incentive to try the Andaz Papagayo.
As you can see in this post, it is quite simple to get the points and cheaply get away for a great vacation in Costa Rica. Sure, you will need to pay for food and transportation to and from the airport, but the big costs of travel are eliminated with this points package. This points package would require a total of 36,000 Southwest points for two people out of Houston and 60,000 Hyatt points for 4 nights.