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?
Timeshare maintenance fees are one of the most unenjoyable aspects of owning a timeshare. These fees generally increase year over year. To most people, these fees may make timeshare ownership either unaffordable or undesirable.
While I do not like paying maintenance fees, I am able to maximize my timeshare week to get multiple weeks of vacation using just one timeshare. Therefore, even though I pay about $1250 in maintenance fees, I am able to get about 4 weeks of vacation and with exchange fees, pay about $400-$500 per week which makes it not only affordable, but a deal and many times, an absolute steal!
As with many things, if you understand what goes into the maintenance fees, you may have a better understanding of why they charge you what they charge you.
In my previous post, I showed you what one of my Hyatt Residence Club weeks maintenance fee bills look like. In addition to that bill, I received a few more details on what expenses are included in the maintenance fee.
In the following, I have uploaded a copy of the 2018 budget for the Hyatt Beach Club resort in Key West, Florida. This has all the details on the expenses likely to be incurred by resort in 2018, broken down on a per unit / per week basis.
2018 Budget and Maintenance Fee for Hyatt Residence Club:
I will not go through all the line items but it is interesting to see the actual categories and expenses of the resort and how it is broken down per unit.
For the Hyatt Residence Club Beach House, the maintenance fees have increased about 1.7% from last year. Considering inflation is about 2.5%, a 1.7% increase does not appear too unreasonable especially considering the various items that goes into these calculations.
As I explained in my previous post, the Hyatt Residence Club has reserve category for unanticipated expenses or those expenses that cost a lot of money that need to be replaced every so often.
In the chart below, the major capital expenditures are listed that includes the estimated useful life of the various components of the resort as well as the amount currently funded.
As you can see from the above chart, the Hyatt Residence Club Beach House has a certain amount of large items that will eventually need replacing.
Instead of waiting for these items to break down or fail to collect funds, they collect funds annually and keep them in reserve so that they may be replaced without having to do a special assessment or drastically increase maintenance fees during one year.
Paying maintenance fees for your timeshare is not very enjoyable but it is necessary to maintain the resorts and keep people wanting to come back year after year. Depending on how you use your timeshare, paying maintenance fees does not have to be painful especially if you understand the fees and are able to maximize your usage.
I personally think of my maintenance fees as a prepayment for my vacations.
While I do not like paying maintenance fees, it does make me feel better to fully understand how the resort compiled the maintenance fees each year and to make sure that there are not unreasonable items included in these figures.
Are the details helpful to you? Does disclosing the details help you better understand timeshare ownership?
Make sure to comment below!
Generally, most timeshares generate their annual maintenance fee bills towards the end of the year. As the year gets closer to the end, many timeshare owners are beginning to receive their maintenance fee bills.
Since timeshares are not very transparent, I thought that I would show my readers what my Hyatt timeshare maintenance fee bill looks at and what makes up the fee.
Here is my statement for my Hyatt Residence Club Beach House maintenance fee for week 47. Fort his particular week, I receive 2,000 Hyatt Residence Club Points.
While the scan is less than ideal, you can see that my maintenance fee for 2018 is $1265.03 which includes a voluntary contribution to ARDA which is the American Resort Development Association.
Here is the breakdown on how they came up with the total maintenance fee for 2018.
2017 Property Taxes: $16.40
2018 Maintenance Fees: $794.14
2018 Reserves: $341.49
2018 HRC Dues: $153.00
Voluntary ARDA Contribution: $5.000
The Meaning of these Categories:
2017 Property Taxes: This appears to be my portion of the 2017 Property Taxes. The Hyatt Beach House paid property taxes for 2017 and likely assessed each individual owner their pro rata portion of taxes based on owning 1 week for one (1) two (2) bedroom unit.
2018 Maintenance Fees: This amount is the bulk of the fee which covers all operational costs of the resort. This likely covers upkeep, staffing, utilities, and the various other items required to run the day to day operations of the resort. I will be posted a look at the 2018 budget that has more details on how this fee was compiled.
2018 Reserves: Like most businesses, the ongoing monetary needs of the resort can be estimated but there are always items that come up that were either unplanned or cost more than estimated. These reserves are additional funds that are kept by the resort for unexpected expenses and for those expensive items that will eventually need replacing. This includes major items such as buildings, elevators, roofs, HVAC and other expensive items. Instead of having to go out to the owners for additional funding, the resort includes a reserve amount for these unexpected costs.
2018 HRC Dues: These HRC dues are for use of the Hyatt Residence Club name, reservation systems and management services. Most resorts are not owned by Hyatt but are rather branded with the Hyatt name and are operated by Hyatt management services. These dues cover those services and fees.
Voluntary ARDA Contribution: According to ARDA's website:
The American Resort Development Association (ARDA) is the Washington, DC - based trade association representing the vacation ownership and resort development industries (timeshares). With nearly 600 corporate members and 5,000-plus engaged associates, ARDA members hail from privately held firms to publicly traded corporations with extensive experience in shared ownership interests in leisure real estate. Developers, exchange companies, vacation clubs, resellers, and timeshare owner associations (HOAs), resort management companies, industry vendors, suppliers, and consultants - as well as owners, through the ARDA-Resort Owners' Coalition (ARDA-ROC) - all experience ARDA.
The voluntary $5.00 contribution apparently goes to ARDA to assist with ongoing legislation that attempts to help the timeshare business and timeshare owners. I have posted some information that has been generated by ARDA which is helpful. $5.00 is a nominal amount but you can easily elect to opt-out of this contribution.
The timeshare industry is not very transparent so a lot of information is simply not able to be found unless you own a particular timeshare. My goal is to make timeshare ownership more transparent so that you can decide whether timeshare ownership makes sense for you and your travel style.
I do not own all timeshare brands so it would be helpful to share other bills that you receive so that readers can see how different timeshares and brands bill their maintenance fees. Please send your bills to firstname.lastname@example.org so that I can post additional bills to show readers what to look for and how different brands differ on their bills and amounts.
Southwest is a fantastic airline. While it does not have the bells and whistles of a lot of the foreign carriers or have a first class cabin, they are efficient, friendly, and still have tons of customer friendly policies.
Southwest is the last domestic carrier to offer free bags, no change fees and provide refunds (in the form of travel funds) for cancelled flights.
One of the biggest perks of Southwest is that all flights booked with rapid reward points are fully cancellable without any penalties.
For those who use timeshares, the above customer friendly policies are great in that you have a lot of flexibility to book fares at decent rates and potentially cancel them without a fee if other timeshare destinations become available.
I wrote a longer article about Southwest here.
As of November 3, 2017, Southwest has opened its schedule to August 6, 2018. On February 8, 2018, Southwest will open their schedule until September 28, 2018.
With their schedule opened for the summer, now is the time to begin to solidify your summer travel plans. Summer is a busy time of year for travel and flights can get extremely expensive quickly.
With Southwest's customer friendly policies, the best option is to book flights with Rapid Reward Points. You can book your flights and if your plans change, you can simply get all your points redeposited without a fee!
During a recent booking session, I cam across an unknown policy with Southwest. For Thanksgiving, we had flights booked to Cabo, Mexico. We were on the fence on whether to take that trip or to book somewhere else. Flights with decent rates came available to Costa Rica so I booked them with points.
At that point, I have overlapping reservations to Cabo and Costa Rica. I figured that I would cancel whatever flight we opted not to take once our accommodations were solidified. Unbeknownst to me, Southwest's system will automatically cancel duplicate flights without notice and without contact if they overlap with the same travelers.
After I completed our flights to Costa Rica, I woke up the next morning with cancellation e-mails from Southwest. In a panic, I called Southwest and they explained this policy and why it happens.
This policy was new to me and I had no idea that Southwest's system would automatically cancel the reservation without a phone call or e-mail to tell you of the pending cancellation. They just do it! For me, I had booked with points, travel funds and gift cards so I had to recreate the bookings and find out where all the money had gone.
This was frustrating and really wish that they would have simply called me to explain the policy before cancelling my flights.
Despite this hiccup, Southwest is generally a pleasure to deal with and generally enjoy dealing with their representatives.
Now that I know if this policy, I will make sure to not do this in the future.
Since Southwest has such flexible policies, it makes sense to book your flights now and figure out accommodations. If you need to change flights to a different destination or change dates by a few days, it is easily done with a couple of clicks or a quick phone call.
Book your flights now. Even though Southwest is a low cost carrier, this does not always mean that their fares or low cost. During peak travel times during holidays, I have seen some very expensive fares.
You should book early as even if fares drop, you can even call Southwest to get the difference in fare refunded. This is yet another reason why Southwest is the best customer friendly airline left in the sky!
Where are you going this summer? Leave you comments below!