If you read this blog, you may know that we spent a month in Costa Rica this summer. You can read about how we were able to pull off this incredible trip for relatively cheap here.
The above post is actually a very good read (if I do say so myself) in that it addresses a multitude of different strategies that you can use to travel cheap.
While I do love my timeshares, they can be difficult to use and do not always work for every location or timeframe. That is why multiple strategies should be used to travel well and affordably.
Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays since it is one of the few that you can spend time with family without the pressure of presents. It can also be a great time to travel since it is a very slow week for most businesses in the United States and most businesses are closed 2-3 days of the week.
For the past 5 or so years, my family has decided to spend Thanksgiving out of the country. Traveling domestically can be a challenge but since Thanksgiving is a US holiday, traveling overseas can be great. Depending on your destination, it can be very affordable and generally be easy to find reasonably priced accommodations. Timeshares can be abundant as well as great hotels on points.
While we were just in Costa Rica over the summer, we decided to come back for Thanksgiving. It seems kind of strange to visit the same country in such a short amount of time, but Costa Rica is quite diverse and there are tons to see and do and the various ecosystems around the country make it very different from one location to the next. Also, it was a "free" trip so it was kind of easy to decide.
Getting and Staying in Costa Rica for Free (almost)
One of the major reasons that we came back to Costa Rica was because I was able to get here for free and stay for free.
Here is how I did it: Last year, before Southwest closed the loophole, you were able to transfer Marriott Reward Points to Southwest using Marriott Vacation Packages. Marriott Vacation Packages were and still are a great way to use your Marriott Reward Points.
You can redeem your Marriott Reward Points through a package and receive frequent flyer miles in addition to a week stay at a Marriott property. There are various partners and different packages relating to the category of Marriott property.
Here are the full details.
Before January 1, 2017, Southwest use to count points transferred by Marriott toward their companion pass. You were previously able to reserve a category 1-5 Marriott hotel and receive 120,000 Southwest Reward Points for 270,000 Marriott Reward points.
By redeeming this package, you immediately qualified for a Southwest companion pass that was good for the current year and the entire following year.
Essentially, by redeeming 270,000 Marriott Reward Points, you could receive a week stay at a Marriott property (category 1-5), 120,000 Southwest Reward Points and a companion pass for 1+ years where your companion will fly free with you on all flights (even on award tickets!).
This was a fantastic deal but unfortunately ended on January 1, 2017. You can still reserve the Marriott travel package but the transfer to Southwest no longer qualifies for the companion pass.
This was a great deal and I did this transfer for BOTH my wife and myself so that we both have a companion pass good through 2018 and 2 free weeks at a Marriott hotel.
The companion pass is an absolute awesome deal so my family and I are traveling with Southwest almost exclusively for 2017 and 2018. Both of our kids fly for free and we now have plenty of Southwest Reward Points.
If Southwest is available to you, there are some great ways to still get the companion pass. I personally love Southwest as it is a friendly and efficient airline and are rapidly expanding their destinations. In case you have not heard, Hawaii is coming sometime in 2018! You can be certain that we will be making a trip to Hawaii on Southwest!
Costa Rica Again!
Since we "need" to fly Southwest and we "need" to stay at a Marriott property, we looked at various locations and things seem to coincide perfectly with Costa Rica. While we flew into Liberia this summer, we flew in San Jose, Costa Rica for this trip and are currently staying at the Marriott Los Suenos hotel.
Marriott Los Suenos
We previously stated at this resort when my son was 7 months old (now almost 7) and had a great time. We previously stayed at this resort when they offered an all-inclusive option using Marriott Reward Points. That was awesome as we ate and drank whatever we wanted. Since the resort was not simply an all-inclusive resort, all the menus had prices on them for guests who did not choose the all-inclusive option. While we did not receive a total bill, we easily spent over $4,000 on food and beverage for a week and it was entirely free for us since we used points.
This time, the all-inclusive option ceased to be offered and simply received the room using our free seven night stay. This hotel is a category 8 hotel so we needed to have extra points to upgrade our stay since we reserved a lower tier Marriott travel package.
While this post is not meant to be a review, it is a very nice property and worth a visit. There can be better options around the country but it is a solid property. I would definitely come back again even though the beach in front of the resort has a lot to be desired. I would not come for the beach.
There is no doubt that I am very fortunate to travel like I do. I am very fortunate to have a job that gives me the ability the work remotely and I glad that I got into the miles, points and timeshare world that provides me the ability to travel for free or for very reasonable amounts.
While I am always grateful for these opportunities, this year is especially special since we had a unique and downright terrifying experience yesterday.
Trek through the Rainforest
Yesterday, we decided to take a trip to a ecolodge located in the middle of the rainforest as recommended by a local. It was a fairly easy 2 hour drive on a regular paved road until we reached a dirt road. The roads in Costa Rica can be paved by many are dirt roads with gigantic potholes and require a 4x4.
Luckily, we did have a 4x4 and proceeded down the dirt road for 10 km. The dirt road progressively got narrower and narrower and the road had apparently been washed out about a month ago from Hurricane Nate. While it was still passable, it was in rough shape with cliffs on one side that went down extremely far into a raging river. We had to go over tiny little bridges with boulders in the way and thick deep mud being the "road". One wrong turn or inadvertent slide would immediately cause the car to tumble off a cliff.
This was by far the worst "road" that I have ever been on and having my kids and wife in the car was truly terrifying. Going 10km took about 1 hour and when we got there, the only thing I could think about was dreading going back down the mountain. I was seriously contemplating paying a local to get us back down the mountain.
The ecolodge was quite spectacular with waterfalls and hanging bridges (photo above) and we had a lovely homemade cooked meal in the middle of the jungle.
We luckily surviving and the car made it out almost unscathed, despite being covered in mud, but it was something that I would never do again!
With today being Thanksgiving, I am thankful for a lot but especially for making it down that mountain in one piece.
Thanksgiving is a great time to travel out of the country and highly recommend it. Instead of having a turkey dinner, we'll be having a fresh fish casado but I hope that my families thanksgiving memories do last a lifetime.
I hope everyone has a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday!
Does anyone else travel outside of the country for Thanksgiving?
As I discussed here, I took my family for an extended trip to Costa Rica for the month of July. In addition to staying at a timeshare, the Breeze Private Residence Club, we spent a good amount of time (16 nights) at the Andaz Peninsula Papagayo Resort.
In addition to timeshares, I am a miles and points fanatic and the Andaz Peninsula Papagayo Resort is a great property to use points. As explained above, although I didn't use points on this stay, it is a great property to use your Hyatt points and your free night certificate from the Chase Hyatt Credit Card.
If you are wondering why you are reading a review on a non-timeshare property on The Timeshare Guru, it is simply because timeshares do not work for every trip. As discussed on my detailed post on my trip to Costa Rica above, you need to have multiple travel tools in your arsenal to travel well and affordably.
The Andaz Peninsula Papagayo Resort is a very easy drive from the Liberia airport. It took only about 25 minutes. The road to the Andaz has been recently paved and it is now a brand new paved road which is extremely easy to drive. Do not hesitate driving from the airport. We rented a car for the month and there are definitely a few non-paved roads which are less than ideal, the majority of the main roads are paved and easily drive-able.
When you make the first turn off the main road from the airport, it is about a 20 minute drive. There is not much on this road except for a tiny, tiny little shop for some beverages and chips and the Witch’s Rock Canopy Tour. You then arrive to a beautifully landscaped entrance that has a magnificent view of the bay. The above photos do not do it justice.
There is land on either side and it is a truly phenomenal view. The landscaping was immaculate.
The entrance is guarded 24/7 with a guard station. This is the entrance to the entire peninsula which has the Andaz property along with the Four Seasons, Prieta beach club, Exclusive Resorts, a marina and remarkable private residential homes.
Once you are through the gate, there is a winding road which will lead you to another guard gate. Once you get here, you have arrived at the Andaz. There is a small driveway where you can park directly in front of the open air lobby.
We were greeted by Marianela (front desk agent) and Ricardo (front desk supervisor). They were extremely pleasant and made our family feel very welcome. We were given a pineapple/mint drink which was very refreshing. I could have gone for an imperial or some other adult beverage but the pineapple/mint drink was nice.
Instead of checking in at the front desk, Marianela brought us directly to our room which was an Andaz Suite. Currently, I was only an Explorist (mid-tier Hyatt status) so an upgrade was not offered. I pried a bit to attempt to get into a large Andaz Suite which has its own plunge pool and is substantially larger.
I was very disappointed in that she claimed that the rooms were not available despite being able to book them online. I showed her this option and she claimed that it was an error. After some more prodding, she indicated that she would look into it and see if we could be moved during around stay. This was the last I heard about that option. No follow up occurred at all.
I got a great rate and the room was spacious so I didn’t pursue it but I was not pleased that it was not pursued. Even if they couldn’t offer it or could only offer it for a fee, I would have liked to at least be given that option. Notwithstanding this slight hiccup, I went on to enjoy our room.
The room was very spacious for our family of four. We requested a large refrigerator which was waiting in the room. We filled it up with all the kids snacks and plenty of adult beverages that we picked up on the way in. The room had a very nice size desk, a sofa with a nice TV, a separate ½ bath and a chair swing. The master bedroom had a walk in closet and a large king size bed. The master bathroom was quite large and had a separate room for the toilet and a large rain shower.
Some rooms have the rain shower outside or have a door that is movable. Ours did not come with that option but you could look out into the jungle from the shower.
The master bedroom also had a nice size patio with two comfy chairs. We could barely make out the ocean from our room. Some rooms truly had spectacular views but we were not lucky enough to be given one of the prime rooms.
Overall, the Andaz Suite was quite large and was ample for our needs. In terms of rooms, I actually preferred our accommodations at the Breeze Private Residence Club better since we had two rooms (three beds - one king bed and two twin rooms) and a full kitchen but for a hotel, the room was way above average.
Additionally, the price for the Breeze Private Residence Club was ridiculous at only $278.99 for the week which was about the price for two nights at the Andaz.
Free Hats and Free Sandals:
Every room comes with a couple of complimentary hats and free sandals that you can use for your stay and take home. The hats were quite stylish and were worn by many guests throughout the resort.
The Andaz brand offers a free mini bar. We have been lucky enough to stay at the Andaz Maui which provided local energy bars, Reed’s Root Beer and some local chips. We were expecting something similar. Instead, we were provided with Coke, Fresca, Water, and some local chips. I thought that the “free” mini bar had a lot to be desired. If there was any constructive criticism, I would say that they should put more effort into their mini-bar selections and offer a little more variety and more Costa Rican type items. A couple free Imperial beers would have been very nice.
The Resort Layout
The Resort isn’t very big but it is built on the side of the hill. There are about 9 buildings with three floors in each building. Some of the buildings are on the lower side, some in the middle and some up top. The buildings on the top tend to have the best view of the ocean and peninsula.
There are roads throughout the resort but these are only for golf carts. They have passenger golf carts to take you around the resort and utility golf carts to bring around maintenance workers, staff, etc.
Since the hotel is built on the side of the mountain, there are a lot of hills. When I say hills, I was definitely a bit out of breath walking up a few of them and I consider myself in good shape. If you do not want to walk, you can always summon a golf cart by calling the front desk.
Make sure to find Bernie if you do. One of the most genuine and friendly people that I have met in a while!
The resort has plenty of things to keep you busy. It is not like a Caribbean resort with loud music at the pool, water aerobics or silly games by the pool. If you are looking for that, this is definitely not the spot.
The resort has 2 large infinity edge pools that overlook jungle. During the dryer months, I imagine you can see the ocean when it is not as lush. By the one main pool, there is a 2nd smaller pool that sits a lit higher than the other two.
The main infinity edge pool has a beach entrance which is great for kids.
The other infinity edge pool is the adult only pool. It is by the fancy restaurant Ostra and away from the main part of the resort. Although the resort was generally quiet (but not too quiet that kids would feel out of place), the adult pool was very quiet. We spent a good amount of days at the adult only pool and we were treated to some complimentary sangria on one morning. The loudest things that you hear are the howler monkeys and they can be quite loud.
Despite high hopes of using the gym, I embarrassingly did not use it once during our stay. The gym was well equipped and located on the edge of the resort by the spa. I had high hopes that the gym would have a beautiful ocean view to entice you to work out. Unfortunately, it was in a dark / basement like area with no views. The equipment looked good and the room was quite large so it is definitely useful but getting to the gym over vacation can be challenging to me so I need it to be extremely enticing. This wasn’t.
The Spa is located on the edge of the resort. They have the reception on a hill overlooking the ocean. They then bring you to treatment rooms where some have beautiful ocean views. The spa does not have one main building but is rather spread out with the reception in one area, treatment rooms in another and the relax area perched high above the resort with spectacular ocean views. They also have separate facilities for men and women which included a steam room, shower facilities and lockers for your use.
They have a small co-ed areas between the two locker rooms that includes a small pool. It was a very peaceful spot to relax for a few hours.
I did not take part in the spa but my wife did. She is involved in the spa world for her business so she can be extremely critical. Most hotel spas fall short of her expectations but she actually enjoyed her treatment at the Andaz.
The spa services were very expensive to say the least but it is to be expected in a affluent resort.
A couple of items that they don’t advertise. If you are an Explorist member with Hyatt, you receive 20% off you treatment. If you are a Globalist, they apparently have certain extra benefits. When I pushed the spa staff on what they were, I didn’t get very far but they appeared to be add-ons rather than additional discounts. The spa supervisor was very pleasant so if you are an Explorist or above, ask for the 20% off.
Additionally, if you use the spa, they offer 30% off your following treatment for treatments between 8 and 11:30am. I’m not sure if they stack with the Explorist discount but I’m fairly certain that they do not.
Even if you do not get any spa treatments, you can use the facilities including the locker rooms and relax area. Definitely worth it to check it out as there was no one around while we were there (except the monkeys and lizards).
One nice amenity was the sno-cone cart.
The sno-cone cart was situated right next the main pool and was complimentary. They offered a choice of condensed milk or cherry topping. The sno-cone cart was a very nice amenity as some days it was very hot being by the pool. A cold sno-cone was a nice touch.
The Andaz has three restaurants – Rio Bhongo, Ostra and Chao Pescao.
Chao Pescao is the tapas bar / restaurant. They have small plates that are meant for sharing. They have some fresh fish items and other interesting menu items.
Ostra is the fancy seafood restaurant.
Rio Bhongo is the main restaurant. This is where breakfast is served along with lunch and dinner.
We had been traveling around Costa Rica for a few weeks before we arrived at the Andaz so we were familiar with general Costa Rican prices for meals. We had eaten some great meals for $15 (total) for a family of four including beers and drinks but most meals outside of the resort were generally around $20-$30 for a family of four. The Andaz prices were substantially more. A typical meal for a family of four with beers easily would be $75 - $100.
The prices were expensive but the biggest item was that they add 10% service charge and 13% sales tax. This adds a lot to the bill. Additionally, the alcohol prices were expensive where beers were about $6 for an Imperial (local Costa Rican beer) and about $11-13 for cocktails.
Outside of the resort, it appeared that restaurants handled tax and service charges different. Some included both in the prices on the menu, others included the tax in the menu prices and added a service charge and some didn’t indicate either additional expense.
Most of the resorts and restaurants that catered to tourists (menu prices were in dollars) either added these charges or included them in the prices. The Andaz prices were definitely high so you need to be aware of that.
For those of you who have Globalist status or who elect to pay for the bed and breakfast rate, the breakfast was fantastic. They have an omelet station, freshly squeezed juices (pineapple, watermelon and green juice), freshly baked pastries, typical Costa Rican fare (gallo pinto and plaintains), smoked salmon, bagels, yogurt, oatmeal and more. Instead of describing everything, I tried to take a picture of everything.
The breakfast was excellent. I have stayed at the Andaz Maui and while I still think that the Andaz Maui breakfast was better, this was a close second. It is expensive ($32 for adults) so it is a big perk to get it with your Hyatt status.
Here are some of the various menus from the resort.
Restaurants outside of the Andaz
Since the Andaz is located on a peninsula, there is basically one non-resort restaurant. This restaurant, the Dive bar, is located at the Marina which is about a 15 minute drive from the resort. The hotel provides a complimentary shuttle to bring you there. The Dive Bar is associated with the Prieta Beach Club and the food is overall good. The prices were slightly less expensive than the Andaz restaurants but definitely not by much.
One huge benefit to the Dive Bar is their daily happy hour specials. From 5-7, they have a happy hour with half price drinks. The drinks become approximately $4-5 and their beers are approximately $2. This is one of the better places to grab drinks as this is much less expensive than the Andaz.
Also, the Dive Bar has daily food specials where one dish will be half price each day. The menu items fluctuate but they have ½ price Pizza, Flank Steak, Taco Tuesday ($2 tacos), as well as some other rotating items. The daily special turns out to be approximately $8-9 per plate which again is much cheaper than the Andaz.
Four Seasons Restaurants
The other major hotel on the peninsula is the Four Seasons. The Andaz shuttle will bring you to the Four Seasons where you can dine at their restaurants. While we were there, the Four Seasons was beginning renovations so we were not permitted to go to their restaurants so I cannot comment on them. My understanding is that they were just as expensive as the Andaz if not more.
The hotel does not have a ton of activities going on but does offer various classes. They offer a Ceviche class, mixology class, coffee class, snorkeling tour, bike tours and a few more. Despite being there for 16 nights, we didn’t do much of these with the exception of the Mixology class.
We generally hung around the beaches, went to the Prieta Beach Club and went off site with our rental car to do zip lining, ATV excursions, trip to the National Parks and exploring other beaches.
One of my biggest complaints about the Andaz is that they charge for all of these activities. It is not a lot as the snorkeling tour and bike tour were about $10 per person, the Ceviche class was $21 per person, the mixology class was $40 per person and the coffee class was $15 per person. All of these fees are PLUS the 10% service charge and 13% tax.
My complaint is that they charge a fairly heft resort fee of 10% of your room charge and then proceed to charge you for these resort activities. I would like to see them remove these fees and have them included in the resort fee. For those activities where you use goods, I can see a small fee but still think that these should be included in the resort fee.
The room rates are high so adding a few more dollars and including these activities would be a very nice touch.
I despise resort fees and when they charge you a resort fee and then charge you extra for resort activities, it really rubs me the wrong way.
My wife and I did the mixology class. We were the only two in the class and the bartender went through 4-5 drinks and showed us various strategies for mixing drinks, how to prepare infused simple syrup and what drinks / ingredients go well together.
The bar tender was very pleasant, the drinks were very good and we had a very good time. I thought the $40 per person (which turns into about $50 when you add service and tax) was a bit high but we did have 2-3 full drinks per person and the going rate at the hotel was about $12-$15 per drink.
It was a good activity but for $100 a couple, we probably could have had a couple drinks and appetizers and been just as happy!
The hotel actually has two beaches – the Sombrero Oscuro and the Sombrero Claro.
The Sombrero Oscuro is the black sand beach and the main beach area. The beach is small and pretty much disappears during high tide but there are plenty of lounge chairs, a small bar, and beach activities that are actually included. You can borrow snorkel gear, stand up paddle boards and kayaks. This is actually included in the resort fee which is nice.
The water is very calm and very clear. You can see straight to the bottom. The snorkeling is not great but there are tons of blow fish and a few other colorful fish. I did see turtles and a spotted mantra ray. The water is very nice and is a perfect area to do stand-up paddle boarding.
The Sombrero Claro beach is the white sand beach. It is about a 2-3 minute walk past the Sombrero Oscuro. There are no chairs at this beach and no activities. They have a towel hut for your use but this is definitely a quiet beach. I did not see much use of this beach during our time there.
Overall, the beaches were fine but not nearly as nice as the Caribbean beaches or Hawaiian beaches.
Prieta Beach Club
In addition to the Sombrero Oscuro and the Sombrero Claro, the Andaz allows you to use the Prieta Beach Club. This is a private beach club that is mostly there for the residences on the Peninsula. It is about a 20 minute drive from the Andaz. Again, the hotel provides a complimentary shuttle to bring you there and back.
It leaves the Andaz on the top of the hour and picks up on the bottom of the hour.
The beach club is awesome. The beach is a black sand beach but much bigger than the one at the Andaz. This beach also has some significant waves so it is a great beach to boogie board or learn to surf. It was very nice just to bob in the water with the waves.
The beach club also has two infinity edge pools and a hot tub. The services there are impeccable and the food, while very pricey, was delicious.
The Prieta Beach Club does have rentals for boogie boards and some other water sports. We spent a few days at the Prieta Beach Club and would highly recommend it.
Cambi Kids Club
Believe it or not, one of the major reasons that we chose the Andaz was for the Cambi Kids Club. We travel with our young kids frequently and we learned that both the kids and parents need a break from one another every now and again. It allows all of us to do our own thing for a few hours. A lot of resorts charge quite a bit for their kids club so we don't take advantage of it frequently when there is a charge. Without a charge, it is a different story!
The Cambi Kids Club is completely complimentary and you can drop off your kids from about 8am to 4pm. The Cambi Kids club is located in the middle of the resort in its own separate building. It has an indoor playground, video games, movies and arts and crafts.
The staff was extremely attentive and really cared about the kids. Our two kids (ages 6 and 4) thoroughly enjoyed the kids club. Many days they wanted to go there instead of hanging out with us which is just what we wanted!
The kids club does offer to bring in food for the kids so that they can stay there the entire day without having to pick them up for lunch. This is definitely a nice option but you need to be careful.
After a few days, we took a look at our bill and the resort charged $25 for a kids plate of pasta and a drink! The kids menu at the restaurants charged $9 for the same thing.
I was told that the Kids Club orders off the in-room dining menu as opposed to the restaurant menu which is what created the difference in price. After discussing this, they agreed to a 50% discount for these meals but we were sure to look at the menu before letting our kids order anything from this point forward.
A huge perk at the Andaz is that kids under 5 eat free. There were no restrictions to this and we ordered many meals for my daughter without even ordering anything ourselves. For those of you with kids under 5, this is a great destination with the free kids club and free food!
Additionally, kids can order off the main menu for 50% off. This was a great option so that my kids did not always eat pasta, chicken fingers or hamburgers and could actually order some fish and local cuisine without having to pay for a full dish at full price.
The resort is filled with monkeys, lizards and plenty of other insects and animals. The monkeys are throughout the property and are very cute. The howler monkeys really do howl and can be quite loud. It was very cool to be living along side these animals.
Overall, the Andaz Peninsula Papagayo Resort is a stellar property. The grounds, rooms, pools, beach and food are really spectacular. The Cambi Kids Club is great for those with kids. The service was spectacular and the staff really care.
My biggest complaints are that the resort activities are not included in the resort fee and that the food and beverages are very expensive. I also did not like that it was so secluded where you needed to drive for about 30 minutes to eat at any local restaurants. However, despite these items, we are definitely returning and will likely go for even longer next summer!
If you are interested, please e-mail me and I can put together a way to get a week or more at the Andaz for completely free using points! There are some great ways to accumulate points quickly and redeeming them for the Andaz Peninsula Papagayo Resort is a great use!
Hope to see you there next summer! Let me know your thoughts in the comments and if I missed anything!
A Month Excursion to Costa Rica - How I used timeshares, hotel points, frequent flyer miles and credit cards to create a luxury affordable trip!
My family took an extended trip to Costa Rica for the month of July. While I would have highly preferred to be able to stay in timeshares for the entire trip (mostly due to space and having a full kitchen), this was not doable for a few reasons.
Costa Rica is a wonderful destination but they simply do not have a ton of timeshare options. There are a few but not many high-quality timeshares which is an absolute must.
We did stay at the Breeze Private Residences for one week (review is here) which was a timeshare property but I simply could not find suitable timeshares in Costa Rica for the entire month.
Booking a month vacation has its various challenges but doing it in a very cost-effective manner is difficult. As I mentioned in other posts, I am a huge points and miles fanatic so I have plenty of points and miles available to use.
Using Citi Thank You Points
For this trip, my family of four flew American Airlines to Liberia. I used Citi Thank You points for our fights. As a Citibank Prestige Credit Card holder, I was able to redeem my points for 1.6 cents per point. This option just vanished on July 23, 2017 and points are now worth less.
Southwest Rapid Reward Points
For our return flight, we flew Southwest Airlines. I am a huge fan of Southwest as they are the last airline that offer customer friendly policies – free bags, free cancellations, free changes, etc. Additionally, their customer service agents are generally friendly and helpful which is very noticeable when comparing it to other airlines.
My wife and I both have a companion pass with Southwest so we are able to have our 2 kids fly with us for free. We were each able to score the companion pass through the option of exchanging our Marriott points to Southwest points with the available Marriott travel packages. Unfortunately, this option is now no longer available as of January 1, 2017.
With the above methods, my family of four was able to get free roundtrip flights to Costa Rica. A good start.
Week 1: Playas del Coco
I was able to grab a fantastic deal through RCI for staying at the Breezes Private Residence Club. I paid $278.99 for the entire week in a 2-bedroom unit. This was an absolute steal as nightly rentals for this particular property were approximately $450 per night.
The Breezes Private Residence Club is located in Playas del Coco and is a great area. There are tons of restaurants and activities right out the front door. I would highly recommend this destination and would definitely recommend the Breezes Private Residence Club.
Week 2: Arenal Volcano in La Fortuna
For week 2, we traveled to La Fortuna / Arenal which is located inland in the rainforest. La Fortuna / Arenal was a very cool destination with the volcano as the centerpiece.
For our trip to Arenal, we stayed at the highly rated Hotel El Silencio del Campo. We chose this based on the Tripadvisor reviews which were stellar.
The property generally lived up to those expectations but would say that the rooms, although spacious, needed a refresh. The décor and bedsheets were older than I would like. It was clean but definitely felt old and tired. However, breakfast was stellar, they had hot springs on the premise, fruit trees galore to pick throughout the property and had an awesome view of the volcano when the weather permitted.
Citibank Prestige 4th Night Free Benefit
For this stay, I again used our Citibank Prestige Credit Card in order to utilize our 4th night free benefit. If you are not familiar with this benefit, it can be extremely rewarding in that you will receive the 4th night free on any hotel booking made through the Citibank portal. This can literally save you thousands of dollars.
The Citibank Prestige Credit Card has done an overall of its card and has revised some of its offers but they have kept in the 4th night free benefit and made it easier to get by expanding the ability to book online.
For those of you interested, here is a link to the offer with 75,000 bonus points. A complete no-brainer to apply in my opinion.
For our stay in La Fortuna / Arenal, I paid about $200 per night for 4 nights and I will receive a $200 credit through Citibank’s 4th night free benefit. This effectively gave us 25% off our stay in Arenal which is decent considering that there are no timeshares or points based hotel chains in this area.
Week 3 and 4: Andaz Peninsula Papagayo Resort
For those of you in the miles and points world, there is a ton of buzz about the Andaz Peninsula Papagayo Resort. The reason that there is so much buzz is because it is an extremely nice resort and is only a category 4 hotel in Hyatt’s World of Hyatt program.
This is significant in that the Chase Hyatt Credit Card gives you a free night stay in a category 1-4 hotel each year upon paying the annual fee of $75. Essentially, for $75, you can get a free night at the Andaz Peninsula Papagayo Resort where nightly rates are generally somewhere between $250-$1200 where the $1200 a night has been seen over Christmas.
Also, since the Andaz Peninsula Papagayo Resort is a category 4 hotel, you can use 15,000 Hyatt World of Hyatt points per night which is a very good deal. The cash plus points rate of 7,500 points per night plus a payment of $100 per night is also a stellar deal.
I will be posting a full review on our stay so stay tuned.
Using my Chase Hyatt Free Night Certificate
We ended up staying at the Andaz Peninsula Papagayo Resort for a total of 16 nights. I used my free category 4 certificate from my Chase Hyatt Credit card for the 1st night.
Using Hyatt Points or Cash
For the remaining 15 nights, we actually paid cash (a rarity as I almost always use points for our hotel stays!). This was not expected as I had planned on using the points plus cash option for 15 nights. If I had done this option, I would have used 112,500 Hyatt World of Hyatt Points and paid approximately $1500 for 15 nights.
The cash plus points options is highly beneficial and would definitely recommend it. $100 per night for this resort is almost unheard of and I would pay that in a second.
Using Hyatt's Best Rate Guarantee
As I mentioned, I actually paid cash for the 15 night portion of our stay since I got a great rate with Hyatt. I was able to use Hyatt’s best rate guarantee.
Hyatt’s best rate guarantee provides that they will match any rate you find on other websites and give you an extra 20% off your entire stay. I was lucky enough to find a lower rate for this time period and was successfully approved for the best rate guarantee. As a result, my nightly rate for 15 nights was approximately $156 per night.
The Hyatt best rate guarantee has been revised as of July 31st where instead of giving you 20% off the matched rate, they will give you a $50 voucher for future travel. While they will still match the lower rate, they will not give you the extra 20% off.
Hyatt can make you jump through various hoops to get their Best Rate Guarantee but I have been successful in using it. This revision is really bad for the way that I use the Best Rate Guarantee.
I am not happy about this change as this will likely affect my hotel choices going forward. Marriott offers a 25% discount for its best rate guarantee and is much more accommodating than Hyatt but I definitely like Hyatt's properties.
We'll see how this plays out before I switch my loyalties. Despite preferring timeshares for our travels, I will actually be a Globalist (top tier elite status in Hyatt) this year so we'll see how Hyatt treats me going forward.
As stated, I was able to secure a rate of $156 per night. While higher than the per night cost of using the points plus cash rate of $100, I chose to pay cash instead of using 7,500 points per night. If I used points, I would be redeeming them a rate of less than 1 cent per point (0.007) which is a horrible deal. I generally get 2-3 cent per points and have received upwards of 6 cents per point for various redemptions.
Therefore, I elected to pay cash. The total bill was about $3,000 for 15 nights. Higher than I would normally like to pay but still a good deal. Rates for our room (the Andaz Suite) during our stay were approximately $600 per night so we did well.
Using Gift Cards for Further Discounts
In an effort to get even more of a discount for our stay, I ended up purchasing Hyatt gift cards through cardcash. Cardcash is a second-hand reseller of gift cards. They buy gift cards from people who do not want gift cards for a discount and resell them to people who can use them and make a profit of the difference.
Cardcash has mixed reviews and there are definitely times when gift cards arrive with zero balance or the balance disappears after purchasing. They offer a 45-day guarantee where they will refund your money if the cards value is not as described or disappears within 45 days.
I have had good experiences with Cardcash but I only purchase on the day that I will be using it. I purchase it and immediately apply it to my room. This limits the chance of getting a bad card or having your balance disappear. I did receive one bad card and my order was refunded within 48 hours of purchase.
For this stay, I was able to get Hyatt gift cards for a discount of 16% through Cardcash. Their discounts fluctuate but I was able to purchase $3,000 worth of Hyatt gift cards for about $2520.
Using the Chase Ink Card for 5x Points
One of the added benefits of using Cardcash is that purchases through Chase Ink Credit Card are coded as utilities which generate 5x Chase Ultimate Reward points. Therefore, by purchasing $2520 worth of Cardcash gift cards through my Chase Ink credit card, I received 12,600 Chase Ultimate Reward Points.
Chase Ultimate Reward Points are very valuable and can transfer into multiple travel partners including Hyatt or can be redeemed for about 1.25 cents per point or for 1.5 cents per point if you have the Chase Sapphire Reserve Credit Card.
Final Tally and Summary
As you can see, I used multiple different strategies to get a month of vacation in Costa Rica.
For our flights, these were completely free using Citibank Thank You Points and my Citibank Prestige Credit Card to redeem for American Airlines for our flight to Costa Rica and used Southwest Points for our return flights. Our kids fly free with us on Southwest since my wife and I both have the Companion Pass at the moment which we achieved by redeeming Marriott travel packages.
For the first week, we used a timeshare and rented it through RCI’s Extra Getaways for a purchase price of $278.99 for the week in a 2-bedroom. No timeshare presentation required even though I did attend one ( I am The Timeshare Guru so I kind of needed to do it).
For the next 4 nights, I used my Citibank Prestige Credit Card to take advantage of the 4th night free benefit. The total cost for these 4 nights was $800 minus the $200 credit for a total of $600.
For the following 16 nights, I used my annual free night certificate for my Chase Hyatt Credit Card and paid cash for the remaining 15 nights. I was able to get a great rate using Hyatt’s Best Rate Guarantee. I was able to purchase discounted Hyatt gift cards for a further discount of 16% off our entire stay so the total was $2520 for 15 nights which is $168 per night which includes the resort fee and taxes.
By purchasing the gift cards, I was also able to get 5x Chase Ultimate Reward Points by using my Chase Ink Credit Card for Cardcash. Therefore, even if I valued these points at only 1 cent per points, this equates to another discount of approximately $126.
Here are the total numbers for accommodations for our month of travel:
The above is an actual real world example of how I utilize timeshares, frequent flyer miles, hotel points, credit card points and perks, hotel best rate guarantees and gift cards to maximize my travel. This can be complicated but it is doable.
As you can see, we saved multiple thousands of dollars off of retail prices and traveled in luxurious accommodations for an entire month!
I will be doing a detailed review of the Andaz Peninsula Papagayo resort in an additional post as this is definitely a property to check out (even though it is not a timeshare).
The intent of this blog is to explain timeshares and how they can be a great tool for your travel arsenal. As you can see in the above, it is not the only tool that I use but they can be very useful and affordable.
My goal is to show you how to incorporate timeshares in your travel plans and demystify timeshares, their costs and how they can work to your advantage. Timeshares are simply one tool among many to travel well and affordably.
What are your thoughts on the above? Did I miss any strategies that I could have implemented?
If you find this useful, please share this post across your social media channels! Your support is highly appreciated!
Timeshare Presentation at the Breeze Residence Club in Playa del Coco, Costa Rica
Timeshare presentations can be tough to attend and vary from friendly to extremely pushy. Since I was staying at the Breeze Residence Club which I discussed here, I thought that I would attend the presentation to see what their program was all about.
In exchange for our time, we were given daily housekeeping and wifi which would have cost $210 for the week. It was optional and not really needed but I did not go on the tour for this perk. The Breeze Residence Club was really nice and was interested to learn about their system and see if there was potential value.
My family of four were treated to a nice breakfast at one of the local restaurants on site. The breakfast was quite delicious and the entire family was well fed. The person who was assigned to us was pleasant and we did small talk during breakfast on our travels, cost of vacations, where we would like to go and so on. The standard small talk.
I quickly tried to bypass this small talk and get down to the actual system. The point of the small talk is to assess your vacation style and vary their pitch based on how often you travel and your desired locations. The pitch is different based on whether you travel a lot or little, spend a lot or a little, do multiple weeks or go once per year.
My family and I travel a lot so they presented us with a 4 week package. They claimed that it was the minimum amount of time offered but when I pushed a little more, we can get as little as a week if we wanted.
The pitch clearly tried to differentiate itself from a timeshare. They were NOT a timeshare but rather a club and they do not have ongoing maintenance fees, just usage fees.
Regardless of what they call it, this was pretty much a standard timeshare.
Here is a picture of the pricelist:
As you can see, the price for 4 weeks is $75,150 which is definitely expensive. Almost immediately, they offered me the pre-construction pricing of $51,600 even though they were already constructed.
The pricing above gets you 4 weeks but you choose what type of unit - 1 bedroom, 2 bedroom or 3 bedroom. The pricing above is for 10 years. If you do not want to participate after 10 years, you can simply stop paying. If you want to keep using it, you need to pay the property taxes which they claim is 20% of the purchase price so basically another $10,000 in ten years. I was hesitant to believe any of this and did not get to see the fine print.
They claim that there is no maintenance fees so if you do not use your weeks, you do not pay anything. If you do actually want to use it, you pay a usage fee per week which ranged between $500 for a 1 bedroom to over $1000 for a 3 bedroom. Again, very skeptical on this function.
The Breeze Residence Club trades through the Registry Collection which is an affiliate of RCI. The Registry Collection is supposed to be the highest quality resorts within RCI. The review of the Registry Collection did appear interesting as these did appear to be very high quality resorts.
They claim that if you did not want to use your week, you can exchange it into the Registry Collection by paying your "usage fee" which turns your week into points. Here is the exchange amounts:
These credits were per week and can be exchanged through the Registry Collection. Fortunately, the Registry Collection actually has a transparent site so that you can see the exchange grids for each property.
They are here for your review:
Interestingly, the exchange grid on the Registry Collection has weeks associated the amount of points where some weeks at the Breeze Residence Club require as little as 350 points for a 3 bedroom week. During our presentation, no weeks were mentioned and they simply claimed the above points in exchange for the week. Again, very skeptical on the amount of points actually given.
They also claimed that we could give them our existing timeshare and they would give us credit for purchasing through them. I did not pursue this as I doubt that this was really worthwhile and told them that I actually enjoyed our timeshare and would not be getting rid of it.
They also claimed that by owning through Breezes we would get access to something called the Advantage Program. They claimed that we can get access to every single type of timeshare regardless of affiliation (Interval or RCI) (Marriott, Hilton, Four Seasons, Hyatt, etc) as this was basically a consolidator which purchased inventory from the developers and resold it at the "guaranteed lowest prices". Guaranteed lowest prices is completely meaningless as you cannot see prices through a lot of avenues without logging in. I doubt that this had any validity.
When I pushed to see availability, we did a couple of brief searches and saw a couple decent properties for costs than ranged from $1000 - $1500 for week. Without a login and ample time to review, it was difficult to see if there were viable options.
When we were pushed whether this was attractive, I told them that I needed more time to review the program. This did not go over that well and they sent in their manager who offered us a foreclosure option for around $15,000 for the same four weeks.
Again, I stayed firm and told them that I wanted to review the program and see if this was a viable solution for us. After a few more "nos", we were on our way.
Truthfully, I was actually very confused about what they were offering. They claimed that we owned it outright but had to pay 20% again in the next 10 years. They claimed that there are no maintenance fees but had to pay for "usage fees". They claimed that we could exchange into any unit but did not show us how and the resulting cost.
They claimed that there were no exchange fees or other fees but I don't believe that for a second.
Overall, this was another example of why timeshares have such a bad name. They change the terminology for everything and claim that you can travel the world anytime you want in luxurious accommodations for cheap. This is simply not true as availability is always an issue.
While the Breeze Residence Club is an extremely nice property, I left the presentation confused about what they were offering and what we would purchase. Despite the prices being hefty, I could not assess whether there were any great values to be had in the Registry Collection or the Advantage Program. They simple made over broad promises without showing any real examples.
I was disappointed with the experience as I really did want to learn abou the system. The timeshare was a little pressure filled and tried to make me feel like an idiot for not believing in their promises of being able to travel wherever and whenever I wanted to.
Despite, this the Breeze Residence Club is a stellar property and definitely recommend a visit.
What have your experiences been. Have you participated with the Breeze Residence Club? Leave some comments below.
I continually say that timeshares are misunderstood. They definitely have plenty of negatives attributes but if you learn the systems, you can really maximize their value and ownership can actually be worthwhile.
If you are like most, you have preconceived notions that timeshares are almost certainly a scam and ownership is for suckers.
I got hooked on travel points and frequent flyer miles about 10 years ago when I signed up for a credit card, got tons of miles and then booked my first free flight. Since then, I changed my view on credit cards and now carry about 30 which constantly change. For some people, you would think that having 30 credits would cause me have a horrible credit score and have tons of debt.
This is simply not true as my score is in the 800's and I never carry a balance. I bring this up because I think that the best way to show my readership that timeshares could be actually be an affordable way to travel cheap in spacious and luxurious accommodations is to show you some of my own personal trips.
I am currently finishing a trip in Costa Rica where I spent the July 4th week. I booked a timeshare through RCI, the Breeze Private Residence Club, for $278.99 FOR THE WEEK in a 2 bedroom unit. This was an Extra Vacation meaning that I did not need to deposit on timeshare week or points to get this - I simply needed to be an RCI Member.
Here is my confirmation.
For $278.99 for the week, I was a little skeptical but the reviews of tripadvisor were good and the pictures of the unit and amenities were nice. Here are my actual pictures from the unit:
As you can see from the above photos, the unit was spacious, contemporary, and very well appointed. My family of 4 slept very comfortably in this unit and the grounds were well manicured. The units were part of large community where there were many fully time or vacation home owners. A few buildings were set aside as "timeshares".
I did do a timeshare presentation out of curiosity which I will post more about in another post.
The property was about a 10 minute to the beach of Playa del Coco which is a vibrant beach. The sand is black so it looks a lot like mud but it is soft and pleasant. The Breeze had a private beach club for use where they have shuttles to drive you to the beach club about 5 minutes away. The beach club was very nice with infinity edge pools overlooking the beach.
For $278.99 for a week in a 2 bedroom, this was an absolute steal and yet another reason why I actually love owning a timeshare.
These deals do not show up everyday and you need to constantly look but this property is impossible to beat at this price.
Costa Rica does not have a lot of timeshares and the few that they do have are not highly rated. This was is definitely well worth it and if you can book it at anything close to what I paid, I highly recommend it. I originally had booked a hotel for this week for approximately $200 per night. When this become available, I quickly cancelled that and booked this!
It was a fantastic move and saved us thousands!
What has your best bargain week been? Post in the comments below!