International getaways: How to get, stay there on miles, points

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    Travel and cards writer
    Travel expert who writes the “Have Cards, Will Travel” column for CreditCards.com

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    A few weeks ago, I wrote to you lamenting the winter blues
    and dreaming of exotic islands to visit on points. Today I’m sitting on the
    patio of my suite at the Andaz Papagayo resort by Hyatt in Costa Rica and the
    only blues I have today is the Pacific Ocean out in front of me.

    A last-minute, weekend trip to Costa Rica may sound a bit
    unrealistic, but I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t have to be. International
    trips don’t have to be big to-dos you plan for years in advance – especially if
    you have rewards points.

    See related: Winter destinations: 4 exotic islands you can visit on points

    Best winter getaway? Go after the sun

    Some international destinations like Costa Rica are close
    enough to travel to for a few days and a quick visit can help you find whatever
    kind of escape you need.

    I chose Costa Rica for a quick international getaway for two
    reasons.

    First, because my winter-weary soul wanted sunshine and
    temperatures above 90 degrees.

    Second, because the Andaz
    Papagayo
    (a Hyatt category 4 property) had been on my radar as a fancy
    resort that is bookable with the anniversary certificate from my World of Hyatt Credit Card, and my
    certificate was going to expire at the end of the month.

    Since I pay an annual fee of $95 on this card, it was a
    great value to use the certificate on a weekend when rooms were booking out at
    a rate of $695 per night.

    As a bonus, Costa Rica is convenient to reach on a variety
    of airlines using miles.

    I’m not alone in my need to get away. At the pool, I’ve met plenty
    of others taking advantage of the proximity of Central America for a quick
    winter escape.

    A couple from Atlanta is here on a quick trip without their children.
    A family from Seattle is hiding from the snowpocalypse. A woman from Boston is taking
    a few days off from the polar vortex.

    Needing an escape of your own? Here are four tips to help
    you put your points to work for a short and super international getaway.

    1. Pick an
    easy-to-access destination

    The first step to a quick international getaway is finding a
    destination you can get to quickly! If you’re starting from the U.S. and
    heading for sun, your most direct and easiest options will depend on your point
    of origin:

    • From the East Coast: The Bahamas, most of the
      Caribbean, Cuba, Mexico and Central America are easy direct flights.
    • From the West Coast: Baja and the Pacific coast
      of Mexico are practically in your backyard with Central America just a bit
      further afield.
    • From Middle America: You’ve got a straight shot to
      either coast of Mexico or down into Central America with connections through
      Houston or Dallas.

    2. Redeem your points for region-based rewards (not revenue-based)

    If your getaway is a last-minute escape, you’ll likely get the best deal by redeeming your rewards points directly through an airline program that has a region-based award chart – like United or American Airlines – rather than a program that prices award tickets based on actual last-minute price of tickets – like Delta, Southwest, or a bank program like Chase Ultimate Rewards. 

    When you book through a program with a fixed redemption
    structure, the points price of the ticket is the same no matter if you plan six
    months or six days in advance. If an award ticket is available, it’s available
    – and often availability can open up at the last minute if a flight isn’t full.

    A one-way ticket from Portland to Liberia, Costa Rica for my
    escape was 17,500 points on American Airlines – that’s fewer points than I
    earned from online shopping bonuses last year. Plus, I was able to book a long
    enough layover in Dallas to check out the cocktails in the newly renovated Centurion Lounge in Terminal D – accessed
    with my Platinum Card® from American Express.

    See related: Sharing miles with friends, family: These airlines allow it

    3. Choose an easy
    place to stay – and use your points

    Secure accommodation that keeps logistics to a minimum. While
    Airbnbs or lodging in residential
    areas of a city are more budget-friendly for longer trips, stick to hotels for
    getaways.

    For a winter sun break, I usually opt for a resort with a
    beach, a pool and a view. For a city-exploration getaway, I choose a central
    location preferably in walking distance to whatever I’m trying to see.

    Since you’ll only be staying a couple of nights, it should
    be easy to cover your hotel bill with points – or use your annual anniversary
    certificate from whichever co-branded hotel certificate you have in your wallet.
    World of Hyatt, the new Marriott
    Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card
    , and the IHG Rewards
    Club Premier Credit Card
    all have a great anniversary night benefit.

    For Costa Rica, I took a combined approach and used my
    certificate together with 30,000 points to book two additional nights at the
    Andaz (15,000 points per night), to land a stay that would have otherwise cost
    me upward of $1,900.

    See related: Best cards for Airbnb

    4. Consider your
    quick getaway as a test visit to a new place

    Expectations are a big part of a successful international
    getaway. You won’t ever be able to fully explore or experience a new country in
    a couple of days, but it isn’t a waste of points to take a short trip.

    Prioritize one or two things that you want to achieve on your
    getaway.

    For my trip to Costa Rica, I knew I couldn’t scratch the
    surface of the Papagayo peninsula, so I focused on getting time in the sunshine
    and making sure I watched the sunset from a hammock on the beach.

    Treat the trip as an opportunity to get a feel for a place
    that you may visit on a longer trip later.


    You might even realize that you’ve discovered an
    easily accessible place you can visit again and again for an annual escape – I
    did. Don’t be surprised if you see me at the Andaz Papagayo pool again next
    winter.



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