If you haven’t already checked out my previous post, click here to read it. It will give you a better understanding of how I managed to plan this trip for nearly free.
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Last spring, my wife and I traveled to Cabo San Lucas in Mexico for a 3 night getaway at the Hyatt Ziva all-inclusive resort. Honestly, I’m not really a sit-on-the-beach-all-day kind of vacation guy, but when you’re busy at work and can’t get away for an extended period of time, beggars can’t be choosers, am I right?
Besides, who can complain when nearly the entire trip was free! I believe the only thing that was out-of-pocket was the shuttle ride from the airport to the resort, which cost less than $50. Stick around to see how I managed all of this.
The All-Inclusive Experience
To be honest, I don’t have a lot of experience in the all-inclusive resort arena, and I’ve also never been on a cruise. This trip was only my 2nd trip to an all-inclusive resort, and the first time was also to a Hyatt Ziva all-inclusive, except in Cancun.
I’ve heard from many people who love these types of vacations that the allure is that they’re so worry-free and they have something for everyone. I can imagine them being great for large groups like family reunions or parents with kids.
However, in my personal case, my parents pretty much planned all our vacations themselves when I was growing up as a kid.
In my eyes, the bulk of vacation travel costs fall into a few categories: transportation, lodging, food, and activities. Obviously, one of the great aspects of all-inclusive resorts is that the cost kills two birds with one stone; your lodging and food are both taken care of.
One of the things I liked about the Hyatt Ziva all-inclusive resorts is that they are probably classified as a more middle-to-higher-end all-inclusive resort (as mentioned before, I have no reference). Because of this, all the restaurants and buffets served high-quality food. I’ve heard some bad stories of low-end all-inclusive resorts that have terrible food that it basically makes you not want to eat there.
But enough about my all-inclusive resort experience, you’re here to learn how I managed this trip for free. I will break this down into the two major portions: flights and hotel.
How We Flew for Free
For the flight, we flew on Southwest Airlines. Southwest has its own rewards program called Southwest Rapid Rewards. At the time we booked our flights, a ticket to Cabo San Lucas airport cost approximately $300pp (this price includes taxes and fees). However, if you booked the same flight using Rapid Rewards points, it would cost approximately 15,000 points plus taxes and fees.
I should point out here that taxes and fees for an international flight will always be more expensive than a domestic flight. For this flight, it was around $75 per ticket. I only bring this up because if you only use your points to fly domestically, taxes and fees are only about $5 each way.
The Southwest Rapid Rewards Credit Card
Now, we personally had enough Southwest Rapid Rewards points in our accounts to book these flights. But what if you were just starting out and had none?
As of the timing of this post, Southwest is currently offering 40,000 points after spending $1000 within the first 3 months of card opening for signing up for their Southwest Rapid Rewards credit card. (Pro tip: the sign-up bonus for this card is often 50,000 points) Thus, with a single credit card application and meeting the required minimum spend, you would have enough points to book 2 flights to Mexico.
If we value each ticket as $225 ($300 cash price – $75 taxes/fees), you would have gotten $450 in value out of this credit card sign up with 10,000 points to spare! In general, I value Southwest Rapid Rewards points at 1.5¢ per point, so those remaining 10,000 points are still worth an estimated $150. That would bring the total value of this single 40,000 points credit card sign-up bonus to $600.
I need to insert a disclaimer here and explain that the number of points required to fly from your home airport to Cabo will differ depending on what airport and part of the country you live in. Naturally, flights to Cabo will likely be cheaper from the west coast of the US than the east coast. Also, with Southwest Airlines, the number of points required for a flight is directly correlated to how much it costs to buy the same ticket with cash. So if the ticket price is high, then more points will be required. Southwest also services Cancun, so this trip could be replicated by going to Cancun and the Hyatt Ziva Cancun instead of Cabo if you live closer to the east coast.
How to Stay for Free
Great, so now we know how we’re getting to Cabo, but what about the resort stay? Well, given the name, you can probably tell that the Hyatt Ziva Cabo San Lucas belongs in the Hyatt hotel group. Hyatt’s rewards program is called World of Hyatt.
At the time of booking, a night stay at the Hyatt Ziva Cabo San Lucas was costing $456 per night (taxes + fees included). Keep in mind this is per room and includes food and beverage for two guests. An award stay at the Hyatt Ziva Cabo San Lucas costs 20,000 World of Hyatt points per night for a room.
The World of Hyatt Credit Card
Currently, Hyatt is offering a 50,000 point sign-up bonus for its credit card after $6000 spend in 6 months of opening the credit card. So with a single credit card application and meeting minimum spend, you would have enough points for 2 nights at the Hyatt Ziva Cabo (or Hyatt Ziva Cancun @ 25,000 points per night).
If you have a partner that you would be going with, and you each apply for the credit card and meet minimum spend requirements, you would have 100,000 points combined, enough for a four-night all-inclusive stay.
Let’s assume the scenario that we’re just going for a two-night stay (even though my wife and I went for three nights). With a single credit card sign up of the Hyatt credit card, you would have enough points to get $912 worth of hotel stay (based on the price of the room when we booked)! If both you and a partner got the card, it would be double the amount!
Southwest Points vs. Hyatt Points
One difference to notice between the Hyatt stay points requirement compared to the Southwest flight points requirement is that the cost for a one night stay at the Hyatt Ziva Cabo is always 20,000 points, regardless of how much the standard room costs. So if they have a standard room available on New Year’s Eve or any other popular holiday when rates at hotels are generally higher, you can get amazing value out of your points since you are not spending any more points even though the room cost is actually higher.
Compared to the Southwest booking, the number of points required for a free flight was directly correlated to the actual cash price of a ticket. So if you fly during the holidays, when prices are generally higher, you can expect to spend more Southwest Rapid Rewards points to get a free flight. However, the benefit of the Southwest rewards system is that you can always use your points for a flight as long as a seat is still available. They do not limit the number of seats available for reward flights.
Different Rewards Programs for Different People
Each rewards program runs their system differently. It is something that takes some time to learn and understand. While this trip worked for us, it may not be the one that works for you. How do you know which credit cards to sign up for? Well, it depends on a lot of factors, including where you want to go, how long you want to go, what’s your main airport, how long you have until the trip and more. If Southwest Airlines doesn’t serve your home airport, there’s almost no point for you to apply for the Southwest credit cards. Likewise, if your destination doesn’t have any Hyatt hotels, there’s no point in getting the Hyatt credit card.
I should note that both of the credit cards I mentioned come with a small annual fee that is not waived in the first year of opening (some credit cards waive the annual fee for the first year). However, as I may elaborate in a future article, you need to evaluate the entire benefits package of a credit card to determine whether it is worth holding onto, despite the annual fee.
For example, the annual fee for the Hyatt credit card is $95 per year. However, one of the benefits of the card is that you get an annual free night at a Hyatt hotel (of a certain level). For me, this is a card worth holding onto despite the annual fee because a Hyatt hotel stay will almost always cost more than $95. Last year, my wife and I celebrated New Year’s Eve at a Hyatt hotel in downtown Palm Springs. I don’t remember exactly what the room cost was if we had to pay cash for it, but I’m pretty sure it was over $250 after taxes and fees.
My Final Take
I hope this real world example of a trip I took has given you a better idea of what can be achieved with credit card sign-up bonuses. Even though you may not have any interest in visiting Hyatt all-inclusive resorts, there is a wide range of other destinations and hotels you can stay for free with hotel points. Likewise, there are plenty of airline credit cards that offer airline miles as sign-up bonuses to help you fly for free. If you enjoyed the information in this article, please share it with one of the buttons below. If you have any more questions, please feel free to leave a comment or shoot me a message. I hope to have more future articles discussing this topic if there is interest.