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TPG Contributor Michael Spelfogel outlines some lesser-known international options on Southwest in case you’re looking to travel abroad and you’ve got some Rapid Rewards points burning a hole in your pocket.
With nearly 4,000 flights scheduled every day, Southwest’s route network is quite extensive — starting December 17, the airline will also offer nonstop service between Newark (EWR) and San Juan (SJU), making it a great option for people in the Northeast looking to escape the cold this winter. Since Southwest is such a popular choice on domestic routes, you might not realize it also offers service between the US and seven countries throughout Central America and the Caribbean. Here’s a look at Southwest’s lesser-known international flight options.
Fly Into: San José Del Cabo (SJD), with nonstop flights available daily from John Wayne Airport in Southern California (SNA), Denver (DEN) and Houston (HOU). Fares are cheapest from Houston (HOU), starting at about $260 round-trip this fall.
Why You Should Go: This city on Mexico’s Baja Peninsula is home to dramatic scenery, with large stone cliffs lining beautiful beaches. Cabo is also a popular spring break destination for college students, with many affordable resort options — Starwood, Hyatt, Marriott, Hilton and IHG all have properties nearby, so it shouldn’t be too hard to put those well-earned hotel rewards points to work.
Fly into: Puerto Vallarta (PVR), with daily nonstop flights from Santa Ana (SNA), Denver (DEN) and Houston (HOU). Fares are cheapest from Denver (DEN), starting at less than $300 for several fall dates.
Why You Should Go: Known for its cobblestone streets and hilly vistas, this West Coast Mexican city is a favorite for American expats and tourists alike. Located about an hour’s drive north, the secluded resort town of Punta de Mita is home to a luxurious Four Seasons Hotel and, one of our favorites, the St. Regis Punta Mita Resort.
Fly Into: Mexico City (MEX), with daily flights from Santa Ana (SNA) or twice-daily from Houston (HOU). The best round-trip fares are consistently less than $300 during the fall and winter from either city.
Why You Should Go: Mexico’s capital city is best known for its large festivals and for being a major cultural hub. From impressive, historic 17th-century churches to its thriving nightlife scene, Mexico City continues to become more and more popular with travelers looking to get a feel for Latin America without venturing too far from home.
Fly Into: Cancún (CUN), with twice-daily nonstop flights from Houston (HOU), Chicago (MDW) and Baltimore (BWI), and once-daily nonstop service from Denver (DEN), San Antonio (SAT), Atlanta (ATL) and Austin (AUS). Fares are cheapest from Houston (HOU), starting at about $260 round-trip this fall.
Why You Should Go: Cancún practically defines Mexico’s beach vacation culture, while its snorkeling and diving opportunities, Caribbean waters and nearby Mayan ruins keep tourists coming back all year long.
Fly Into: Belize City (BZE), with daily nonstop flights available from Houston (HOU). Fares are rarely less than $400 round-trip on this route, so keep an eye out for flight sales and other offers from Southwest that might bring the price down a bit.
Why You Should Go: Belize offers tropical jungles, gorgeous beaches, historic Mayan ruins, some of world’s best diving and snorkeling spots and friendly, English-speaking locals.
3. Costa Rica
Fly Into: Liberia (LIR), with daily nonstop flights from Los Angles (LAX) and Houston (HOU), and round-trip prices starting around $375 depending on when you go.
Why You Should Go: Costa Rica practically invented eco-tourism, and the country continues to develop its green appeal with rainforest resorts and jungle retreats. Located in the country’s Northwest corner, Liberia is close to some of Costa Rica’s best seaside resorts, like the Andaz Peninsula Papagayo Resort, where TPG spent his birthday this year.
Fly Into: San José (SJO), with daily nonstop flights from Houston (HOU) and Baltimore (BWI). Round-trip fares tend to start around $400 from either city, but we’ve also spotted prices closer to the $300 mark depending on when you visit.
Why You Should Go: Costa Rica’s capital city is a great starting point for adventures all around the country — both Arenal Volcano National Park and the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve are within a 3.5-hour drive of the city center.
Fly Into: Montego Bay (MBJ), with daily nonstop flights from Orlando (MCO), Houston (HOU), Chicago (MDW) and Baltimore (BWI). Prices start at about $400 for several fall dates from Houston (HOU).
Why You Should Go: Jamaica is a great warm weather destination all year round, providing visitors with the perfect blend of relaxation and night life, not to mention you can stay in a swanky overwater bungalow at the Sandals Resort in Montego Bay starting November 15.
Fly Into: Nassau (NAS), with daily nonstop flights from Fort Lauderdale (FLL) and Baltimore (BWI), with round-trip prices as low as $165 for the short 55-minute hop from South Florida.
Why You Should Go: There’s so much more to the Bahamas than what you’ll see from a cruise ship or luxury mega-resort. But if that’s more your style or you’re short on vacation time, treat yourself to a stay at the Atlantis Paradise Island Resort, (located just a 30-minute drive from the airport), which you can now book with Marriott Rewards points, or you can get a free stay with FoundersCard.
6. Dominican Republic
Fly Into: Punta Cana (PUJ), with daily flights from Atlanta (ATL), Baltimore (BWI) and Chicago (MDW). Round-trip tickets start at about $400 from Baltimore.
Why You Should Go: Over the past few years, the Dominican Republic has opened dozens of new resorts, including new Starwood and Marriott properties. Punta Cana is no longer a place where people go to simply lay on the beach all day — the city and surrounding areas now feature upscale (and inexpensive) bars, restaurants and clubs, and you’ll find activities like zip lining and waterfall repelling that appeal to all sorts of travelers. The “D.R.,” as the locals say, is sure to not disappoint.
Fly Into: Aruba (AUA), with daily flights from Orlando (MCO). Prices for a round-trip ticket start at about $350 during the fall.
Why You Should Go: This beautiful desert island, located just 60 miles north of South America, has traditionally been a stronghold for East Coasters looking for a warm vacation in the dead of winter. The beaches in Aruba are second to none, and you’ll find plenty of hotel and resort options for the perfect island getaway. Best of all, it’s part of the ABC islands — Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao — whose location beneath the Caribbean hurricane belt ensures near-perfect weather all year round.
Houston and Baltimore seem to have the most consistent and widespread service to these seven Latin American and Caribbean countries. And thanks to Southwest’s ever-expanding domestic network, these international cities continue to become more accessible and affordable for American travelers overall.
Have you flown internationally on Southwest? Tell us about it, below.