Some people get into miles & points to travel more, others to travel more cheaply, and still others to travel more luxuriously. Some are drawn into this
obsession hobby for the thrill of the hunt — whether a way to stack as many points as possible on the earning side or redeeming for maximum value. Of course, it gets tricky in determining which option returns maximum value, and I’ve run into a bit of a dilemma in that regard. I thought I’d lay this one out and ask readers what you would do.
Goal: A cheap vacation
Last year, I booked flights on Delta in business class from New York to California via Virgin Atlantic thanks to Virgin’s online search tool showing more Delta availability than we may have otherwise expected (See: Holy availability! Transcon flat beds in Delta business for 18K points; Hawaii cheap, too). As those flights approach, we’ve been thinking about how to turn the trip into a vacation we can enjoy while minimizing out-of-pocket costs.
An option that quickly came to mind was to put our Southwest Companion Pass to use and head from California down to San Jose del Cabo to spend a few days at the Hyatt Ziva Los Cabos in Mexico. This Hyatt all-inclusive resort seemed like it might be a good idea since we could really just kick back and relax without focusing on a budget for meals, gas, etc – points could cover just about our whole trip. We’ve never been to an all-inclusive resort, but this one seemed like a good fit for the situation.
I initially just assumed I would book this stay on points because I know the Hyatt Ziva Los Cabos runs just 20K Hyatt points per night. That seems like a pretty good deal considering the fact that it covers the room, food, drinks, entertainment, etc. While I don’t expect Michelin-star food at an all-inclusive, the restaurant variety sounds pretty good (Japanese, French, Italian, Mexican, Spanish tapas, coffee house, snack shack, etc). I was pretty sold on the idea. We decided we would consider a four-night stay.
Finding award availability
I knew from previous searches that Hyatt.com does not show award availability for the all-inclusive properties but rather instructs you to call. Figuring I’d save myself the time on hold, I reached out to the Hyatt Concierge on Twitter and asked about award availability for the dates I was considering.
Unfortunately, the only dates available near my dates were starting on the last day of my intended trip. Bummer! I inquired about the room type I’d need to find to book an award (Master Double / Master King) and figured I’d just set up a search link and come back to it periodically.
Finding availability…that opened up other options
A few hours later, I did a search and came up with the Pool View Master King, which is not the same thing as a “Master King” — this is not the “standard” room at this property.
However, the price instantly thickened the plot.
As you can see, the price for my dates came to $265 per night for an advance purchase rate (or $279 for a “Member rate”). The trip would be coming up soon enough that I’m using the advance purchase rate for the rest of this post, though the difference in price is small enough that the flexible rate would produce similar results.
The price threw a wrench in my original plan for two reasons: first, if the room price is only $265, that wouldn’t be a terribly good value for 20K Hyatt points per night even if awards were available (about 1.325 cents each). Second, the price brought to mind several other options for using points.
Option 1) Use Hyatt points (Total cost = 80K)
Again, this one isn’t actually possible for my dates at this point, but if I were to find availability, it would cost 80K points for four nights. This one is pretty straight forward. I could transfer 80K Ultimate Rewards points to Hyatt to book the room for four nights. As I have a couple of Globalist friends, I could even ask a Globalist to consider booking it for me, though the Globalist benefits at this hotel seem pretty limited. As best I could tell, a Globalist Guest of Honor booking would get me top-shelf liquor and the ability to make reservations at the restaurants. I rarely drink alcohol, and when I do it is typically just wine — fancy liquor isn’t a big draw for me, so I imagine I would just book this one on my own.
Option 2) Chase Travel Portal (Total cost = ~69.3K)
Of course, when I mentally ran the numbers on $265, I realized that booking through the Chase travel portal with a Chase Sapphire Reserve would cost fewer points if the same rate were available. In fact, Chase’s rate is a bit better yet at $260 per night. With the CSR, that comes out to just 17,376 Ultimate Rewards points per night — a savings of 2,667 points per night over first transferring to Hyatt.
Unfortunately, if I book through Chase, it will count as a third party booking — meaning I won’t earn any Hyatt points or get stay credit. Further, I would not get any elite benefits, though my Explorist status doesn’t entitle me to much anyway. Realistically, I’d probably be giving up what little shot I had at scoring a room upgrade by not booking direct. That said, I could self-upgrade. For still fewer points than Hyatt would charge, I could book a “suite” for….the same price as the Master Double.
Either way, my total cost for 4 nights would be 69,504 Ultimate Rewards points. That’s a savings of almost 10,500 Hyatt points — or more realistically Ultimate Rewards points since it means I would need to transfer fewer to Hyatt.
For those paying close attention, you’ll notice that I’m using the “Master Double” as the first example above, which is the room that normally has to be available for an award stay. Curiously, that room type is available through many sites other than Hyatt. If I decide to stay and want to book it as an award, I’d probably reach out to the manager to inquire about availability of that room.
Option 3) Citi Prestige 4th night free (Total cost = 79,500 points spent and earn points)
The other option that jumped out at me was booking through the Prestige Concierge. While the Citi Prestige 4th night free is based on the average room rate over the first four days exclusive of taxes (See: Complete Guide to the Citi Prestige 4th Night Free), Hyatt does not break out the taxes separately on this hotel. I’ve called on this property in the past and they have quoted me a 4th night free based on the average rate as shown on Hyatt’s site.
Based on that, I would expect four nights at $265 to initially cost $1,060. After the 4th night free discount, that comes down to $795 total for four nights.
My stated goal from the beginning was to create a vacation with as little out of pocket cost as possible, so for the sake of comparison, let’s say that I would pay for this by cashing out Ultimate Rewards points at $0.01 each. My total cost would be 79,500 points.
I think most readers would balk at the idea of cashing in Ultimate Rewards points at $0.01 each, though note that it would cost fewer points than if I transferred directly to Hyatt in this instance (though more than booking through the Chase portal).
However, by booking over the phone / via email with the Prestige concierge (i.e. not online via the ThankYou.com portal), I should be able to earn Hyatt points for my stay. Since I would actually be paying $1,060 for the stay (and later receiving a rebate from Citi), I would expect to earn 6 Hyatt points per dollar on that figure (5 base points + 20% bonus for being an Explorist) for a total of 6,360 Hyatt points. Further, I’d earn 3 ThankYou points per dollar by paying with the Prestige card. I should also earn elite night credits this way (though that doesn’t matter to me in this situation as I do not intend to go for Hyatt status this year). Even at a bad value of $0.01 per Ultimate Rewards point, that doesn’t really seem like a bad value overall with regards to the goal.
(Note that I could alternatively cash in Citi ThankYou points for a statement credit to cover this charge – I’m using Ultimate Rewards to keep a consistent point of comparison with the other two options above).
Which would you do?
As I considered those options, I wondered what readers would say. I recognize that none of those options get maximum value out of Ultimate Rewards points and I don’t usually consider redeeming for what seems like such “poor value” in terms of buying power. On the other hand, the joy of free is undeniable – and the cost of acquiring the points was low enough to make these options plausible. Assuming you were flush with points that cost you less than 1 cent each to acquire (and you shared my goal of as little out-of-pocket cost as possible), which way would you book and why? I know what I think I’m going to do if we take the trip, but I’m curious about your input. I’ll then update if and when we make arrangements to do it.