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.
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:
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).
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.