3 Week Christmas vacation in Hawaii: $28,000 value vacation for under $1200 out of pocket - How I did it
Last Christmas, in this post, I explained my “timeshare fail” where I stayed at the Andaz Maui resort using points instead of obtaining a timeshare for Christmas week.
Despite not getting a timeshare last year, we had planned on going back to Maui again for Christmas. The Andaz Maui was a great resort and while I hoped to get timeshare instead, I used my same strategy that I used last year and booked using points while waiting for a timeshare to match. Despite my efforts, I again failed to obtain the desired timeshare for Christmas week but was able to get a timeshare for the week before Christmas.
Christmas week is notoriously difficult so if you want to or must travel during Christmas, you always need a “Plan B” as getting a good timeshare will be difficult. DON’T BUY A TIMESHARE EXPECTING TO TRAVEL OVER CHRISTMAS. DISAPPOINTMENT IS LIKELY.
While I failed to obtain a desired timeshare for Christmas week, I was able to successfully plan a three-week vacation in Hawaii over Christmas break staying at extremely nice properties. While vacations like this typically cost at least $25,000, I was able to secure this trip for my family of four for approximately $1200 plus a decent amount of miles and points.
Here’s how I did it.
Before I get into the details on this trip planning, for any new readers, I wanted to direct you to review this post on my month-long trip to Costa Rica. In that post, I explained how I use multiple strategies, travel tools, multiple different points, credit card perks, and other “travel hacks” to create an incredibly affordable month-long vacation. This post is not that different but wanted to show my readers yet another successful trip that was planned using these strategies and resulting in a truly 5-star vacation for less most people spend on a long weekend.
While flights to Hawaii have been relatively inexpensive over the past year with some great deals (check out some of these), flights over the Christmas time period are always extremely expensive. Fortunately, by planning far in advance, I was able to secure flights using frequent flyer miles on both the outgoing and return. The key was diversification.
Diversification in points is extremely important. I’ll do a deeper dive into this concept in later posts but by having points spread throughout multiple programs and having transferrable points (Citi Thank You Points, Chase Ultimate Reward Points and American Express Membership Rewards Points), you have more options available to you.
For these flights, I could not locate 4 round trip tickets for the date and times desired at the lowest cost pricing. However, I did find 4 one-way tickets to Maui on United and did find 4 one-way tickets from Maui back home on American Airlines. I ended up booking one-way tickets using miles in order to further reduce out of pocket expenses. These tickets cost 22,500 each way for each passenger.
For the flights between Kauai and Maui, I booked them using United miles which was approximately 7,000 miles per ticket instead of paying about $140 per ticket. Not the best use of miles but decent.
Week 1: Kauai
As I explained in this post, I originally secured a timeshare property for the week before Christmas at the Marriott Ocean Club in Kaanapali Beach. The reviews of that property looked great and generally have a very high regard for Marriott Vacation Club properties. Despite being a Hyatt owner, I stay predominantly with Marriott properties since my Hyatt points trade favorable for Marriott’s. You can review some of these strategies here.
While I was looking forward to that stay, about a month before the trip, a 2-bedroom unit became available at the Marriott Waiohai Beach Club property in Kauai. The last time I was in Kauai was about ten years ago and I actually toured the property at that time. I remember it being a very high-class property located directly on Poipu beach which is a top beach on the island. Due to the fond memories and additional space for a 2 bedroom unit, I switched timeshares. Fortunately, I used e-plus for my Interval International Exchange (read about it here) and was able to exchange my week into the Marriott Waiohai Beach Club. Despite the extra fee, I always add E-Plus as it has saved me multiple times by allowing me to switch resorts, times or vacation spots.
I originally had a 1-bedroom unit in Maui but was very happy to have secured a 2 bedroom unit. Having the additional space for a family of four is essential since we all have beds and ample space to spread out. I will be doing a review of that property shortly with pictures so stay tuned. Overall, the property was fantastic but had higher expectations for the finish out of the units. While decently appointed and while having a nice ocean view, it appears that the units are getting close to their end of life and need of a significant refresh.
In order to secure a 2-bedroom unit, I needed to use 1300 Hyatt Residence Club Points. Based on my current maintenance fees of approximately $1300 per week for which I receive 2,000 points, the cost per this reservation was $835 ($1300 / 2000 = $0.65 per point - $0.65 * 1300 = $835). In addition to the exchange fee of $219 and the E-Plus fee of $59, the total cost for this week was approximately $1123. This is not exactly cheap but considering that going rates for this week at this property in a 2-bedroom unit was approximately $900 per night, the price per week looks like a tremendous bargain.
Take a look at this post for further information on the economics of timeshare ownership.
Week 2 – 3: Maui:
After having failed to obtain a timeshare during Christmas last year, I thought that I would have success this year. As explained in my original post, I put in my request a full year in advance and waited patiently for a match. I also consistently looked for available inventory as some units can come available via bulk deposits or simply by luck. As discussed here, as I did in the years past and as I try to do for each and every timeshare trip, I booked a hotel using points which would be cancelled in the event that my timeshare came through.
While I definitely wanted a timeshare for Christmas week, the Andaz Maui is a truly spectacular property and would not mind using points for this stay. While I had some opportunities to secure a timeshare for Christmas week, they were not the top resorts that I generally target (Westin, Hyatt, Marriott, etc.) and elected to use my points for the Andaz Maui.
The Andaz Maui does play a lot of games with their inventory for point redemptions so if you want Christmas week, you need to book as soon as it is available – generally in November the year before. I booked this year’s trip last year while I was at the property last year.
In case you’re interested, last year, I wrote this post about how my stay at the Andaz Maui broke my loyalty to Hyatt. This was somewhat true and despite not making a tremendous effort to hit Globalist tier, a few beneficial promotions and the World of Hyatt card made it possible to hit Globalist again. We’ll see if I achieve it for 2020. I’ll give you additional details on how to achieve Globalist in a few creative ways in a later post.
Having Globalist for this stay is extremely worthwhile and arguably some of the best use of Hyatt points. In this post, I explained the various perks received. I was easily receiving about $270 per day in real perks at the Andaz Maui (breakfast, parking, waived resort fees).
For this stay, I was finally able to use a suite upgrade and stayed in a suite for 7 nights. The going rate for a standard room was over $1600 per night and the going rate for the suite was in excess of $2500. Outrageous!
While we were originally planning on staying 9 nights, a fortuitous weather event occured through our stop over city and a travel waiver was issued for our day of travel. While we could have easily gone to the airport and take our chances, I elected to call American and see if they could re-accomodate us for other flights. While there were some real chances that our travel plans could have been significantly interrupted, if timing works and things align with hotel/timeshares, I tend to always reschedule our flights when these weather events occur. Getting stuck in an airport with young kids or having to stay at a less than ideal airport hotel is a poor way to end the trip and would rather “wait it out” on the beach for a few extra days.
As I mentioned, the cost for a standard room at the Andaz Maui was going for $1600 which is simply too expensive for me. Rooms were not available using points which was a disappointment but there were points at the Hyatt Regency at Kaanapali Beach. I had been wanting to check out the other Hyatt hotel on the island and was curious to see the Hyatt Residence Club next door and the Marriott Ocean Club (where we were originally scheduled to be) so this made a good option. The Hyatt Regency on Maui was 20,000 points per night as opposed to the Andaz Maui which costs 25,000.
The general perk of most Hyatt Regency’s is that they have a club lounge which offer food and snacks throughout the day. I have been to a few stellar lounges and you could easily eat there all day long for free. I had high hopes for this Hyatt Regency but ended up being extremely disappointed. A full review on this property will also be forthcoming.
While we were upgraded to an ocean front room with a spectacular view, the rooms are in dire need of refurbishment. I was not impressed and neither was my family. We checked out the club lounge the next morning for breakfast and it was in stark contrast to the unbelievable spread at the Andaz. They provided a fairly limited continental breakfast with no eggs and some frozen waffles.
After breakfast, I immediately began checking on using points to get back to the Andaz. If you have a choice between properties, don’t even think twice and stay at the Andaz.
One of the “perks” of achieving Globalist is to receive a dedicated concierge to assist with travel plans. I reached out to her for assistance in getting us back to the Andaz for the last 2 nights. After a few e-mails, she simply said that there was no availability and could not help. This was troubling as the Andaz had plenty of rooms available and plenty of standard rooms with a slightly elevated view. As I mentioned, they play games with their inventory so that only a select few rooms are available for award nights despite having plenty of standard rooms available for cash bookings. The only difference is the view which is arguably different than the room types allocated for award nights.
After several more e-mails, she reached out the hotel directly and they were able to open up a room using points. The concierge handled the adjustments and contacting both hotels. Overall, the concierge perk has not been that worthwhile for me as there are only a select few times that I need assistance in getting something accomplished. I was frustrated that this request was not simply handled but rather required multiple e-mails and arguments to get it done. At the end, it happened as desired but it was not as smooth as process as I would have expected considering that these agents are supposed to be at Globalist’s beckon call to assist with their travel plans.
We checked back into the Andaz Maui for an additional 2 nights, all using points. In the end, we stayed 11 nights at the Andaz Maui and 2 nights at the Hyatt Regency. The total amount of points used was 315,000 Hyatt points – a very large number and while we had an absolute spectacular time, I can say with certainty that I still would have preferred a timeshare.
I am not saying this simply because I am “The Timeshare Guru”, but rather because I value space and value the convenience of being able to cook some meals in the hotel. The Andaz Maui is absolutely fantastic but drinks are expensive ($19 cocktails and $10 beers) and the food is extremely expensive. Saving a few bucks on having a few meals would have been nice and not having to share a bed with small kids is a nice convenience and becoming more and more necessary.
In another post, I’ll explain how to obtain points quickly through credit card sign-ups and spend. If you do it strategically and intelligently, you can rack up a lot of points quickly and book a similar “expensive” vacation for cheap.
Despite my desire for a timeshare, spending 315,000 Hyatt points for the Andaz Maui was a fabulous use of points. If I was paying cash for this stay, here are the total potential out of pocket spend:
7 nights in a Suite: ($2500 per night): $17,500
4 nights in a standard room ($1600 per night): $6,400
11 nights of complimentary breakfast ($180 per day): $1,980
11 nights of waived parking ($45 per day): $495
11 nights of waived resort fees ($45 per day): $495
2 nights at Hyatt Regency ($450 per night): $900
2 nights of waived parking ($32 per day: $64
2 nights of waived resort fees ($32 per day): $64
Total cash value of the Andaz Maui portion of the vacation (11 nights): $26,870
Total cash value of the Hyatt Regency portion of the vacation (2 nights): $1,028
Total Points Used: 315,000
Value per point: 8.9 cents – not too shabby!
My family and I had another spectacular vacation using timeshares, frequent flyer miles and hotel points for a fraction of the retail cost. It was truly a vacation that would be out of our price range to mimic if we were paying cash. While my timeshare strategy failed, my plan B worked flawlessly in that we were able to enjoy the Andaz Maui for yet another Christmas.
Timeshares are great but they do not work for all travel plans so the ideal strategy is to have multiple travel tools at your disposal. Diversification is key, not only in points and programs but also having multiple avenues for finding reasonable accommodations.
Getting a $28,000 three week vacation in Hawaii over Christmas for about $1200 out of pocket seems ridiculous but I did it and you can to with various strategies.
What did you do Christmas week? Any stellar redemptions / exchanges? Make sure to comment below.
The stay that broke my loyalty to Hyatt - Andaz Maui: Confirmed Suite Upgrade Disappeared Upon Check-In
In this previous post, I explained some of the tremendous valuable benefits that I would be receiving as a Globalist member in the World of Hyatt program at our stay at the Andaz Maui over Christmas / New Years.
One of the most important benefits that I was looking forward to was our complimentary upgrade to an Ocean View Suite for 5 out of our 10 nights. A suite, while still not as spacious as most timeshares, can be quite luxurious and with a family of four, we needed the space in order to all receive good sleep.
In my previous post, I did not go into the various details on why I had to only get a suite for 5 nights. Before I get into what transpired, I will go into a few of these details so that readers can better understand what happened, how to make sure it does not happen to you and get a better understanding of how the Andaz Maui uses various mechanisms to prevent most (maybe all) World of Hyatt members from getting a confirmed suite upgrade.
As a Globalist World of Hyatt member, you are given 4 complimentary suite upgrade certificates that you can apply to your reservation. Each certificate is good for 7 nights. In order to use them, a standard suite must be available for the nights that you intend to use them. Fortunately, these suite upgrades can be used on paid nights or award nights.
As I explained in my previous post, I made this particular reservation for the Andaz Maui a full year in advance. The Andaz Maui is known for being quite stringent with its award nights and only allows bookings into their garden room views. There are very few of these rooms, hence very little availability.
Since I was traveling during Christmas / New Year, I knew that I had to book as early as possible to secure the availability. The hotel plays a little game during this timeframe and only allows you to book a minimum of 10 nights with points. I tried to book 7 nights and they tell you that there is no availability but rooms open up when you try to book 10 nights.
In my case, I booked 10 nights under one reservation since I could not book anything else due to their capacity controls. There are no such capacity controls for paid night stays.
Again, as I explained my other post, once I booked this stay, I began to map out our entire year of travel. Due to the various perks that would come with this stay, I decided to try to achieve Globalist status. Since I mainly travel for personal and not business, getting 60+ nights is quite an achievement as most people generally only get 2 weeks vacation time per year.
The free breakfast, free parking and waived resort fee easily would save us approximately $280 per night.
Despite staying in various timeshares and other brand hotels throughout the year, I hit Globalist (60 nights in a year) in early November.
Complimentary Suite Upgrade
While complimentary suite upgrades became available under the new World of Hyatt program (subject to availability at check-in), you will receive 4 confirmed suite upgrades upon the date that you achieve Globalist. These confirmed suite upgrades allow you to confirm you suite before arriving provided that they are available to pay cash.
Since I was traveling during the highest demand time, I knew that a complimentary suite upgrade at check-in would likely not be doable. Rack rates during this time exceed $1600 per night for a standard room so people that can afford these rates likely would splurge for upgraded rooms and suites.
Searching for Availability
Knowing this, I checked Hyatt's website constantly as soon as those 4 confirmed suite upgrades hit my account in the beginning of November. While I searched, no suites came up for the entire 10 night stay but I did find an Ocean View Suite available to pay cash for the first 5 nights of the trip.
When I called Hyatt, they indicated that since it was not available for the entire stay, I could not use one of my suite upgrade certificates. When I asked them to split the reservation into two, they claimed that they could not since there were no availability for award nights.
As I explained above, this strategy that the Andaz Maui uses is that they require a minimum of 10 nights to use points even though there is no minimum amount of nights to use cash.
In my situation, while I had 10 nights reserved, they could not split my reservation into two 5 night stays with points since there system blocked any reservation on points for less than 10 nights. The Andaz Maui has been called out for this practice many times as well as some other "shady" practices that limits award availability.
Since I already had 10 nights reserved and simply wanted to use one of my suite upgrades for part of the stay since the standard suite was available, Hyatt was able to call the hotel and they agreed to block the suite for us for the first 5 nights. If it was booked or unavailable for the other 5 nights, we would have to move rooms.
While moving rooms would be a pain (especially with children on their stuff), it was something that I was willing to do in order to have the space and a view. The on-site representative confirmed our suite but did warn us that a move was likely. When I asked for confirmation for this, she said that it was booked internally and she assured me that everything was handled accordingly.
I pressed her on some type of confirmation but due to the way that she had to book it, she said it was not possible but reassured me multiple times that she had it under control. I had no reason to doubt her and she was a supervisor, was confident in the way that she booked it and knew what had to be done internally to make it happen.
This was a tremendous mistake on my part. Next time, I will make sure to get written confirmation and I encourage all my readers to make sure to get written evidence for anything that is offered!
My Suite Disappeared
We arrived at the hotel around 10pm. My wife was feeling ill and my son had been throwing up on the flight over. It was a long day.
When I checked in, they indicated that they had us in a garden room, no upgrades were available (not even the same room with a view) and put us in a garden room looking out to a cement wall and with the elevator right next door. This was not the Ocean View Suite that was promised. Arguably, it was one of their worst rooms in the hotel. This was not something that I expected as a "Globalist".
The front desk supervisor, while pleasant, indicated that there was nothing to do at the moment but would look further into it the next morning. I was not happy especially since we traveled 60+ nights in a Hyatt solely for this stay and was promised a spacious suite for a family of 4.
The next morning came around and despite promising to contact me, no one called or attempted to contact me. I reached out to My Hyatt Concierge and the Hyatt twitter team and later that afternoon, one of the front desk supervisors spoke to me and apologized for this situation. She reviewed the reservation and basically indicated that there were no notes, no suite confirmation, or anything else to verify my story.
She seemed to imply that I was making it up despite being well versed in the various games that the Andaz Maui plays with their room allocation and going into the various details explained above on why the reservation was done differently than the normal procedure.
No Suite for You!
Since it was Christmas week, there were no suites available and apparently the hotel was completely booked. I do not dispute this as this was a very busy week. There was not much that they could do to move us so we stayed in our "Garden View" Room. aka cement wall view with constant elevator noise. She did offer to give us 25,000 World of Hyatt points as an gesture of goodwill which we took although I am still waiting on these to get into my account.
Due to the way that the Andaz Maui books rooms and allocates award nights, they were not accommodating to revise my reservation and use the suite upgrade certificate. As they stated, they would block it internally and take my suite upgrade certificate upon check-in. I have done this before at other hotels and have not had a problem.
Since this was Christmas week and the room rates were sky high, there were plenty of people at the hotel who probably wanted a suite and would pay for that luxury. We met a few people who paid $2,000 per night for a suite.
My guess is that the hotel knew this and simply removed the suite from our reservation in order to accommodate a paying guest. At $2,000 per night, while making me and my family unhappy, they received $10,000 in additional revenue. An understandable but short-sighted business decision.
Hotel "loyalty" is an interesting item. Hotels want you to be loyal to their brand, stay at their hotels, eat at their restaurants and spend money at their outlets. In exchange, hotel loyalty programs give you points, perks and amenities that encourages this behavior.
From my previous post, you can see that there is some real value in achieving hotel status.
However, I tend to find that hotel loyalty is really a one way street. The hotels offer these "perks" when it is easy for them to do. Most of these perks are "subject to availability" so whenever there is someone willing to pay for it or the hotel doesn't want to give away something, they simply say that they are booked or nothing is available. There is little that you can do to verify inventory.
Additionally, many of these "perks" do not cost the hotel much if anything. It is a way for them to claim "value" while not hurting their bottom line.
I have held top tier status in various different programs and while I may be upgraded on various 1-2 night business hotels, I almost never have been upgraded at resorts when I travel with my family. This has been consistent through many different hotel brands (Hyatt, Marriott, Starwood, Hilton, etc.) If I am traveling alone, getting a suite, while nice, does not make much of a difference to me. When I have 4 people with me, a suite becomes a necessity.
This is one of most important reasons why timeshares became the preferred way of travel!
Getting Status in 2018??
After this stay, I was extremely disappointed with the Andaz Maui as well as Hyatt. I was promised something and they simply reneged on the promise since it benefited the hotel and Hyatt. Since I was crazy enough to achieve Globalist status SOLELY for this stay, their failed promise was hurtful.
During 2017, I stayed at Hyatt hotels when they were more expensive, less convenient, paid cash instead of used points, encouraged family to stay at Hyatt's when we "needed" to stay at Hyatt's and traveled at times when we simply could have stayed at home simply to get a few extra night credits.
Will I do the same thing in 2018? Almost certainly not. While there is no doubt that there is value with achieving hotel status, I did and still highly prefer staying in timeshares. If I book a 1 bedroom or 2 bedroom unit, these are almost ALWAYS larger than the hotel suites. While getting free breakfast is nice, stuffing myself every morning for 10 nights actually got old. The Andaz Maui breakfast is one of the best breakfasts around but eating it everyday for 10 nights definitely became overkill.
I am generally very happy having kitchen facilities to cook a few eggs and toast which probably costs only a few dollars a day. The Andaz Maui breakfast costs $47 per person!
My Plan for 2018
2017 was a great year! My family and I were able to travel extensively for a fraction of the cost of the rack rates by using timeshares, hotel points and other travel tools. For those of you that missed this post, I highly encourage this read to get a good idea of the various travel tools that I use throughout the year.
We easily traveled over 90 nights throughout 2017.
2018 will still be chock full of travel but after a year of chasing Hyatt status, I doubt that I will endeavor to do same thing. Timeshares / condos are much more conducive to traveling with a family. The kids are getting a bit older / bigger to be able to comfortable share a bed. I much prefer to have everyone in their own bed so we can all rest comfortably.
Additionally, timeshares can easily be just as luxurious as hotels if not more so!
The Stay that Broke my Hyatt Loyalty
Despite this disappointment, the Andaz Maui is a phenomenal resort. I will do a full review of the property shortly but in short, it is worth a stay, especially on points!
However, this stay broke my loyalty to Hyatt but thats okay. Hotel loyalty has its perks but can be overrated. I prefer and will continue to prefer the "perks" of timeshares / condos over hotels any day.
By their actions, the Andaz Maui confirmed this and will focus my upcoming year of travel on the quality of the resort rather than the brand. I do still like the various Hyatt brands, but I will not simply choose a Hyatt because it is a Hyatt in my effort to gain status! Thank you Andaz Maui for making my 2018 travel plans simpler!
What do you think of hotel status? Does hotel status and the various perks encourage you to stay in a hotel rather than a timeshare? Leave you comments below!