Tropical Paradise for Almost Free: Eating, Drinking, and Relaxing in Puerto Vallarta
Everyone has different Thanksgiving traditions; ours is to use the extra-long weekend to escape somewhere warm, and do it cheaply by flying on Thanksgiving day itself (we’re not the only weirdos who do this). This year we managed to use loyalty points to book an almost-free tropical getaway at an all-inclusive resort in Puerto Vallarta. We spent 5 days and 4 nights at a total out of pocket cost of $230, including airfare, hotel, and local transportation for two adults and a baby.
It’s an extravagant expense, as travel tends to be, but it was nice for a few days to do nothing but eat, drink, and frolic on the beach. Here’s a summary of how we used loyalty points & credit card rewards to keep the cost down, what we thought of the resort, and what we got up to while there. As a side note, the resort was very kid-friendly and we’d recommend this property for those traveling with or without little ones, but would suggest perhaps not paying full price for it…
Getting There and Staying for (almost) Free
|Points and Rewards Used||Out of Pocket Cost||Explanation|
|Airfare||38,966 Southwest Rapid Rewards Points
Southwest Companion Pass
|$194.40||Flights were “free” but taxes and fees had to be paid in cash.|
|Accommodation||4 Free night certificates||$50||The free night certificates came at the cost of $25 in net annual fee per Chase Hyatt card each card gave us two free night certificates|
|Transportation||N/A||$35||Taxi fares from airport to hotel and back again|
|Food and Drink||N/A||$0||All inclusive|
|Entertainment||N/A||$0||The beach, the ocean, jungle, and the pools provided entertainment. And the drinks..|
Total out of pocket costs for the long weekend were $280 or ~$55/day for two adults and one child, most of that coming from the taxes and fees related to international airfare and having a child on our lap during the flight. The biggest savings came from using hotel free night certificates (provided by credit card sign up bonus) to stay at the resort. The room we stayed in would have otherwise cost $1,500 ostensibly. For more information on putting together a similar trip, see this post by Money Metagame who is planning a similar itinerary.
Airfare & Transportation
We’ve said this before and we’ll say it again, the Southwest Companion Pass is our favorite airline status reward perk: One of us can book a flight with cash or points, and the other gets to fly with them for free (minimal to nominal charge for taxes). Since their merger with Airtran, Southwest now has flights to Mexico and the Caribbean, making the Companion Pass even more valuable! This is the second year in a row we’ve flown to Mexico on Southwest using points and the Companion Pass. Last year we were in Los Cabos – San Lucas and when they introduced flights from the West Coast to Puerto Vallarta earlier this year, I jumped on it and booked our Thanksgiving getaway as soon as they opened up the schedule! We did have to pay extra taxes and fees for the Little Man for flying as an lap child on an international flight (he would have been free on a domestic flight).
In the spirit of full disclosure, earning enough points for Companion Pass Status cost ~$170 sometime in 2014, there were credit card annual fees and costs associated with manufacturing spending to meet bonus requirements. These costs end up being amortized over many Southwest trips and we’re too lazy to figure out how to allocate the cost to a specific trip, so sue us.
Someone was nice enough to dog-sit for us for the weekend, and we thanked him by letting him also drive us to the airport and pick us up after our trip in a luxury car. We couldn’t figure out how to avoid paying for a taxi in Mexico between the airport and resort however, but if somebody does, let us know.
Earlier this year, we applied for the Chase Hyatt credit card for both The MC and myself. The sign-up bonus was two free nights at any Hyatt Property. When I read that the certificates could also be used to stay at Hyatt’s All-Inclusive properties, I thought why not give it a try. We don’t stay at all-inclusive resorts often, but made an exception since we were traveling for a short amount of time and had an 11 month old in tow. We realized that we could get used to relaxing all day!
Food & Drink
Zero food costs, a nice perk of staying at an all-inclusive resort. This included room service, which was nice (but slow) when we needed a late night snack or wanted a lazy breakfast to have on the balcony overlooking the beautiful ocean.
The resort had five restaurants to choose from and a buffet that was, well a buffet, but handy for finding food for the Little Man in a hurry. Our favorite meals at the resort were dinner at Pureva, a South East Asian inspired restaurant, and breakfast at Blaze which happened to sit atop the ocean.
For our flights to Mexico we had packed lunches at home to take on the plane, for the return trip, we got a to-go box of food from the restaurant at the resort.
Eating, drinking, and hanging out enjoying the beach and water provided more entertainment than we needed to easily fill the few days we were there.
The resort had the usual array of canned planned “entertainment” including nightly shows, aqua aerobics, and activities for the kids. We didn’t participate in these but the MC did take advantage of the kayak “tour” which mostly consisted of the host reassuring people who had never paddled before that they wouldn’t drown.
We had been planning to explore downtown Puerto Vallarta to check out the sights, but the Little Man getting a bit sick on the plane made us decide to skip it and instead spend more time on the beach and pool while he slept. It’s a tough life, but someone has to do it… This reduced miscellaneous expenses we might have incurred and we’ll just have to add it to the list for when we return to this beautiful area.
We arrived late afternoon in Puerto Vallarta on Thanksgiving day. From the airport, we took a taxi ($285 pesos) to the Hyatt Ziva All-Inclusive Resort. Between rain and traffic, it took approximately 35 minutes to get to the resort. Since we’re both Hyatt Diamond members (thanks to Hyatt’s recent generosity), we went to the “Club Tower” for check-in. We were greeted by very friendly staff and I knew Diamond members may receive an upgrade, depending on availability, so I made sure to ask during check-in. They were able to upgrade us to a suite on the Pent House floor with a plunge pool! No complaints from me here! All rooms at this resort have ocean views, though rooms on the lower floors can have partial views due to the trees and plants. The view from the top floor was gorgeous, and even from the 16th floor you could hear the waves crashing on the beach.
There are two towers in the resort, the Club Tower is for Hyatt Gold Passport Members and also has a VIP Lounge stocked with snacks and a wider alcohol selection than the regular bars. Staying in the Club Tower and having access to the lounge was pretty nice for being able to get a snack, a cup of tea, or a nightcap. We wish they stayed open even longer 🙂
We arrived just in time to have a relaxing evening exploring the lounge, our fancy room, and finishing off with a Mexican Thanksgiving dinner, turkeys and all.
Most of the second day consisted of a nice tropical rain that was a refreshing change from a drought stricken area. We used the time to take advantage of the coffee and pastry shop (don’t worry, they make irish coffees too). The resort had Wi-Fi available throughout the property so it was a good chance to catch up on reading and writing while watching the rain fall on the beach and listen to the waves. We spent the rest of the day enjoying the food and drink while exploring our surroundings. The resort was quite nice and of reasonable size, more like a large hotel and not overly sprawling as all-inclusive resorts can be.
Day 3, 4, and 5
The rest of the trip we had wonderful sunshine and warm tropical days! It was time to hit the beach and get in the water. Mornings were spent on the beach with a pina colada, afternoons with a beer and poolside snack, and evenings with a mojito. You could try mixing up the order, but don’t try to improve perfection too much.
As a bonus, on our last evening, we were able to watch baby sea turtles being released on the beach.
For our enjoyment, to revisit the good times.