Ever since I started collecting points and miles five years ago, I knew that I wanted to redeem them for an exotic honeymoon.
A honeymoon should be relaxing and carefree, and I didn’t want the feeling of just having dropped thousands of dollars on a trip looming over my head…at least not when I knew I could travel for much less with points and miles!
What were we looking for?
While we eventually want to do a multi-week trip around the world, we didn’t have ton of vacation time to work with this year. Since we’re getting married in Atlanta and live in Seattle, our goal was to travel somewhere convenient to both locations (if there’s such a thing). Essentially, we didn’t want to waste a ton of time traveling when we could be sitting on a beach. So, in short, here’s what we were looking for:
- A beach (the most important)
- Nonstop flights from Atlanta
- Hotels where we could use points
- A destination where we could limit out-of-pocket expenses
What were our best hotel options?
Before figuring out flights, I wanted to explore where we could stay once we got to our destination. Typically, I prefer to pay for flights and use points on hotels. Chase has 13 travel partners that take 1:1 transfer ratios if you have credit cards that earn Ultimate Rewards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Chase Sapphire Reserve. The number of transfer partners and options to redeem is one of the reasons I prefer cards with transferable points. We have a ton of Chase Ultimate Rewards, so transfer partners like Hyatt and IHG were going to be our best bet. Additionally, I have a stash of IHG points.
So I mainly focused my search on IHG and Hyatt properties with the expectation that Hyatt was going to cost me fewer Ultimate Rewards points. This is because the top Hyatt properties (category 7 hotels) max out at 30,000 points per night, whereas IHG can reach 70,000 for its top categories.
I looked at IHG properties first, specifically the Holiday Inn Resort in Aruba and the Intercontinental Presidente Cozumel Resort and Spa. Aruba was going to run me 40,000 points per night, and Cozumel was going to run me 50,000 per night.
At this point, I put the IHG options on the backburner and focused on the following Hyatt properties. We’ve stayed at a handful of Hyatt properties over the last few years and loved them.
My brother went here on his honeymoon. The Zilara (adults-only) and Ziva brands are Hyatt’s all-inclusive brands. This Zilara was 25,000 points per night – which was a great deal considering without a discount these rooms can exceed $800/night. Cancun is a relatively easy flight from Atlanta (there are many nonstop options), and it wouldn’t have been too bad of a jaunt up to Seattle after our time basking in the sun. The downside of this is we visited the Hyatt Ziva in Puerto Vallarta last summer, and while we loved it, we were kind of ready to vacation somewhere other than Mexico!
Like I said, we’ve had great fun and success with Hyatt all-inclusive properties. It’s nice not to have to worry about anything. No cooking. No figuring out currency conversion rates on drinks or dinner. True relaxation. Montego Bay is also an easy flight from Atlanta (just over two hours). The rate here was the same as Cancun – 25,000 points per night. Neither of us had been to Jamaica, so it was even more appealing.
While much further than Jamaica, Aruba has the aura of an exotic honeymoon destination. I’ll be honest, I was not wild about the casino part, but I could get over it. The flight was much longer, but still not incredibly inconvenient. This is a Hyatt Category 6 property meaning it would also cost 25,000 points per night, but it is not all-inclusive, so we’d be on the hook for food and drinks, which could get pricey.
After checking out our top contenders for a hotel, my favorites were: Rose Hall, Cancun, and then Aruba. But let’s see how they look next to our flight options.
Could we use points for flights?
If you’ve searched flights to the Caribbean or Latin America before, you know that taxes and fees can add up, and these flights can very quickly get to the $500-600 range. So while I generally like to pay for flights and use points on hotels, I was open to switching things up for this trip. I’d been sitting on 83,000 Delta SkyMiles for quite some time and wanted to figure out a way to use them since points and miles can lose value over time. My fiancé had a much larger stash of SkyMiles, but if all possible, we wanted to prioritize using up all of mine so we could use her account for two tickets somewhere else.
We determined that we wanted to leave Atlanta on a Tuesday and return to Atlanta or Seattle the following Saturday or Sunday. If we chose Cancun, our return flight would need to take us straight to Seattle – the other two locations would probably have us going back through Atlanta and then continuing onto Seattle on Sunday.
1. ATL-CUN-SEA (Cancun)
There were countless nonstop options between Atlanta and Cancun – it actually shocked me. Getting from Cancun to Seattle, though, was not easy. We would’ve had to connect through Salt Lake City (with an overnight layover) or go through Detroit. Either way, for two award tickets in coach, it would’ve cost us 140,000 miles + $168.04 in taxes/fees. That’s not cheap. The cash value of these tickets was almost $2,000.
2. ATL-MBJ (Jamaica)
Next, I looked at round-trip options between Atlanta and Montego Bay in order to visit Hyatt Zilara Rose Hall. Yes, we would still need to fly back to Seattle, so it would add an extra flight; however, we were planning on using the Alaska Companion Pass for our SEA-ATL trip, so we were already basically getting BOGO.
Similar to Cancun, there were a good number of flights options. Ideally, we wanted to leave Atlanta in the morning and try to leave Montego Bay after lunch to give us an extra day at the beach. Two award tickets in economy were going to cost us just 68,000 SkyMiles + $271.04 in taxes/fees.
But, it got better.
Knowing I wanted to max out my SkyMiles account (having a few thousand miles left over isn’t ideal), I checked the rate for two award tickets in Delta Comfort+. These turned out to be 78,000 miles + $271.04 in taxes/fees. That was definitely the best option for maxing out my SkyMiles, and it would come with extra legroom and free drinks!
3. ATL-AUA (Aruba)
When I looked for options to Aruba, I didn’t find anything great. There was one nonstop option and another option that would take us through JFK (yes, all the way up to New York). There were two nonstop options on the return, both leaving after lunchtime, but it wasn’t going to be cheap – it was going to cost 122,000 miles + $168.04 in taxes/fees.
What did we decide?
As I mentioned, we had several goals for booking our honeymoon using points and miles. We wanted to use points for flights and hotels and get rid of devaluing SkyMiles. Ultimately, using points and miles would allow us to book a fun and relaxing trip while minimizing our out-of-pocket expenses.
We landed on the Hyatt Zilara – Rose Hall. This was the best value for us because we could max out my SkyMiles for our flights, and we got four nights at an all-inclusive property for only 100,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points. Remember, it’s super easy to collect Ultimate Rewards through your everyday spend if you have the Chase Trifecta, just make sure you’re aware of the Chase 5/24 rule before applying for new Chase cards.
Had we not been able to max out my Delta SkyMiles account, I definitely would’ve looked into Chase transfer partners like Southwest Airlines.
I’m happy with the end result:
- Four nights at Hyatt Zilara – Rose Hall = 100,000 Hyatt Points (transferred from Chase Ultimate Rewards)
- Two roundtrip flights on Delta in Comfort+ = 78,000 SkyMiles + $271.04 in taxes/fees.
- Airport Transfer (through Hyatt) = $60 USD ($30 each)
- Spending cash/tip money = $60
Total: 100,000 Ultimate Rewards, 68,000 SkyMiles, $391.04
We’re eventually hoping to earn enough points and miles to take a longer honeymoon utilizing the ANA Around the World flight, but for now, an (almost) free trip to the the sunny beaches of Jamaica will do just fine!
If you want to learn how you can do this too, be sure to check out our Beginner’s Guide.