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!
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?
*(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?
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)?
What were your thoughts about the Andaz Costa Rica?
What was your favorite activity/tour in Costa Rica?
Do you have a new favorite food ;-)?
What does Chris think about all of this?
Last question: Where are we going next?
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!