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.

Sunset PV

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.

Detailed Breakdown

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.

Accommodation

Bottom floor living area and balcony with a plunge pool overlooking the ocean

Bottom floor living area and balcony with a plunge pool overlooking the ocean

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.

BlazeBreakfast

Delicious breakfast with beautiful surroundings

 

Entertainment

The MC spending time doing something other than drinking and eating

The MC spending time doing something other than drinking and eating

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.

Sunset on our evening in PV. What more do you need with views like this?

With views like this, what more entertainment do you need?

Trip Overview

Day 1

Room with a view

Room with a view

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.

IMG_0425PVThanksgivingThere 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.

Day 2

24/7 coffee and pastry shop

24/7 coffee and pastry shop

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

Little Man enjoyed his afternoon naps on the beach

Little Man enjoyed his afternoon naps on the beach

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.

 

More Photos

For our enjoyment, to revisit the good times.

LittleManPV

Little Man had a great time on his first visit to Mexico!

HyattZivaPano

Panoramic view of the resort and beach

View of the resort grounds from our hotel room

View of the resort grounds from our hotel room

InfinityPool

View from the infinity pool

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6 Responses

  1. Sounds like you guys had an awesome time, I can’t wait to check out the Hyatt Zilara in Cancun early next year. Should be a relaxing break from the dreary weather up here in Seattle during the winters.

    Thanks for the link, looks like we booked extremely similar trips via the Southwest Companion Pass & Hyatt credit card free nights. It’s tough to beat the value that both of those provide. I look forward to reading about more of your travel hacking adventures.

    • The DJ says:

      Thanks, Noah! We definitely have gotten value out of the Southwest Companion pass for the last 3 years. Hopefully it lasts for awhile 🙂

      I enjoy reading about your travel hacking and other money hacks. Looking forward to reading more and learning from you.

  2. Sounds like an awesome trip! Puerto Vallarta is definitely on my bucket list. I think I’ll get the Companion pass Jan-17 so I have it for 2017 and 2018. Almost got it this year but wouldn’t have been able to utilize it that much, so I’ll save the churning for next year.

  3. We still haven’t done the Southwest companion pass (I will confess — I like having my reserved seat, and a chance at upgrades. I know — such a brat). 😉 But it really does sound like an incredible value. I’m impressed that you guys manage to do so much travel hacking when you spend so little each month. Do you put work expenses on your personal cards and get points for those? Either way, looks like it was a beautiful trip! Congrats on doing it all for so little.

    • The DJ says:

      Thanks onl. We do like the challenge of trying to keep our expenses (especially travel) as low as possible without having to sacrifice anything.

      I don’t travel for business anymore, but when I did I used a corporate Amex card which I earned Membership Rewards on (I had to pay the annual fee but the rewards I received definitely offset the fee). The MC now travels once a month or so for work, and we put all his expenses on our personal card.

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