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The larger islands of the Caribbean give travelers a myriad of points earning/redeeming hotels, but for those looking to explore the region’s smaller, less commercialized islands, finding lodging with redemption options can be a challenge. TPG Contributor Liana Lozada has found five smaller and lesser-known islands that still boast hotel options with points or perks, allowing beach seekers the opportunity to steer clear of the crowds while immersing themselves in a new culture.
1. Curaçao, Netherlands Antilles
This Dutch island is far south in the Caribbean Sea, putting it outside of the hurricane ring and creating a dry, desert-like climate. Though rising in cruise tourism numbers, the island still holds spectacular hidden enclaves, including the Santa Barbara Beach & Golf Resort, which sits on a private, 2,000-acre nature preserve.
Starting at $249 a night, the resort is listed on the American Express Travel portal, which allows holders of any American Express card (e.g., Platinum, Business Gold and EveryDay Preferred) to exchange Membership Rewards or earn bonus points when booking. As a Preferred Hotel & Resorts property, the Santa Barbara is also part of the iPrefer program, which allows guests to earn 1 point for every $1 they spend; a special iPrefer rate of $259 a night entitles members to a $100 hotel credit, free breakfast, an upgrade upon availability and double iPrefer points.
The all-suite, adults-only Floris Suite Hotel – Spa & Beach Club on Piscadera Bay has 72 suites, a full-service spa and a Roman-bath-style pool, and it starts at $109 a night. Book through the Visa Signature Hotels portal to receive perks like automatic upgrades and late check-out (when available) and complimentary breakfast and Wi-Fi.
If you bank reward points with either Marriott or Hilton, you’re also in luck on Curaçao — especially if you like to gamble. Set on six oceanfront acres of Piscadera Bay, the Category 7 Curacao Marriott Resort and Emerald Casino has six on-site dining options (including a swim-up bar) and a full-service spa — in addition to a casino — and starts at $149 or 35,000 points per night. Built on the site of a 16th-century fort, the Hilton Curaçao also features a casino and a full-service spa, but if the outdoors are more your thing, roam the 23 acres of tropical gardens or get PADI-certified at the on-site dive center. Rates start around $135 or 30,000 HHonors points per night.
2. St. Kitts & Nevis, West Indies
Officially known as the Federation of Saint Kitts and Nevis, this two-island country in the West Indies is the smallest sovereign state in the Americas. St. Kitts is the larger of the two islands, and presently offers the Category 7 St. Kitts Marriott Resort & The Royal Beach Casino, which starts at $149 or 35,000 points per night for a standard garden-view room. (If you book five consecutive award nights, you’ll only pay for four.)
In early 2016, keep an eye out for the opening of the 5-star Park Hyatt St. Kitts, which is likely to fall under Hyatt Gold Passport’s highest tier, Category 7. Guests here will have access to a huge spa with an outdoor treatment room, as well as access to an 18-hole championship golf course, a beach club and a 300-acre yacht marina.
On neighboring Nevis — which lies about two miles southeast of St. Kitts — The Four Seasons enables you to golf, dive and snorkel, take a cooking class, visit the on-site spa, smoke Cuban cigars, play tennis and float/swim/loll in three different infinity pools. Rooms here start at $375 a night, but the property is also part of American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts (Amex FHR), which allows cardholders of the Amex Platinum and Business Platinum to receive perks like the fourth consecutive night free, a $100 spa credit and complimentary Wi-Fi and breakfast.
Also on Nevis, you’ll find two beach-side resorts with pools and fine-dining options. The Nisbet Plantation Beach Club (rooms starting at $225) and the Montpelier Plantation and Beach (rooms starting at $150) are both listed on the Visa Signature Hotels portal, which allows holders of Visa Signature credit cards (including the Chase Sapphire Preferred, the Hyatt card, the Marriott Rewards Premier, Southwest Premier, Capital One Venture and the Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve) to score room upgrades, free breakfast and internet, and food and beverage credits.
3. Vieques Island, Puerto Rico
An underdeveloped island municipality seven miles off Puerto Rico’s coast, Vieques is home to the Caribbean’s largest wildlife refuge, as well as one of the world’s brightest bioluminescent bays. Vieques is reachable either via a 23-minute Cape Air flight from San Juan Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport (SJU) ($129-$149 non-refundable or $199 refundable, round-trip) or by a one-hour, $2 ferry that requires you to arrive one hour in advance.
The humble infrastructure here is vastly different from the busy main island, but visitors can still find a slice of luxury at the W Retreat & Spa, Vieques Island. Rates at the W Vieques Island begin at $255 or 20,000 Starpoints per night, and the property is also listed with both Amex FHR and Visa Signature Hotels.
4. Margarita Island, Venezuela
Located off Venezuela’s northeastern coast, Margarita Island isn’t generally marketed to Americans, despite the fact that the island’s largest city, Porlamar, has a population of almost 500,000 people. However, many Venezuelans do visit the island on holiday, making a trip here an almost complete cultural immersion — with access to stunning, unspoiled beaches. To get here, fly to Caracas’ Simon Bolivar International Airport (CCS), which is served by Delta through Atlanta (ATL) and American Airlines through Miami (MIA), then connect to Porlamar’s small Del Caribe-Santiago Mariño Caribbean International Airport (PMV), roughly 20 km (about 12 miles) from the city center.
Part of Wyndham’s newly updated rewards program, the recently renovated Wyndham Isla Margarita Concorde is set within walking distance of two white-sand beaches and offers a sprawling pool, sea views and 205 rooms and suites that start at $142 or 15,000 points per night (earn two or three free nights with the Wyndham Rewards Visa Card). Note that learning a few Spanish phrases could be helpful here, despite the fact that English is spoken at the front desk and restaurants. The hotel is popular with families, couples and weekend revelers (who party at the on-site disco), so be sure to ask for a quiet room on an upper floor, especially if you’re staying on a Friday and/or Saturday night — that’s when the dance floor is really hopping.
5. Scrub Island, British Virgin Islands
Fancy a stay on a private island? Fly to St. Thomas’ Cyril E. King Airport (STT) on United, JetBlue, Delta, American or Spirit from various US destinations (some seasonal), then take a taxi to the dedicated ferry for Scrub Island. The Marriott Autograph Collection property Scrub Island Resort, Spa & Marina is only attainable by this ferry, ensuring a relaxing retreat away from the holiday hordes on its sister island. This luxurious compound features three beaches, watersports galore, casual and fine dining and a hillside villa spa. A night at the Category 9 Scrub Island starts at $369 or 45,000 Marriott Rewards points. If you don’t have the points stash needed to stay here, be sure to check out How to Book Marriott Award Stay When You’re Short on Points.
And Don’t Forget Airbnb
Though Airbnb has made recent inroads in Cuba, it’s been offering local lodgings on many other Caribbean islands for quite a while now. Ranging from laid-back to high-end — and roughly $40-350 per night — you’ll find Airbnb digs on St. Kitts and Nevis, Curaçao, Vieques Island and Margarita Island, in addition to many other small isles in the region. Check out Maximizing Points and Miles with Airbnb and VRBO, and keep in mind that Airbnb is a Membership Rewards partner, allowing you to redeem points for Airbnb gift cards in denominations of $100 or $250.
What are your favorite small islands in the Caribbean — and where have you stayed there? While this premium card has one of the highest annual fees on the market, it has several valuable perks that could make it worthwhile, depending on your travel patterns. These include a $200 annual airline rebate, lounge access, free Hilton Gold status and free Starwood Preferred Guest Gold status.
While this premium card has one of the highest annual fees on the market, it has several valuable perks that could make it worthwhile, depending on your travel patterns. These include a $200 annual airline rebate, lounge access, free Hilton Gold status and free Starwood Preferred Guest Gold status.