Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Using Miles and Points for an All-inclusive Resort in Mexico

Warning--this is a math post! It entails how we leveraged credit card miles and points bonuses from five new-to-us credit cards (split between me and my husband, opened in 2015) to book a future escape to Mexico in Fall 2016. This process has become a part-time job/hobby for me, and we use our credit cards responsibly by paying off the balances every month. For more info on signing up for credit cards for the travel bonuses, see this post by Million Mile Secrets, this post by Miles for Family or this post by Mommy Points.

Much of our Spring Break (after returning from Glen Rose) was cloudy and rainy, which made my mind wander to our upcoming vacation to a sunny beach in the fall. As I mentioned in an earlier post, my family has plans to try an all-inclusive resort later this year. We picked the fall because prices are usually cheaper in Mexico and the Caribbean in the off-season, and our kids have two days off school in October.

Photo credit: nowresorts.com
After much research, we picked out a city and a resort that met our needs. (Ok, in reality, I picked out the place I thought was best and my husband said, "Sure, sounds good.")

Cash price: (if we were to book this vacation without any miles or points)
* Flights to Puerto Vallarta for 5 people--$2025
* All-inclusive resort for 6 nights--$2429 (2 rooms)
* Total of $4454

Because we are saving for a big vacation in 2017, I didn't have a big budget for this trip. So I needed to figure out how to cover most of the cash expenses using miles and points.
Photo credit: nowresorts.com

From reading some of my favorite miles and points blogs (Million Mile Secrets, The Points Guy, Miles for Family, etc.), I knew that the best way to fly from DFW to Mexico on points was to use British Airways miles (Avios). Say what? Yes, British Airways uses a distance-based award chart and partners with American Airlines and Alaska airlines for U.S. domestic flights. I found direct flights for our return flights to DFW on American Airlines and used 7500 British Airways miles for each ticket (the same exact flights would have cost 17,500 American Airlines miles). (See this blog post for more details).

I couldn't find flights on AA that were available with MileSAAver awards for our trip to Mexico, so I turned to Southwest. I was able to use $600 in gift cards I got for Southwest as a "free" credit card benefit combined with a $200 gift card I got for Christmas to buy 4 tickets on Southwest (and my daughter will fly free as my companion).

How did we get those points and gift cards? Last year, my husband got the American Express Premier Rewards Gold credit card. After charging $3000 in the first 3 months, the card's sign-up bonus included 50,000 Amex Membership Rewards points as well as a $100 airline reimbursement benefit per calendar year. He was able to get $200 in Southwest gift cards for free ($100 in late 2015 and $100 in early 2016). The annual fee was waived for the first year. We converted the 50,000 Membership Rewards points into British Airways Avios.

Sometime after this, Leana from Miles for Family alerted me to a special sign-up bonus on the American Express Platinum credit card. The bonus was 100,000 American Express Membership Rewards points after spending $3000 in the first 3 months, with a $200 per calendar year airline reimbursement. The annual fee of $450 was not waived the first year, but I ended up with $400 in Southwest gift cards ($200 reimbursed in late 2015 and $200 in early 2016) as well as free Global Entry/TSA Pre-check ($100 value).

Points/Cash for Airline Tickets:
--DAL to PVR: $9 cash (used $800 in "free" Southwest gift cards for 4 cash tickets and 1 free companion ticket that only had taxes)
--PVR to DAL: 37,500 British Airways Avios + $130 in taxes (total taxes were $280, but I spent Barclay points to wipe out $150 of the taxes)
--$450 annual fee for one credit card
Total for flights: $589 and 37,500 miles
Savings: -$1436 or -70%

Next, it was time to tackle reducing the bill for our all-inclusive resort. My husband and I each signed up for a Citi ThankYou Premier credit card that offered 50,000 ThankYou points after spending $3000 in 3 months. The annual fee was waived for the first year, and we staggered our applications and spending. We ended up with over 100,000 ThankYou points that are worth 1.25 cents each towards hotels and airline tickets. That was enough to cover one of our rooms at the resort.

To help pay for the other room with points, I opened a new Barclay Arrival + card and got 40,000 points (annual fee waived). Barclay points can be used to reimburse travel expenses, and points accumulate at 2 per dollar. We are going to use this as our main spending credit card from now until our vacation, and I will be writing travel stories on Barclay's forum to earn additional points. These points will help pay for more than half of our second room at the resort, but I estimate we will still need to pay approximately $400 in cash. But that's not too shabby for 6 nights at an all-inclusive resort for a family of 5!

Points/Cash for All-inclusive Resort:
--101,457 Citi ThankYou points for one room
--76,100 Barclay points + $400 for the second room
Total: 177,557 points and $400 cash
Savings: -$2029 or 83.5%

Total Flights Round-Trip Dallas to Puerto Vallarta + All-inclusive Resort for 5 people for 6 nights:
--215,057 miles/points and $989 cash
Savings:  -$3456 or -77.8%
Opened 5 new credit cards (3 for me, 2 for my husband) in the second half of 2015. 

So we are getting this vacation for less than $1000 out-of-pocket, and we still have over 100,000 Amex Membership Rewards to use for a future trip. Can't wait!


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