Take it from a beginner: you can book Costa Rica for ~$80 per person!

Costa Rica on points
Ryan and I have been lucky enough to book some amazing trips in the past 5 years thanks to miles and points.  But many people including our family and friends have been skeptical of how we’re able to book our trips.  I can’t really blame them because it really does seem too good to be true sometimes.

Part of the reason I wanted to create this blog was to show on paper (or screen) how we do it.  Thanks to the blog, I’ve managed to bring several family members, friends, and even strangers into this hobby.  I LOVE seeing success stories!

My best friend Lexie finally had time to read the blog one night.  Shortly after that, she came to Dallas to visit us with her husband and kids last fall (they live in Baton Rouge).  During that visit, while drinking wine (as all of our best decisions happen), she told me she was ready to book her first trip on points and she wanted us to come along!  What kind of friend would I be if I said no to that?!

After agreeing that we would keep this trip adults only (shout out to all of our parents for keeping the kids!), we starting searching for places to go.  They live in Baton Rouge, and we wanted to go somewhere that doesn’t take a whole day of travel. We wanted to go somewhere in Mexico, Central America, or the Caribbean.   After deciding on Costa Rica, I suggested that we look into the Andaz Costa Rica for our stay.  This property is only about 4 years old and I’ve been dying to check it out!

This Costa Rica trip is one of my favorite redemptions to date.  First of all, trips with friends are always better! Second, it was a great redemption value and our out of pocket cost was minimal.

We were able to book our flights and our hotel stay in Costa Rica for only the price of flight taxes and fees (~$80 per person)!  

I will go over all of that, but first I wanted to do a little Q & A with Lexie about her first redemption!


Costa Rica on Ultimate Rewards points

Lexie and I have been best friends for 20 years.  She and her husband, Chris, are high school sweethearts, so I’ve known him for almost as long.  Ryan married all of us when he married me!

You knew that we were using miles and points for travel, but I kind of launched this blog on a whim and didn’t really give you or anyone else any heads up.  What were your first thoughts? Be honest.

So it took me a while to start reading your blogs mainly due to lack of time and thinking that it would be a huge under taking, but I believed in it because I know you so well.  And I knew you weren’t doing it just to be another random blogger.  But it did take you, Ryan, and your mom all posting on Facebook about it to get me interested enough to read the blogs.

Was there any particular blog post or trip Ryan and I took that made you want to look into this more?

I think it was Disney.  Not because we want to go to Disney now (Chris has admitted that he wants to go only one time and make it when our youngest is at least 6 years old) but it is a place that I knew was very pricey that we eventually will go, so to hear how you did it for practically free stay and flights, it made me interested. I think it was because it was something I could relate to the best. I have just never even looked into going to any of the other exotic places y’all had been (until now)😉

Any advice for beginners?
Yes, I think mainly just be organized and do not get overwhelmed with all the rules because it is pretty easy to learn as you go*, but it can feel like a whole lot of information at the beginning. I also think it helped that we were already used to putting everyday spending on credit cards (they just weren’t the right credit cards for travel!) and paying them off before the bill even comes in.

*(Laura here) I can’t agree more with it being easy to learn as you go!  A lot of people get overwhelmed by the booking process, but it is generally pretty intuitive and you will get more comfortable with it each time you do it!

What was your first travel credit card and how long did it take to earn the bonus? 
Chase Sapphire Preferred was my first card and I’m pretty sure I met the minimum spend in a little over a month.  I guess the next billing cycle was when the bonus points came through. We waited until we were pretty much at the minimum spend and then Chris opened his own Chase Sapphire Preferred.   I opened mine in September and Chris’s in October.  We hit the minimum spend a lot quicker than expected because I did some early Christmas shopping.
How long did it take to earn the points/miles necessary for our Costa Rica trip (between you and Chris)? 

We opened our first card 9/7/2017 and we booked our trip at the end of January 2018 (for June 2018).  So about 4 months!

What was the hardest part (if any) about the booking process (hotel or airline)?
Nothing was difficult about the booking process, it was just nerve racking doing it for the first time, just like anything you do for the first time is.  Everything was bookable online, so it was nice to not have to wait on the phone on hold or anything.
What were your thoughts about the Andaz Costa Rica? 
I think you already know my thoughts on this. It surpassed my expectations, and it is going to be very hard to beat for our next trip! It was like paradise! I loved everything about it! The service, the people, the wildlife, the views, the closeness to the airport, etc. I could go on and on. 

andaz Costa Rica ultimate rewards points

Costa Rica on Ultimate Rewards points

You don’t have to leave the hotel to see monkeys! This was at breakfast one morning.

What was your favorite activity/tour in Costa Rica? 
Guachipelin!!!!!!
Costa Rica on Ultimate Rewards points

This was such a fun tour!  I’ll post more pics and details soon!

Do you have a new favorite food ;-)?
Lol, ceviche, ceviche, and more ceviche 😊
What does Chris think about all of this?
Chris is still totally on board! I think I passed his test of having my crap together.
I am surprised a little bit of how much he is on board with it all because I was not a very good credit card user when we first got married. I had several thousands of dollars on credit cards that needed to be paid off when we first got married, but I think I learned my lesson after all that. So as long as I stay on top of it all and keep it all organized, he is a believer!
Side note from Laura: Chris has always been the trip planner in their relationship. He has always planned their anniversary trips, family trips, and big ski trips with friends.  He was not involved in the planning of this trip at all! He trusts us, but I think he was a little skeptical about how this was going to turn out!
Costa Rica on Ultimate Rewards points

The guys’ faces in this pic…

Last question: Where are we going next?
Ok, so this is the hardest question to answer. Like I said and you said, it is going to be really hard to beat our Costa Rica experience!  We are going to have to ease ourselves into longer trips, but we would like to go some place new for y’all too.  We’ve thought about Peru, Iceland, England, or several other places in Europe!  I really don’t know, I feel like I am all over the map, lol. 

Thanks to Lexie for doing that! I wanted to show everyone that even if you’re a beginner with zero credit cards, miles, or points, you can be on your way to Costa Rica in less than 9 months if you start today!  So, here is an overview of how we booked.  I’ll go into more details in the next few posts.

Loyalty programs we used to book Costa Rica on points:
  • Southwest Rapid Rewards
  • World of Hyatt

You can transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points to both of these programs!  This is another reason why I encourage putting your everyday spending on cards with transferrable points rather than airline and hotel co-branded cards.

Chase Ultimate Reward Transfer Partners June 2018

Chase Ultimate Rewards airline transfer partners (all UR transfer partners are a 1:1 ratio)

Chase Ultimate Rewards hotel transfer partners June 2018

Chase Ultimate Rewards hotel transfer partners (all UR transfer partners are a 1:1 ratio)

Flights from the US to Liberia, Costa Rica

Costa Rica has 2 major airports.  One is San Jose (SJO) which is almost a 5 hour drive to the Guanacaste region where the Andaz is located.  The other is Liberia which is about a 30 minute drive to the Andaz. Obviously Liberia is going to be the better option if possible.

American Airlines does operate seasonal direct flights from DFW to LIR but they were not available for our dates.  There are no direct flights from Baton Rouge or New Orleans for Lexie and Chris.  So since nonstop wasn’t an option for any of us, we basically just went with the best price/value which was Southwest.  It was a quick 45 minute flight to Houston from Dallas Love Field (DAL) and then a 3 hour flight from Houston Hobby (HOU) to LIR.  Lexie and Chris flew from New Orleans (MSY) to HOU and then we were on the same flight to LIR.

Remember, Southwest’s loyalty program generally prices award flights according to the paid fare at the time of booking.  In other words, a lower fare will cost a lower amount of Southwest Rapid Rewards points.*

*This is different from programs such as American Airlines AAdvantage which has a fixed chart.  A fixed chart means that the cost is the same no matter what the paid fare is.  Award flights booked with American Airlines AAdvantage miles are 12,500-17,500 AA miles each way from the US to LIR, depending on peak and off peak dates.

I had some Southwest points in my account and since the fares were reasonable for our dates from both DAL and MSY, the price in points was reasonable for our dates.   Government taxes when flying in and out of LIR are a little high, but they are charged on any award ticket regardless of the airline you book.

Our total per person was about 28,000 Southwest points and $80.  The cash price for the roundtrip flight was about $500.  Remember, if you have the Southwest Companion Pass, the companion ticket is 0 points plus taxes and fees ($80 in this case).

I checked fares on Kayak and Google Flights but Southwest by far had the best prices for our dates.  Not sure why but tickets to Costa Rica in June were close to $1000 on other airlines!

Andaz Costa Rica Resort at Peninsula Papagayo: My favorite hotel redemption to date

The fun part about this hobby is finding sweet spots in airline and hotel loyalty programs.  For hotels, this usually means finding properties that are in a lower category than you would expect for a high-end property.

Andaz Costa Rica on Ultimate Rewards points

The Andaz Costa Rica Resort at Peninsula Papagayo is one of my favorite hotels! You can book it with Hyatt points. You can transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards to Hyatt, so you can also book it if you have points from a Chase Sapphire card.

We stayed the Andaz Costa Rica Resort at Peninsula Papagayo.  The Andaz brand is part of the Hyatt family.

Hyatt’s loyalty program, World of Hyatt, has an award chart with 7 categories.  In general, I would expect any property that regularly goes for over $500 per night to be in one of the highest categories.  While this hotel is certainly up to the standards of a high category Hyatt property, it is only a category 4!

That means that rooms are only 15,000 points per night at the Andaz Costa Rica Resort.

The lowest rate at the Andaz Costa Rica was $573 for our dates

That actually means it would be over $600 per night once taxes and resort fees are added.  When booking a stay entirely on points, taxes and resort fees are not charged!

Costa Rica on Ultimate Rewards points

We booked the Andaz Costa Rica for only 15,000 World of Hyatt points per night

I’ll save all the math for the next post, but this is a great deal!  To get the points in our Hyatt accounts, we transferred points from Chase Ultimate Rewards.

andaz Costa Rica on points

You can earn the Hyatt points needed for a 6 night stay at the Andaz Costa Rica by opening only 2 credit cards and earning the sign up bonus on each.  I’ll explain how in an upcoming post.

Final thoughts

Costa Rica on Ultimate Rewards points

Lexie and Chris are proof that it’s never too late to start collecting miles and points (specifically, Chase Ultimate Rewards points!) so you can book your next trip for free!  I’ll go into more details about the Andaz Costa Rica Resort at Peninsula Papagayo in a separate post.  I’ll also post pictures and info about the tours we booked with all of the money we saved!

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3 thoughts on “Take it from a beginner: you can book Costa Rica for ~$80 per person!

  1. Pingback: How to book the Andaz Costa Rica on points (for free!)

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