Balcony View

Family Trip to Mexico for Less than a Grand

A couple of months ago, I wrote a report on my Trip to Europe on the Cheap.  I was pretty impressed with my use of frequent flyer miles and hotel points for that trip. I was recently just looking around the Southwest Airlines site to try and figure out how many points would be needed to some of their international destinations. I’ve flown Southwest a few times previously, but I had not yet traveled with them internationally. I’ve been to Cancun and Aruba before, and those were my first choices. I was looking at an Eastern point of departure. I only had enough Chase Ultimate Rewards points to purchase two one-way tickets. I was actually looking at going next year, so that was OK.

The Marina in Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, Mexico
The Marina in Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, Mexico (Taken by Your’s Truly with my trusty cell phone)
Entrance to the CasaMagna Marriott Resort, Puerto Vallarta (photo, again by your's truly)
Entrance to the CasaMagna Marriott Resort, Puerto Vallarta (photo, again by your’s truly)

I then lookedd at some tickets from Denver, which is relatively close to home and only a drive of a few hours. We had flown to LAX last year for around 29,000 for four tickets–total. Southwest was having a fare sale at the time, and there was another sale. LAX was now down to just more than 2,000 points for a one-way flight. I then decided to look at international destinations from DEN. Cancun and Aruba were still pretty high. I then came upon a ticket to Puerto Vallarta for 2,880 one-way for a non-stop flight. That seemed like a pretty good deal to me. I figured the return trip would be way higher. To my surprise, however, I could get a flight out on Monday and a return flight on Thursday for 5,760 Rapid rewards points total (with about $76 in taxes in addition). I made the purchase by transferring out 23,000 Ultimate Rewards Points for four tickets.

 

I also had to figure out where to stay. I started on Expedia by using one of those cheapest to most expensive sorter tools. I found a Comfort Inn and a Holiday Inn Express that  were really cheap (think around $50) and offered free breakfast. There was one downside to these hotels, however. They were were not ocean-front properties. If I’m going to a seaside town, I want to be no more than a block or two from the sand. I then found the CasaMagna Marriot Resort. It is an ocean-front property with a massive pool and beach access. I also found out that it was only $97 a night (+ tax). I was pretty much out of Marriott Rewards points because of the aforementioned trip to France, but I figured that spending 35,000 points per night for a category 7 hotel that cost only $97 a night would have been a bad redemption anyways–less than 0.28 cents a point in value. I figure that I’ll wind up with ~10,000 Marriott Rewards points for the stay altogether, not counting a 2,500 point bonus from one of Marriott’s Mega Bonus deals that are quite frequent. The reservation would also include a $30 discount at the spa, which we did not use, and a 30 percent discount at the La Estancia restaurant, which we did use. The filet at La Estancia was excellente. We also dined at the Champion’s Sports Bar, and had the privilege to watch the filming of a popular Mexican soap opera while eating one evening.

 

The room was quite comfortable, but queen beds might have been more comfortable than the doubles that we wound up using. I was supposed to be in what was considered a garden-view room, but I was a bit surprised when I walked onto the balcony to this view:

View from balcony at CasaMagna Marriott Puerto Vallarta--by me
View from balcony at CasaMagna Marriott Puerto Vallarta–by me

This was a pretty great view to wake up to, to say the least. The gardens on the property are maintained exquisitely. The food on-site was quite good. I had a massive burger one night at Champion’s one night and some grilled chicken rigatoni another, in addition to the meal at La Estancia noted above. The only thing I really did not enjoy was a chili enchilada? (at least I think that’s what it was), but the filet more than made up for it. Lunch each day was a pizza from Mango’s Deli, also on-site at CasaMagna Marriott. The view in Puerto Vallarta, with the mountains in the background, is more impressive than that in Cancun, in my opinion. The weather was great, as the rainy season is still a few weeks away.

The hotel was a wonderful property to visit, and it was not terribly crowded for the most part. Kids were few and far between (outside of mine), as school is still in session for most people. Altogether, lodging, meals, and airfare ran less than $1,000. It’s actually tough to beat this on a trip for four to many places within the US–and I was able to get some international exposure and some much-needed R&R. My hope is that I can get Southwest tickets on sale like this on a fairly regular (every other year or so) basis so that I can visit again and explore more of the city. We did little else outside of hang out at the beach and the pool other than walking to the Marina one day and riding a cab to the Malecon on another for some shopping (not my cup of tea, but mi familia loves it).

Mexican Pesos
Mexican Pesos

I do have a few bits of advice for people who are visiting PV. Make sure to exchange a few dollars for pesos upon arrival. Cabs do not appear to take credit cards, and there are many shops that do not, and those that do mostly take only Visa or MasterCard (no Amex). Also, ignore the peddlers of time shares in the airport. They act like they are the only ones who can get you a ride to the hotel, but it is way expensive (400 pesos for a trip that should have taken less than 100–other hotels could cost a bit more, but the Marriott to the Malecon was only 105 pesos, which is at 20-minute ride for ~$5), and they will push you to go through their presentation. I didn’t fall for the presentation, but did get ripped off on the ride (was told it was a refundable deposit). Just take a cab.

Currently, Southwest Airlines cards are offering a 50,000 Rapid Rewards point sign-up bonus for a $2,000 minimum spend. For those who can avoid running up interest charges for not paying off their cards on a monthly basis, this could pay off in anywhere between 2 and 8 (at the super-duper discounted rate I paid) round-trip tickets to Puerto Vallarta.

Disclaimer: I may get compensation should you click my affiliate links. Also, do not sign up for credit cards if you cannot pay off the balance on a monthly basis. Interest expenses will more than eat up any benefit you can get from the sign-up bonus you get. 

African Spurred Tortoise Edited

April 2016 Passive Dividend Income

Another month has come and gone. Today is the first day of May, and on this past Friday, I got my last dividend notification for the month of April. I’m now about nine months into the dividend growth investing journey. My goal is to build up passive income over time so that I can enjoy a reasonable retirement in a couple of decades. I believe that long-standing dividend payers who have solid cash flows should be reasonable investments for the long term.

I added a couple of small positions over the past month, but neither of these has paid out a dividend yet. I started pooling my dividends in my Loyal3 account in January, and I reached $10 early in April. I then immediately put that $10 to work in a very small starting position in Unilever PLC. My hope is that my growing stream of dividends will enable me to add to this small start each quarter to start with. As my core positions add more in dividend payments, I plan to increase the frequency of these purchases in UL.

I also cashed out some more funds from Swagbucks and started with a $25 position in Starbucks (SBUX). My hope is to alternate Swagbucks payments and build up some smaller positions. Starbucks does not pay a huge dividend at this point, but the company has been increasing its payout rapidly over the past few years. Additionally, the company is still in the growth phase, so I’m hoping that my eventual yield on cost is much higher than my current ~1.4 percent.

I received three dividend payments during the month of April, so without further ado, here they are:

Coca-Cola (KO):                         $2.95

Wal-Mart (WMT):                       $2.48

Bank of Nova Scotia (BNS):     $3.47

Total dividend payments for March:   $8.90

Dividend income for 2016:                      $33.28

My payment from BNS was subject to a 15 percent withholding tax, so only $2.95 went into my DRIP. This purchased another 0.057 shares of BNS, and it will add about $0.12 to my annual dividend income, although this will vary because of foreign exchange rates. I put the other dividends toward the aforementioned  purchase of Unilever. My current forward dividend income for the next 12 months should be right around $131.67 (although this is possibly a slight bit off because of the BNS forex issue). This way more than the grand total of $0 that I expected in yearly dividends at this same time last year. Earning dividends is truly earning money in pajamas. I do no more work after earning the capital. Then my capital goes to work for me.

If you want to keep up with my progress or learn about my other life hacking achievements and goals, be sure to sign up to follow the blog.

Disclaimer: I am not a licensed financial professional. Please use the information on this site for educational/entertainment purposes only. Be sure to check with a financial professional before purchasing equities.

Disclaimer 2: I may receive compensation if you decide to sign up for any of my affiliate links. This post mentions Swagbucks. I usually get $25 worth of PayPal cash each month from this site, and I use it to buy more stocks that then earn me more dividends that can then go and buy more stocks that then pay more dividends…and so forth. Should you choose to sign up, I thank you for your support.