4 tips for scoring an international weekend getaway using points

Here's how to leverage card rewards, perks for a quick escape to a close-enough sunny paradise

Stephanie Zito
Travel and cards writer
Travel expert who writes the "Have Cards, Will Travel" column for CreditCards.com

How to earn an exotic vacation at the grocery store

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A few weeks ago, I wrote to you lamenting the winter blues and dreaming of exotic islands to visit on points. Today I’m sitting on the patio of my suite at the Andaz Papagayo resort by Hyatt in Costa Rica and the only blues I have today is the Pacific Ocean out in front of me.

A last-minute, weekend trip to Costa Rica may sound a bit unrealistic, but I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t have to be. International trips don’t have to be big to-dos you plan for years in advance – especially if you have rewards points.

See related: Winter destinations: 4 exotic islands you can visit on points

Best winter getaway? Go after the sun

Some international destinations like Costa Rica are close enough to travel to for a few days and a quick visit can help you find whatever kind of escape you need.

I chose Costa Rica for a quick international getaway for two reasons.

First, because my winter-weary soul wanted sunshine and temperatures above 90 degrees.

Second, because the Andaz Papagayo (a Hyatt category 4 property) had been on my radar as a fancy resort that is bookable with the anniversary certificate from my World of Hyatt Credit Card, and my certificate was going to expire at the end of the month.

Since I pay an annual fee of $95 on this card, it was a great value to use the certificate on a weekend when rooms were booking out at a rate of $695 per night.

As a bonus, Costa Rica is convenient to reach on a variety of airlines using miles.

I’m not alone in my need to get away. At the pool, I’ve met plenty of others taking advantage of the proximity of Central America for a quick winter escape.

A couple from Atlanta is here on a quick trip without their children. A family from Seattle is hiding from the snowpocalypse. A woman from Boston is taking a few days off from the polar vortex.

Needing an escape of your own? Here are four tips to help you put your points to work for a short and super international getaway.

Tip

Tip: Want to get to your international weekend getaway even faster? TSA Precheck and Global Entry credits are now offered on lower-annual-fee cards. Speeding through the airport security checkpoints is no longer out of reach for the frequent flyer uninterested in paying a $450 credit card annual fee.

1. Pick an easy-to-access destination

The first step to a quick international getaway is finding a destination you can get to quickly! If you’re starting from the U.S. and heading for sun, your most direct and easiest options will depend on your point of origin:

  • From the East Coast: The Bahamas, most of the Caribbean, Cuba, Mexico and Central America are easy direct flights.
  • From the West Coast: Baja and the Pacific coast of Mexico are practically in your backyard with Central America just a bit further afield.
  • From Middle America: You’ve got a straight shot to either coast of Mexico or down into Central America with connections through Houston or Dallas.

2. Redeem your points for region-based rewards (not revenue-based)

If your getaway is a last-minute escape, you'll likely get the best deal by redeeming your rewards points directly through an airline program that has a region-based award chart – like United or American Airlines – rather than a program that prices award tickets based on actual last-minute price of tickets – like Delta, Southwest, or a bank program like Chase Ultimate Rewards

When you book through a program with a fixed redemption structure, the points price of the ticket is the same no matter if you plan six months or six days in advance. If an award ticket is available, it’s available – and often availability can open up at the last minute if a flight isn’t full.

A one-way ticket from Portland to Liberia, Costa Rica for my escape was 17,500 points on American Airlines – that’s fewer points than I earned from online shopping bonuses last year. Plus, I was able to book a long enough layover in Dallas to check out the cocktails in the newly renovated Centurion Lounge in Terminal D – accessed with my Platinum Card® from American Express.

See related: Sharing miles with friends, family: These airlines allow it

3. Choose an easy place to stay – and use your points

Secure accommodation that keeps logistics to a minimum. While Airbnbs or lodging in residential areas of a city are more budget-friendly for longer trips, stick to hotels for getaways.

For a winter sun break, I usually opt for a resort with a beach, a pool and a view. For a city-exploration getaway, I choose a central location preferably in walking distance to whatever I’m trying to see.

Since you’ll only be staying a couple of nights, it should be easy to cover your hotel bill with points – or use your annual anniversary certificate from whichever co-branded hotel certificate you have in your wallet. World of Hyatt, the new Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card, and the IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card all have a great anniversary night benefit.

For Costa Rica, I took a combined approach and used my certificate together with 30,000 points to book two additional nights at the Andaz (15,000 points per night), to land a stay that would have otherwise cost me upward of $1,900.

See related: Best cards for Airbnb

4. Consider your quick getaway as a test visit to a new place

Expectations are a big part of a successful international getaway. You won’t ever be able to fully explore or experience a new country in a couple of days, but it isn’t a waste of points to take a short trip.

Prioritize one or two things that you want to achieve on your getaway.

For my trip to Costa Rica, I knew I couldn’t scratch the surface of the Papagayo peninsula, so I focused on getting time in the sunshine and making sure I watched the sunset from a hammock on the beach.

Treat the trip as an opportunity to get a feel for a place that you may visit on a longer trip later.

You might even realize that you’ve discovered an easily accessible place you can visit again and again for an annual escape – I did. Don’t be surprised if you see me at the Andaz Papagayo pool again next winter.


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Updated: 03-18-2019