As resident travel writer, Stephanie Zito, winds down the year, she reflects on six of her best travel redemption experiences. What will you do next year?
The end of the year is coming quickly, so I took a day off this week to do one of my favorite year-end travel traditions – my annual adventure audit.
Every December, I check myself into a hotel for 24 hours (one with a nice bathtub, of course) and spend time reflecting on where I’ve been the past twelve months. This serves as both a year-end trip down memory lane and a kickoff to plan where I want to go in the new year – all while keeping in mind how to organize my credit card rewards earning strategy to get there.
While I usually take this day as a staycation in a local hotel, where I’m not tempted to be distracted, I embedded the “adventure audit” into an adventure this year. Since I was already in transit home from my spontaneous European Christmas Market adventure last week, I jumped on the opportunity to check out the brand-new Great Scotland Yard Hotel In The Unbound Collection By Hyatt in London. It was opening week and (spoiler alert) it was so great, it made it on my list of best travel redemptions for the year.
I’ll wait until the new year to tell you about what’s on my travel list for 2020. For now, here’s a recap of six of my favorite – and most valuable – travel redemptions I’ve had this year. Perhaps it will give you some ideas to fuel your own award travel dreams for 2020.
See related: 4 tips for scoring an international weekend getaway using points
1. Andaz Costa Rica Resort at Peninsula Papagayo
Last January, when the winter got too gray, I headed south to Liberia, Costa Rica for some sun and to check out a hotel every “miles collector” on the internet seemed to have been talking about – the Hyatt Andaz Costa Rica Resort at Peninsula Papagayo.
There were gorgeous ocean-view rooms, multiple pools, a beach with monkeys, a fantastic spa and, of course, the lush green Costa Rican jungle. I took this trip by combining the free night certificate I had from my World of Hyatt Credit Card with 30,000 World of Hyatt points to pay for the additional nights.
Following a Hyatt reorganization, the Andaz Papagayo was changed to a category 5 property. This change means you can no longer use your free category 4 annual night you get from the World of Hyatt card, but you can still get a pretty sweet deal on a luxurious Costa Rican jungle getaway for only 20,000 points per night!
Hotel redemption value: $1,900.
2. The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman
At the end of what seemed like an eternal winter, I was long overdue for a spring day on a white sandy beach, with a good friend and a piña colada in hand. Seven Mile Beach on Grand Cayman easily fit the bill. I planned a holiday with my good friend, Emily, as we decided to do a points swap and it worked out great.
While there are plenty of places to use your credit card points to stay in the Caymans, my winning redemption was a week at the Ritz-Carlton Grand Cayman Resort. By taking advantage of a fifth-night free reward from the Marriott Bonvoy program, we squeezed $6,000 worth of hotel stays for just 240,000 Bonvoy points – plus another $2,000 worth of American Airlines awards flights.
Trip redemption value: $8,000.
3. Lake Tahoe birthdays
My favorite domestic trip and travel redemption of the year was an amazing, long weekend adventure to the shores of Lake Tahoe. My friends and I went during shoulder season in October and it was the perfect backdrop to celebrate my birthday – blue skies, sailing weather on the lake and a little bit of early snow to cap off the mountains.
We stayed at the Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe, a category 6 property that costs 20,000 World of Hyatt points per night for lakefront rooms that regularly book out around $300. I certainly wouldn’t argue if my friends wanted to take me here for my birthday again.
Hotel redemption value: $900.
4. Qatar Q-Suites, PNH-DOH
I’d been hoping to fly on Qatar Airway’s new(ish) business class Q-Suites for a long while, but I’d never been lucky enough to get the right aircraft on the right route – until this past year.
In October, when I was flying from Phnom Penh Cambodia (PNH) to Amman Jordan (AMM) via Doha (DOH), I was super surprised to board my flight and learn that it was the inaugural day they were operating Q-Suites on the route.
If you’ve never heard of Q-Suites, it’s a fancy lie-flat seat with a door that closes! Much more like what you’d find in a first-class cabin at business-class prices. The best part is that instead of paying $2,500 for the flight, I got it free with 40,000 American Airlines miles.
Flight redemption value: $2,500.
5. Jordan hotel rewards trifecta
My next awesome redemption of the year was when I traveled at the last minute to Jordan for a week with no hotels booked. The trifecta of points earned from my IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card, World of Hyatt card, and Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card completely saved the day.
I wound up staying five nights in four different five-star hotels for a total of 85,000 points – and I even got to sleep one night in a $3,500 royal suite overlooking Amman!
Hotel redemption value: $4,000.
6. London’s Great Scotland Yard Hotel
My final great redemption of the year was the night I spent at the brand-new Great Scotland Yard hotel from Hyatt, where I’ve been staying while making this list.
The hotel’s amazing location is a stone’s throw from Trafalgar Square and the Thames, and like all of Hyatt’s Unbound Collection properties, it’s built in a restored historic building. In this case, GSY is housed in the former Central Detective Unit of the London Metropolitan Police, which is also the home of many of Sherlock Holmes’s best tales.
One night at the property runs 25,000 World of Hyatt points, but you’ll probably want to stay more than one night so you can visit the hotel’s speak-easy hidden behind a false wall in the lobby (I know, right?). And, of course, you’ll want to have plenty of time to see Hamilton in London – one of my other travel highlights for the year!
Hotel redemption value: $570.
These six redemptions, alone, add up to more than $13,000 in travel this year from my credit card points – and this are just a few of my trips!
What about you? Where did you use your credit card rewards points this year?
More importantly, have you thought about what rewards you want to work for and where you want to go in this new decade of travel?