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Contemplating a Trip to Panama on Miles and Points

When you have miles and points burning a hole in your pocket, it’s fun to explore some possible ways to spend your stash. And that’s exactly what I’ve been doing lately.

My family just returned from our winter trip to Hyatt Lost Pines, and I am excited about our upcoming trip to Hawaii and our month-long summer rental. But after our most recent getaway, I can’t help but think that it’s time to expand our horizons a bit more.

The thing is, I’ve noticed that many of the people we’ve met on our recent vacations are, well, just like us. They look like us, they live in a neighborhood similar to ours and they speak the same language. And there’s nothing wrong with that. We’ve thoroughly enjoyed our vacations and we’ve loved our experiences.

However, something my youngest child said to me the other week gave me pause. We were talking about other countries and she asked if the people there speak “normal”. I explained that they speak a different language, but that is “normal” for that country. We speak English because of where we live. And she said, “No, we just speak normal.”

It’s time to take my kids out of their comfort zone!  A country where English is not the primary language. Sure, we went to Mexico and left our resort a few times, but I still felt sheltered. My kids (and I) are ready for more.

So, I’m looking into booking a trip to Panama on miles and points.

Why Panama?

I’m attracted to Panama primarily because of the Panama Canal. I’ve always been fascinated by it and I dream of going on a cruise ship through the canal. Unfortunately, the timing of most large cruise ships crossing through the canal doesn’t sync with school breaks. However, it’s possible to go on a smaller boat through the Panama Canal with tours based out of Panama City for a fraction of the cost of a large cruise.

Contemplating a Trip to Panama on Miles and Points

Panama Canal. Photo courtesy of jandenouden on Pixabay.

Also, Panama is a Spanish-speaking country, and speaking Spanish is my hidden talent. I was a Spanish major in college and spent time in Spain and Guatemala. I’m sure my Spanish skills are a bit rusty, but I think I could get back up to speed quickly.

Panama is a 6-hour flight from Dallas (with stopover in Miami) but it’s in the Eastern Time Zone, so just one hour time difference.

Potential Panama Itinerary

We would stay in Panama City as a home base for three to four days. I would likely buy hop-on-hop-off bus tickets to take us to these major attractions:

Miraflores Visitor Center: This is right at the Miraflores locks, where visitors can wave to ships going through the canal. It also has a 3D movie that narrates the history of the Panama Canal as well as other exhibits.

Casco Viejo: Panama City’s historic district is full of old churches, museums, quaint shops and restaurants.

Amador Causeway: This is a large boardwalk between Panama City and islands at the entrance to the Panama Canal. Visitors can rent bikes or roller skates and spend a few hours in the Biomuseo.

While staying in Panama City, it would be neat to take an aerial tram ride through the jungle and stop by Monkey Island. And of course, we would take a boat through the canal itself, likely a partial transit cruise and possibly a trip to the new expanded canal.

If we had more time, I’d love to visit the San Blas Islands for a few days and learn about the Kuna culture.  There’s even a resort with overwater bungalows!

Contemplating a Trip to Panama on Miles and Points

San Blas Islands. Photo by Pablo García Saldaña on Unsplash

Flights on Miles

In 2017, my husband and I accumulated quite a few AA miles (see this post). Flights from Dallas to Panama City are only 15,000 miles each way (or 12,500 during off-peak season) plus about $82 in taxes. Cash prices for this itinerary run $500-$1000 per ticket.

AA has a lot of award availability, even for my family of five, during various months of the summer and during fall break. Tempting!

Hotel on Points

Hotels in Panama City are very inexpensive, both on cash and points. Based on our points stash, our two best options are Hilton and Hyatt.

We could get two rooms at the Hampton by Hilton Panama or the Hilton Garden Inn Panama for 10,000 Hilton Honors points per room per night. Not too shabby.

Heck, we could even splurge for a night at the Waldorf Astoria Panama, which runs around 30,000 Hilton Honors points per room per night.

Or, we could use just 5000 World of Hyatt points per night to stay at the Hyatt Place Panama City/Downtown!

Contemplating a Trip to Panama on Miles and Points

Hyatt Place Panama City rooftop pool. Photo courtesy of Hyatt.

What’s Stopping Me from Booking Panama on Miles and Points Right Now

This trip sounds lovely, right? So why am I not already using our miles and points stash to book it?

A few reasons, actually. The main reason is that my husband is short on vacation time from work for 2018 based on our other travel plans. I’m already going to be traveling alone with the kids for two weeks this summer (and possibly three weeks if I add a trip to New Orleans on the MegaBus). Is it fair to keep traveling even more while my husband is stuck working? This trip sounds interesting to him, too.

The other reason I’m not pulling the trigger now is that we might need our miles and points for a bigger international trip next year. You may remember my post where I laid out our desire to visit either Paris or New Zealand. We are getting close to making a decision on that trip (I hope!), but we need to figure out how everything will shake out first to see if we can also fit Panama into our schedule.

Have you visited Panama? Where are you dreaming of going with your miles and points stash?

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Author: Nancy

Nancy is a contributing writer for Miles For Family. She enjoys traveling to the beach and is a big fan of Disney. Nancy lives near Dallas, Texas, with her husband and three kids.

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16 thoughts on “Contemplating a Trip to Panama on Miles and Points

  1. Panama definitely looks intriguing! I’ve researched some of those islands before, as well as overwater bungalows. My only issue is that none of the moderately priced options seem to have an A/C. Still, it looks like a beautiful place to visit. A poor man’s Maldives? 🙂 You know, Russians seem to favor Panama for some reason.

  2. I totally feel your husband’s pain, I’m always short on vacation time for all of the trips I want to take! My grandpa and his wife went to Panama a few years ago and really liked it. I would definitely like to visit someday to see the Canal.

  3. My husbands work schedule is always a factor in travel decisions and with our oldest doing traveling league volleyball it can really cut into his vacation time because he wants to be there to support her. Sounds like a great trip though, hopefully ti all works out for you!

  4. This vacation sounds amazing. We struggle with the same restrictions though. My husband is always short on vacation time too and I would never want to go somewhere so interesting like this without him. I hope we can make it happen someday!!

    • @Leigh Yeah, if this was somewhere my husband had absolutely no interest in going, I’d consider going with just my kids. Hopefully we can go soon.

  5. Never been to Panama City, but my guess is that if you travel during US school breaks, stick to American hotel chains, and visit the popular tourist sites, you are still going to be surrounded by lots of American families who look just like you. At those hotels, restaurants, popular attractions, and tours, you are going to be serviced by locals who are fluent in English, so no Spanish needed to get by.
    If you want to give your kids a truly different experience, you would have to go well off the beaten path. Just my 2 cents 🙂

    • @Ginger You bring up a good point! Even in a foreign country it’s possible to avoid speaking the language and getting a different experience. I don’t think we’d have to stray too far off the beaten path in Panama, though, to make the experience different from some of our recent trips. Panama City is huge, and for my family just navigating the metro and exploring new restaurants will be a challenge. We’ve grown accustomed to U.S. resorts where we don’t have to seek out food or entertainment. This trip would be comparatively a lot more work. But I’m up for it, and I think my kids are, too!

  6. I laughed at what your daughter said: “No, we just speak normal.” That just struck me. How awesome is it that you are traveling with your kids!!! Panama sounds amazing.

  7. I’m interested! Central and South America are appealing to me because I live in the Dfw area (fairly close) and my kids are still pretty young that the minimal time change makes me favor these destinations over Europe and (gasp!) New Zealand for the foreseeable future.

    • @Lindy Yes! The minimal time change is so appealing to me. I feel like we could hit the ground running and even go there for a somewhat shorter 3-5 day trip.

  8. Work always messes everything up! Love the idea and seems very reasonable. What’s the costs on the overwater bungalow?

    • @Boonie The overwater bungalow on San Blas we were looking at that fits 5 was around ~$500 a night. So not cheap by any means, but still closer than the Maldives or Bora Bora.

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