I Paid for a $21,000 Trip Using Mostly Points and Miles. Here’s How You Can, Too.

AFAR’s points and miles expert took 10 family members to the Bahamas for his mom’s 75th birthday and only paid $3,000. Here’s how he covered the other $18,000.

A long pool at Baha Mar resort surrounded by cabanas and palm trees

With more than a dozen pools and a water park, Baha Mar is a great multigenerational family destination.

Courtesy of Grand Hyatt Baha Mar

A dream family vacation looks different for everyone. For my mom, who just turned 75, it’s all about bringing the generations together in a tropical destination, where great food, fun in the sun, beautiful backdrops, and casino action are within easy reach. A connection to scientific education—and the opportunity for us to learn as a family—is also important, given her dedication to the field as Miami-Dade County’s longest working educator. (She began her teaching career in 1971 at 22 years old.) Another bonus is staying at a snazzy resort where her son (that’s me—hi!) can flex his elite status muscles and score plenty of extras for the family, defraying some of the costs of an upscale, modern family vacation.

For the ultimate family vacation to celebrate my mom’s milestone birthday in January 2024, I started planning nearly a year in advance. The first step was picking the destination: Baha Mar, a 1,000-acre mega-resort in the Bahamas on New Providence Island, checked all of mom’s requisite boxes. Plus, it included a Grand Hyatt property where I could take full advantage of my top-tier Globalist status with World of Hyatt and use points toward free room stays. Frequent airlift to and from Nassau by several airlines gave me many options for redeeming miles for flights.

So, in March 2023, I announced to the family that we’d all be heading to Baha Mar the following January for three nights to give mom the birthday extravaganza she deserved—and that I would pay for all of us. Yep, all 10 of us.

Paul Rubio and his mother pose for a family picture of seven people at Baha Mar

AFAR special correspondent Paul Rubio, seen here in the last row, treated his mom (far left in polka dots) and the rest of his family to a long weekend in the Bahamas on his points and miles.

Courtesy of Paul Rubio

For the average cash-paying traveler, this epic long weekend would end up costing nearly $21,000. But for this points-, miles-, and travel deal–obsessed writer, the trip totaled less than $3,000 with more than $18,000 saved by redeeming points, tracking flight prices (and getting refunds for price drops), understanding and applying the benefits of elite status, and maximizing credit card offers and opportunities. Here are the details on how I saved that $18,000—math included—to plan a dream family getaway on points and miles.

Booking rooms at Grand Hyatt Baha Mar on points

The primary cost of most vacations is the hotel room. A trip to Grand Hyatt Baha Mar is no exception. When booking rooms for January 2024 back in March 2023, a standard room with two queen beds came out to $3,101 for three nights after taxes and fees, and a room with a king bed was slightly lower. The total cost to book four rooms (three for three nights, another for two nights) reached $11,325.

Screenshot of what one room at the Grand Hyatt Baha Mar would have cost for a stay in January 2024

One standard room at the Grand Hyatt Baha Mar with two queen beds came out to $3,101 for three nights after taxes and fees.

Courtesy of Paul Rubio

However, a golden points opportunity beckoned. Despite the hefty cash fee, rooms at Grand Hyatt Baha Mar were going for only 20,000 World of Hyatt points per night. World of Hyatt happens to be my top choice when it comes to hotel loyalty programs for many reasons, one of which is an incredibly strong points redemption rate. Another is that taxes and resort fees are waived when booking with points (and, as you can see, there are plenty of taxes and fees at this property!).

Screenshot of the same Grand Hyatt Baha Mar hotel room booked with points

That same room could also be booked for just 60,000 World of Hyatt points for three nights.

Courtesy of Paul Rubio

Instead of paying $11,325, I could book four rooms (11 hotel nights) for just 220,000 World of Hyatt points. Since I didn’t have quite enough points in my World of Hyatt account, I found an easy way to boost my balance and reach the 220,000 threshold: simply transfer my Chase Ultimate Reward points (earned through Chase Sapphire credit card spending) into my World of Hyatt account at a 1:1 ratio. Though I didn’t need it in this case, I also had the option of transferring points from a friend or family member’s World of Hyatt account at no cost (another great feature of Hyatt’s loyalty program).

Booking flexible flights

When I started looking into airfare, prices were high according to the trend charts on Google Flights. But I wanted to lock things in and have tickets in hand, so to speak. For most family members, I decided to purchase tickets for which I could not only monitor price drops but also get refunds or credits for price differences. For those based in South Florida, I bought tickets on JetBlue and Southwest Airlines. (My mom is superstitious about us all being on the same plane so I divided us between the two airlines.) For family members coming from Charleston and Memphis, I chose one-way combinations that included JetBlue, American Airlines, and Delta.

Picking these airlines was strategic and intentional. Southwest is famous for its flexible tickets and zero change fees (Its Wanna Get Away+ fares go further by offering transferable flight credits and Anytime fares are completely refundable.) Since the pandemic, JetBlue has adopted a no change fee policy for Blue Fares and maintained its free cancellation policy for award tickets. American Airlines has also maintained its pandemic-era free cancellation policy on mileage redemptions while Delta has had this policy for years.

When I first booked our tickets, I spent $4,330 in cash, 17,000 Delta SkyMiles, and 15,000 American AAdvantage miles. I then set up price alerts on Google Flights, manually monitored Southwest’s site for promotions since Google Flights is unable to track Southwest pricing, and regularly checked award pricing on American and Delta. Over the months, I was able to capitalize on flash sales, refund waivers due to schedule changes and constant price changes, including a Southwest 50 percent off sale that ran in September 2023. After a lot of ticket reissuing (of which I will spare you the details), I shaved my costs down to $2,254 in cash, 26,000 JetBlue TrueBlue miles, and 30,000 American AAdvantage miles. My Delta miles were refunded in full; and much of the $2,076 refunded from price differences were in the form of credits that have since been used for other flights.

(Pro tip: Those who can’t be bothered to track prices and request price drop refunds should consider booking flights through Capital One Travel on a Capital One Venture credit card. The site monitors price drops and automatically issues statement credits when they occur.)

Aerial overview of Baha Mar resort in the Bahamas and its Baha Bay water park.

World of Hyatt waives taxes and resort fees when booking with points, which saved me hundreds of dollars per room for my family’s stay at the Baha Mar.

Courtesy of Grand Hyatt Baha Mar

Reaping the benefits of elite status

With World of Hyatt, top-level Globalist status gives travelers a 30 percent bonus in points on qualifying purchases, room upgrades (up to standard suites), complimentary breakfast, and 4 p.m. late checkout, upon availability. Unique to Hyatt’s loyalty program is the ability to transfer Globalist status to friends and family through the Guest of Honor program. Previously, Guest of Honor was given on all point-based stays made through the Globalist’s account. However, the program has been reimagined for 2024 and is now considered a Milestone Reward (awarded when reaching specified numbers of nights banked) and applicable to both paid and award nights. Those who had Globalist status as of December 31, 2023, including myself, received five complimentary Guest of Honor Awards in January 2024 to ease the transition.

Though I was under the impression that I would have to use my Guest of Honor Awards for my family, it turned out I was grandfathered under the old policy, having made my reservations so far back in 2023. This meant that all of my rooms and family members were privy to Globalist benefits, and I still could keep my five awards for the year to come.

So how did this play out? Well, first there were the room upgrades, landing us several categories above the standard rooms I booked and placing us on the 16th floor with prime ocean views. According to the price differences online, which varied between an 8 and 18 percent markup for the upgrades, this benefit came to $1,710 total for the four rooms. Then, a room credit of $50 per person per day, up to two people per room, covered the entirety of breakfast at the hotel’s Regatta buffet restaurant, including tax and tip. While buffets are not for everyone, Regatta’s spread is more akin to those found on high-end cruise ships than those off the Vegas strip (hallelujah!). Thanks to extended hours until 11:30 a.m. plus countless hot and savory items, the buffet was more than enough to satisfy until dinnertime.

Next, a daily Globalist $50 drink voucher per room per day was put to good use at select bars on property, namely Jazz Bar and cigar bar T2. Finally, we took advantage of a 4 p.m. checkout on three rooms, which typically costs $150 per room. So the total savings from being a Globalist and using the Guest of Honor benefits reached $3,810.

Paying for some extras with miles

To keep tabs on our spending at Baha Mar, I had all charges routed to my room. (With 45 restaurants and bars and so many pools it’s hard to keep count, we didn’t leave the resort during our long weekend.) Though it’s not an all-inclusive resort, almost all activities and amenities on the property were covered under the (waived) resort fees, including entry to the 15-acre Baha Bay water park (which has dozens of slides, a 500,000-gallon wave pool, a lazy river, and a surf simulator), beach and pool chairs, and nonmotorized water sports.

The fee also covers some great science-based fun, including encounters with marine life at the Sanctuary and feeding the resident flock of flamingos at Flamingo Cay. (Note: It’s also possible to do yoga with the flamingos, the national bird of the Bahamas, or reserve an official instructor-led “Meet and Greet” with Baha Mar’s ambassador flock for an extra charge per person.)

Baha Mar's marine life encounter at the Sanctuary (L) and a flamingo at Flamingo Cay (R)

My mom has been a science teacher for more than 50 years, so finding a destination that offers an opportunity for us to learn together as a family was important. Baha Mar checked that box with its marine life education center at the Sanctuary and its resident flock of flamingos at Flamingo Cay.

Courtesy of Grand Hyatt Baha Mar

Of course, dining and drinking for a group of 10 adds up, especially when splurging at celebrity chef-backed restaurants like Chef Marcus Samuelsson’s Marcus at Baha Mar Fish + Chop House and Carna by Dario Cecchini. So I asked different family members to host dinners on select nights as their gifts to mom. Excluding those three dinners, all charges for everything not already covered by points and miles for the 10 of us came to $1,691.

To defray those costs, I put $1,000 of that on my Air Canada Aeroplan Credit Card, which has a Pay Yourself Back feature that allows cardmembers to redeem Aeroplan points as statement credits toward any travel purchases made on the card within 90 days, at a rate of 1.25 cents per point.

I had banked over 80,000 Aeroplan points from the card’s introductory offer in years prior, so I had some points to cash in at this great rate for our extras at Baha Mar. I then put the remaining $691 of the charges on my World of Hyatt credit card, for which I’ll get four points for every dollar spent and start rebuilding my points balance.

The breakdown

While I still spent $2,945 between airfare and extras at the resort, I saved $18,211 on my mom’s 75th birthday getaway by using 356,000 points and miles, being smart about flight price tracking, and maximizing my World of Hyatt elite status.

Here’s how the savings broke down:

  • $11,325 on hotel rooms by using World of Hyatt points (and transferring Chase Ultimate Reward points)
  • $2,076 from flight price tracking
  • $3,810 from World of Hyatt Globalist upgrades
  • $1,000 by using Aeroplan’s Pay Yourself Back feature

Effectively, I reduced the trip costs by over 85 percent and still gave my mom the exceptional birthday celebration she’ll never forget.

Paul Rubio is an award-winning travel journalist and photographer. His byline appears in AFAR, Conde Nast Traveler, Fodor’s, LUXURY, MSN, NerdWallet, Palm Beach Illustrated, Yahoo Lifestyle and more. He has visited 133 countries (and counting) over the past 20 years and won 27 national awards for his writing and photography. When he’s not plotting out his next trip, Paul loves to spend time at home watching reruns of Portlandia and Parks and Recreation with his husband and rescue dog, Camo.
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