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TPG Contributor Lane Nieset explores the many ways to maximize your points and miles on a trip to Puerto Rico. (All photos by the author unless otherwise noted.)
Puerto Rico is an island that deserves much more time than just a few hours while your cruise ship is in port. Make this Caribbean island a destination of its own — no passport is required for US citizens — and spend time trekking through rain forests to waterfalls and kayaking through bioluminescent bays. The island is known not only for its natural beauty, but also its rich history, culture and, of course, for being the birthplace of one of the Caribbean’s favorite cocktails, the piña colada. Here are my best tips for getting to Puerto Rico and making the most of your stay with points and miles.
Despite being a small island (Puerto Rico is roughly the size of the state of Connecticut), there are a number of small airports, but the main airport — and one of the largest hubs serving Latin America and the Caribbean — is Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport (SJU), conveniently located just a few minutes from Isla Verde and San Juan’s Old Town.
American Airlines flies nonstop to SJU from Dallas (DFW), New York (JFK), Philadelphia (PHL), Charlotte (CLT), Chicago (ORD) and Miami (MIA), with MileSAAver awards starting at 30k AAdvantage miles round-trip in economy and 50k in business class after the recent AA devaluation.
Travelers can fly nonstop on Delta to SJU from Atlanta (ATL) and New York (JFK), with round-trip economy seats starting at 30k SkyMiles and round-trip business-class seats starting as low as 60k SkyMiles in April.
Another major player serving SJU is United Airlines, with nonstop flights from Houston (IAH), Chicago (ORD), Newark (EWR) and Washington, D.C. (IAD). Unlike Delta, United publishes an award chart, so redemptions will be the same throughout the US, with round-trip economy Saver Awards starting at 35k United MileagePlus miles, 60k for business class and 80k for first class.
You can also snag flights on JetBlue and Southwest Airlines. One way to score an award flight with Southwest to Puerto Rico is by applying for the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Card and spending $1,000 in the first three months to earn 40,000 points, more than enough for a roundtrip ticket from the US.
Where to Stay
The 397-room InterContinental San Juan is just minutes from Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport (SJU) and sits on one of the prettiest white-sand stretches of Isla Verde, the resort-laden part of San Juan. The hotel just wrapped up a $22 million renovation so expect spruced-up rooms with balconies overlooking the sea and top-notch resort amenities, from a lagoon-style pool to five restaurants and guest-only beach chairs lining the sand where you can sit and sip one of the hotel’s award-winning cocktails. Rates start at $209 or 50,000 IHG Rewards points per night in April.
For a budget-friendly IHG option that’s between Isla Verde and Old San Juan, the recently renovated 115-room Holiday Inn Express San Juan Condado Hotel is just a few blocks from Condado Beach and features free daily deluxe continental breakfast, as well as suites for apartment-style stays. Rates start at $116 or 25,000 IHG Rewards points per night in late March.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, The St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort, Puerto Rico is the island’s only AAA Five Diamond resort. Travelers will find the signature St. Regis butler service in the oceanfront suites sitting on a 483-acre former coconut plantation. The hotel is also home to a few other familiar amenities, from the 18-hole Robert Trent Jones, Jr. championship golf course to the Remède Spa and Jean-Georges Vongerichten-conceived restaurant, Fern. Rates at the SPG Category 7 hotel start at $612 or 35,000 Starpoints per night in April.
Also part of the SPG family, the W Retreat & Spa–Vieques Island sits just eight miles off Puerto Rico’s coast with 156 rooms decorated by Spanish designer Patricia Urquiola. The hotel is home to two private beaches as well as the infinity-edge WET pool with private cabanas and the poolside WET bar, which serves up Mediterranean drink specialties. The hotel also has an onsite car rental partner for guests who want to get adventurous and explore other corners of the island. Rates for the SPG Category 6 hotel start at $423 or 20,000 Starpoints per night in April.
Another one of Puerto Rico’s luxe lodging options is El Conquistador, A Waldorf Astoria Resort, set 300 feet above the Atlantic overlooking El Yunque National Forest. The hotel’s 984 rooms are scattered throughout five villages, which are accessible by tram. The sprawling resort is also home to the Coqui Water Park, featuring speed slides, a lazy river and an infinity pool. You’ll also find a whopping 23 restaurants and lounges, the 100-acre Palomino Island (with horseback riding and snorkeling opportunities), an Arthur Hills-designed golf course and the 26,000-square-foot Waldorf Astoria Spa with treatments incorporating custom blends of herbs and plants from the onsite organic garden. Rates at the Category 7 property start at $263 or 60,000 Hilton HHonors Points per night in late March.
The quickest and easiest way to get around is by cab, which can be hailed in major tourist spots like Old San Juan (restaurants and hotels can also call you one). Keep in mind that riding around in taxis can add up fast, with zone-mandated rates ranging from $8-$25 (a cab ride from Isla Verde to the Old Town costs about $20 for the 20-minute ride).
The most affordable way to get around San Juan is by using the public bus system, AMA, which costs 75 cents each way but requires a lot more time and patience. Once you reach a neighborhood like Old San Juan, the streets are extremely walkable so there’s no need to rely on public transportation.
If you’re heading to Puerto Rico’s islands, the Fajardo Station offers ferry rides for $2 to Vieques and $2.25 to Culebra, per person each way.
When paying for hotel rooms (or getting to them), be sure to maximize your rewards by using a credit card that earns a bonus on travel, like the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card (which gives you 2x the points on hotels and other travel expenses) or the Citi Thank You Premier Card (which gives you 3x the points on hotels and travel).
Puerto Rico is a lively island worth the time to explore. If you’re headed to the Caribbean, there are plenty of ways to use points and miles to make your trip more affordable, including both getting to and staying at one of the island’s hotels.
What are some of your best tips and tricks for scoring points and miles deals in Puerto Rico?
Even after the introduction of the Chase Sapphire Reserve, the Chase Sapphire Preferred is still a fantastic choice if you want to avoid the Reserve’s $450 annual fee, earn 2x on all travel & dining and earn a 50,000 point sign up bonus.
- Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $625 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
- Named Best Credit Card for Flexible Travel Redemption - Kiplinger's Personal Finance, July 2016
- 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
- Earn 5,000 bonus points after you add the first authorized user and make a purchase in the first 3 months from account opening
- No foreign transaction fees
- 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
- Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 50,000 points are worth $625 toward travel
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