Have Cards, Will Travel

Resorting in Grand Cayman with shared rewards

Bartering points with a friend paid off – here's how you can do the same


Bartering or sharing rewards points is easier than you think and the benefits could save you thousands on your next trip.

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In our last column, we discussed 5 creative ways to redeem credit card rewards. One of my favorite lessons mentioned was to trade or barter your points with someone you know to get something you want. I’m putting that lesson into practice to get a week of sun in the Caribbean.

Today, I’m writing from Seven Mile Beach on Grand Cayman island where I’m spending a week diving, sailing and snorkeling with stingrays. More importantly, I am spending zero points to sleep for five nights at the Ritz-Carlton Grand Cayman resort.

We all know that it is not free to stay at the Ritz-Carlton for a week, so how did I do it?

See related: 4 tips for scoring an international weekend getaway using points

Good friend, great benefits

This trip was funded by points bartering with my friend, Emily.

Emily owns a gym in Portland, Oregon, and she has been collecting reward points for years by charging the monthly business expenses at her facility. As a loyal cardholder of the Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card (formerly the Starwood Preferred Guest American Express Business Card), and a loyal Marriott Platinum member, most of her points have accrued in Marriott’s loyalty program.

While Emily’s Marriott balance is big, mine is very small. I spent all of my SPG points before the Marriott merger, and lately I’ve been focusing my spending on rebuilding my balance of airline miles for some first-class Asia travel I’m planning for the fall.

How to barter points with a friend

Because Emily has a lot of hotel points and very few airline points – and I have a lot of airline points and few hotel points – together, we are a match made in reward travel companion heaven.

Standard redemption rates at the Ritz Grand Cayman are currently 85,000 Marriott Bonvoy points per night. When you take advantage of Marriott’s fifth night free benefit on award stays, the total cost of a 5-night stay adds up to 340,000 points.

Rather than each of us pay for our own airfare and half of the hotel stay, here’s the deal we bartered:

  • Emily paid 240,000 Bonvoy points to book 5 nights at the Ritz-Carlton Grand Cayman. Because we booked a long time ago, we paid a pre-devaluation rate of 60,000 points per night with the fifth night free.
  • I paid 80,000 miles for our two round trip tickets from Portland, Oregon (PDX) to Grand Cayman (GCM) on American Airlines using AAdvantage miles from my Barclays Silver Aviator card.

On paper it may seem like I got the better half of the deal. However, as Marriott points are valued at 3:1 to most other reward points (i.e., it takes 3 Marriott points to purchase 1 American AAdvantage mile), in mileage math, our barter was a fair trade.

In addition to our points barter, we split the additional cash costs:

  • Grand Cayman international departure tax: $87 each.
  • Ritz-Carlton daily resort fee: $85 per day, $425 for the stay. Some hotel groups waive this resort fee when you book with points – Marriott does not.

In total, we spent about $300 each on the trip (piña coladas not included) — a very good value for a trip that would have cost at least $8,000 just for hotel and airfare.

How to plan your own rewards stay on Grand Cayman

Want to plan your own Caribbean getaway to Grand Cayman? Here are a few things we learned about where to stay using your credit card rewards points.

The Ritz-Carlton is a solid choice. It is the largest and best-known hotel on the postcard-perfect Seven Mile Beach, but it certainly isn’t the only good option.

If you’ve got deep pockets filled with Marriott points like Emily, you have multiple options in Grand Cayman. Marriott also offers a Westin and a Marriott Resort on Seven Mile, both Category 7 hotels bookable for 60,000 points per night.

The Westin, which neighbors the Ritz, has a $65 daily resort fee, while the Grand Cayman Marriott Beach Resort – a little closer to the cruise port in Georgetown – has a $60 resort fee.

When you’re shopping for hotels in the Caymans, you’ll want to check out what benefits are included in the resort fee – especially if you’re traveling with children. At the Ritz, we took advantage of stand-up paddle board yoga, sailing lessons, the spa facilities and valet parking.

If you have elite status in the Marriott Bonvoy program, you’ll also want to check out Marriott’s benefits by hotel brand when making your choice.

At the Ritz-Carlton, for example, elite status won’t get you free breakfast or access to the club lounge, but at the Westin, you can choose free breakfast as your welcome amenity. Food isn’t cheap in the Caymans and saving $20 per person for breakfast helps if you’re on a budget.

If your Marriott account is empty like mine and you don’t have a friend like Emily, you’ve still got options for rewards stays.

The Kimpton Seafire Resort and Spa, for example, is an amazing IHG hotel option on Seven Mile Beach bookable for 70,000 points per night. It’s the newest large hotel on the strip with a modern vibe, amazing ocean views and, in my opinion, the best piña colada on the island at its Cocolobo beach bar (I’m testing a lot in the name of research).

IHG points can be earned with the IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card. If you have this card, you can take advantage of IHG’s reward night for any stay of four or more nights, which is exclusive to cardholders – that’s 210,000 IHG points for a perfect long Caribbean weekend.

This card also grants you complimentary IHG platinum status, which may land you a room upgrade based on availability.

Like Marriott, IHG does not waive resort fees for elites or reward stays. The Seafire resort fee of $75 per day includes the usual seaside and spa activities, as well as my two favorite benefits: the daily Kimpton wine hour and GoPro rental. Trust me, you’ll want to borrow a GoPro when you see how clear the Cayman water is.

Beyond IHG and Marriott, Hyatt and Hilton do not currently have properties in the Caymans. However, Hilton is currently building a small, 80-room Curio Collection property slated to open in 2021.

Of course, you can always use your Chase Ultimate Rewards or American Express Membership points to book one of the hundreds of independent hotels on the island – and there are some great ones.

We’ll save that lesson for next time. For now, I’ve got some more piña colada research to complete.

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