Book this, not that: 3 Caribbean island getaways to book with points — and 2 you might skip
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There are countless beaches in the world but, as with anything in life, the options are not all created equally. Some islands are more heavily visited, some have limited lodging options and some are simply easier to get to using your points and miles than others. (And of course, some have varying pandemic-related rules and cases.)
While there’s no one right or wrong answer on where to go and how to get there if you are beach-vacation bound, there are things to know as you consider how to book the right island trip for your situation. And even if you think you’ve got your island getaway all planned out, the way life goes these days, you may find yourself needing to replace one island destination with another on short notice as restrictions ebb and flow.
With that in mind, here’s some help with some Caribbean-focused awards you want to book — and a few you might want to stay away from.
Book: Hyatt Ziva/Zilara Rose Hall
The main problem I have with many Caribbean resorts is that the cost of the food and activities can add up quickly. And, in the case of remote resorts, you can’t always just walk down the street to an affordable coffee shop or lunch spot.
However, you can get around this by booking an all-inclusive resort, such as the family-oriented Hyatt Ziva or adults-only Hyatt Zilara. Ziva and Zilara resorts can be found across Mexico and the Caribbean, but the Rose Hall resorts are some of my favorites.
The two resorts are adjacent to each other on Jamaica’s Montego Bay and share many amenities, though children are relegated to the Ziva side. All stays include unlimited meals and drinks — and food is actually restaurant-quality — 24-hour room service, entertainment and non-motorized water sports. Award bookings cost 25,000 World of Hyatt points per night for single or double occupancy.
Book: The Ritz-Carlton, Aruba
The Ritz-Carlton Aruba is one of the fanciest places you can stay on the island.
It’s located on a quiet stretch of Palm Beach, and although there are 320 rooms and the service is still as personalized and attentive as you’d expect from a Ritz-Carlton. All rooms have balconies with ocean views, there are two ocean-view swimming pools, there’s a relaxing spa, an onsite kids club and a 24-hour casino, making this resort great for families and couples alike.
Cash rates can climb as high as $1,000 a night during peak season, making this a great opportunity to get high value from your Marriott Bonvoy points. As a Category 8 property, off-peak nights will cost you 70,000 points, standard nights 85,000 and peak nights 100,000 points apiece. Better yet, the usual service charge doesn’t apply to award stays at this property.
If you book a club-level room, you’ll have access to an exclusive lounge with five food and beverage servings every day, including breakfast, lunch, mid-day snacks and evening hors d’oeuvres and cocktails. (Just remember, most normal Marriott Platinum perks don’t apply to Ritz-Carlton stays.)
Book: Zemi Beach Resort, LXR Hotels
The Zemi Beach Resort, part of Hilton’s LXR Hotels & Resorts group, is ideal for those who hate massive resorts that have hundreds, if not thousands, of rooms, such as the 1,800-room Grand Hyatt Baha Mar in the Bahamas. It has just 76 rooms and suites and sits right on the water on Anguilla’s tranquil Shoal Bay East.
LXR is Hilton’s fledgling luxury brand and this property has already made a name for itself by providing personalized, friendly service. Standard award nights typically cost 95,000 Hilton Honors points per night. That’s worth $570 based on TPG valuations, which is a pretty sweet deal considering the cash rate is often around $900 per night. Plus, if you have Hilton Honors elite status, you’ll get a fifth night free when booking five or more consecutive award nights.
To get there, you can either fly directly to Clayton J. Lloyd Airport (AXA) in Anguilla or take a boat shuttle from Princess Juliana Airport (SXM) on St. Maarten, just know that to enter the country, there are currently a number of pre-travel and on-arrival tests and COVID-related precautions you will need to navigate.
Skip: The Cove at Atlantis
Although it’s the most luxurious tower you can book with points at the 4,000-room Atlantis complex in the Bahamas, you’ll likely want to avoid staying at The Cove unless you are all-in on the Atlantis waterpark.
This is a Category 8 Marriott Bonvoy property so you’ll be paying anywhere between 70,000 to 100,000 Marriott points per night — the same amount of points required to stay at the new Ritz-Carlton in Turks and Caicos or some even more aspirational properties like the St. Regis Maldives.
On top of that, you’ll be on the hook for a $67 daily resort fee, an additional $75 each per night for the third/fourth guest in the room plus a mandatory gratuity per person per day. Not to mention, the food at Atlantis is overpriced and the quality isn’t generally regarded as great.
Skip: The St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort, Puerto Rico
The St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort went through a massive renovation in 2018 and offers beautiful grounds. With paid rates typically hovering around $1,000, it’s also understandable that the hotel costs 70,000 to 100,000 Marriott Bonvoy points per night.
That said, it charges a hefty $99 nightly resort fee (that comes out to $108 with taxes), making award stays here much less desirable than somewhere that waives resort fees on award stays. And this resort fee doesn’t provide some spectacular service — it covers things like full service at the pool and beach, along with umbrellas and towels on the beach — both of which should be included in the price of entry at a beach resort.
While they ultimately enjoyed their stay, a TPG staffer that visited the property in 2019 noted that the rooms felt a bit generic, the food options were limited and the service was slow at times. So, go here if Puerto Rico really calls to you, but we’re going to skip this one for now as you’re still going to end up spending a lot of cash to go along with your points.
In some ways, a beach vacation is a beach vacation. You’ll probably have fun in the sun at whichever of these hotels you book. And, if you have your heart set on one that we’re skipping, it could still be the best bet for you.
However, as you can see, some properties typically promise a better experience and far better value from your hard-earned points than others. So, our recommendation is to try to go for the ones that give the best bang for your points.
Featured photo of the Hyatt Zilara Rose Hall by Benji Stawski/The Points Guy.
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