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My family’s favorite vacation is a Disney Cruise. It has something for everyone, and every member of my family of five is happy.
We like that all food and most drinks are included in the price. It’s one of the few vacations where my husband and I can have some quality time together while the kids are having a blast in the kids’ club.
While we love Disney Cruise Line, we don’t love the hefty price tag (even in the off season). We’ve often asked ourselves if we can duplicate part of that experience on land.
We decided to book a vacation at an all-inclusive resort with a kids’ club to see if this type of land vacation is a good fit for our family. My kids have a four-day weekend off from school in October, so we planned to schedule this trip around that time.
Choosing a Destination
I’ve spent countless hours searching for all-inclusive resorts with kids’ clubs. There are hardly any in the United States, so I had to start looking in Mexico and the Caribbean. I also had to keep in mind the distance from our airport (Dallas) and the ease of finding airline tickets on miles.
Mexico seemed like the most logical choice, given that we could fly to three cities (Cabo, Puerto Vallarta and Cancun) in under 2 ½ hours. I eliminated Cabo fairly quickly based on reading that the ocean was too rough for swimming.
Then it came down to Puerto Vallarta vs. Cancun. I scoured the internet to read comparisons and reviews of the two cities. I read that Cancun is pretty similar to Cozumel, and we had already visited Cozumel on a cruise. Also, we would be traveling in October, which is hurricane season. Cancun is more likely than Puerto Vallarta to be affected by a hurricane.
I was attracted to the mountains around Puerto Vallarta, and I liked that the city is reportedly less touristy than Cancun. And a bonus: Puerto Vallarta is in the same time zone as Dallas, so there would be no adjustment for the kids.
Puerto Vallarta it is!
Finding Flights Using Miles
I would not book a resort until I had nailed down flights. The cheapest and most convenient flights would be on American Airlines direct from Dallas to Puerto Vallarta.
If the direct flight was available as an MileSAAver Award, it would be bookable using British Airways Avios at 7500 miles each. (British Airways is a partner of American Airlines—see this post for more info about booking AA flights with British Airways Avios).
My husband got the Amex Premier Rewards Gold card (annual fee waived) with a 50k bonus in July 2015, and I got the Amex Platinum card ($450 annual fee) with a 100k bonus in August 2015. We could transfer Membership Rewards points to British Airways Avios for these flights.
Unfortunately, I could not find MileSAAver award flights for both ways. We ended up booking return flights from Puerto Vallarta to Dallas for 7500 British Airways Avios each (37,500 total) plus $56 in taxes for each ticket. I used some Barclaycard Arrival Plus points to cover part of the taxes, so my total out-of-pocket cost was $130.
For our flights to Puerto Vallarta, I ended up using Southwest gift cards that we had acquired through our Amex cards. Both of our Amex cards had reimbursable airline expenses, so we bought $600 in Southwest gift cards that were offset by statement credits.
Our flights came to just under $800, so I combined the $600 in gift cards we bought through Amex with a $200 Southwest gift card I had received as a gift. My daughter’s flight was free since she is my Southwest companion through the end of 2016.
Total out-of-pocket cost for 5 round-trip tickets: $130 in taxes plus $450 Amex Platinum annual fee = $580
Booking an All-Inclusive Resort on Points
After I solidified our tickets, I worked on booking a resort using points. I spent hours researching all-inclusive resorts. Reading reviews is my favorite part of planning a trip!
I primarily used Trip Advisor reviews combined with resort websites. I wanted to find a resort with 4 ½ star reviews on Trip Advisor that had a kids’ club open during the evening. Through my research, I learned that many resorts only have a kids’ club open during the day.
After torturing myself over which resort to pick, I finally picked one in the AMResorts family (Secrets, Dreams, etc.)
In November of last year, my husband and I both applied for Citi ThankYou Premier cards. The bonus was 50k points, and we were able to combine our points together in one account to have over 100k points. The points were worth 1.25 cents each towards our all-inclusive resort when we booked through the Citi ThankYou portal.
Note: Citi ThankYou Premier currently does not have a sign-up bonus. Instead, you could use the Chase Sapphire Reserve card’s bonus of 100k to book an all-inclusive resort through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal. Even after paying the annual fee, the bonus still yields over $1000 worth of travel.
Since we had to book two rooms for my family of five, we booked one room with points through the Citi ThankYou portal. It cost us nothing out-of-pocket, and we still had some leftover ThankYou points.
For the second room, we used my Barclaycard Arrival Plus. This was actually my second round with this card, and I signed up for it when the bonus was 40,000 points or $400 in travel expense reimbursement. (The Barclaycard Arrival Plus now has an increased bonus of 50,000 points).
I used the Barclaycard Arrival Plus card to cover about half of the cost of the room, and I ended up having to pay $391 out-of-pocket.
Total out-of-pocket cost for 5 people in an all-inclusive for 6 nights: $391
Note: If you have Hyatt points available through the Chase Hyatt card, the Chase Sapphire Reserve or any other Chase card that earns Ultimate Rewards points, the Hyatt Ziva is an all-inclusive in Puerto Vallarta available on points. If an all-inclusive is not important to you, Puerto Vallarta also has Marriott and SPG properties available on points.
Speaking of Arrival Plus, here is a recent comment from reader Lisa M:
“So, I’ve had great success with the Barclaycard Arrival Plus in the past year. I cannot speak for VRBO, but I can speak to two instances wherein I called customer service and they adjusted two charges.
One was for a cabin rental that coded as rental property that was exactly $100. The other one was for a private railway train that coded as restaurant services (I have no idea why it coded that way) that was exactly $100. I mentioned in both that I wouldn’t have made either purchase, which was true, if I knew it would have been coded incorrectly because cheaper options were available.
When talking on the phone, I would mention both companies by name and their respective websites so that the customer service rep could type them into his/her report to show that they were legit cabin/train purchases. Both issues took two weeks to resolve and get credited to my account, but the extra 20-30 minutes on the phone was worth the $200 I got back. Hope this helps some readers.”
So, if your travel purchase doesn’t code correctly, just call Barclays and hopefully, they’ll fix it.
We ended up paying a total of $971 for our flights and resort. It’s not free, but it’s not too shabby for six nights in Mexico. Without the help of miles and points, the price would have been $4184.
Additional costs not factored into this number include airport transportation, souvenirs, excursions and pet sitting. We booked one excursion for $40 a person, and we don’t plan on having any meals or drinks outside of our resort. Our resort is close enough to the city center that we can walk there during the day and still eat back at the resort.
If it wasn’t for miles and points, we would not have even attempted to squeeze in this extra vacation this year. I am so grateful that this trip is imminent! We are all ready for a beach break.
I’ll be posting a review of the resort when we get back. In the meantime, you can follow Miles For Family on Instagram to see some photos of our resort and Puerto Vallarta.
Leana is the founder of Miles For Family. She enjoys beach vacations and visiting her family in Europe. Originally from Belarus, Leana resides in central Florida with her husband and two children.