Top 9 Southwest international destinations for families
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It is no wonder Southwest is one of TPG’s top airlines for families. Southwest offers flexible change and cancellation policies, makes using your points easy, allows for family boarding and you can check two bags for free (and bring a full-sized carry-on). On top of that, Southwest will actually fly your family to some awesome international destinations.
True, the airline might not offer flights to see castles in Europe, scuba dive the Great Barrier Reef in Australia or go on safari in Africa, but if you are in the market for a pretty sweet beach destination outside of the U.S., Southwest can probably take you there. In fact, the airline flies to 14 international airports throughout the Caribbean, Mexico and Central America. And although not international, let’s not forget about Puerto Rico and Southwest’s five destinations in Hawaii.
The best part about Southwest Airlines is that it makes it incredibly easy for a family member to fly with you for free. Yes, free (other than taxes). If you’ve never heard of the Southwest Companion Pass, now is the time to pay attention.
To earn the Companion Pass, you need to earn 125,000 qualifying points in a calendar year. Fortunately, the bonus points earned from the Southwest credit cards count as qualifying points, which make the current limited-time welcome offer across all of its personal cards even more enticing.
Right now, you can earn up to 80,000 bonus points on the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card, Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card, and Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card — Earn up to 80,000 points. Earn 50,000 points after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months. Earn an additional 30,000 points after you spend $10,000 on purchases in the first 9 months.
Aruba is quite possibly one of my favorite family-friendly Caribbean islands. The water is calm and crystal clear, the beach is long and wide, there are a ton of point redemption hotel opportunities and you’ll find many kid-friendly activities throughout the island. The weather is also almost always perfect, and since the island is outside of the hurricane belt, it’s a very popular destination to visit in the summer and fall. I personally love that Aruba is safe, which allows families to feel comfortable taking their kids away from the resort and explore the rest of the island.
I’ve already taken my now 6-year-old daughter to Aruba twice: once when she was 18 months and again when she was 2.5 years old. Out of all of our (many) beach vacations, my husband and I still talk about how much we love Aruba for a family vacation.
Fly Into: Aruba (AUA) with nonstop flights from Houston (HOU), Fort Lauderdale (FLL) and Baltimore (BWI) on Southwest.
The Bahamas is a great option for a family-friendly vacation, especially since Baha Mar opened its doors. Within the complex, you have the Rosewood, SLS and, of course, the Grand Hyatt, which is probably the best option if you are traveling with your kids (and want to use points). And, you still have Atlantis on Paradise Island, which I used to dream about while growing up. Being able to slide through a shark tank is definitely on the “wow” factor for every single child!
I personally love how close the Bahamas is to the U.S. mainland as it makes for a short and easy flight, especially for those coming from the East Coast. Spending the least amount of time in an airplane with kids as possible is ideal, especially for a long weekend type of getaway. Southwest prices to Nassau are usually very favorable and that’s something to consider when you are purchasing plane tickets for an entire family. Just last year, I flew my family of four to Nassau and spent only 18,000 Southwest Rapid Rewards points per ticket round-trip coming from Boston. And although we are a family of four, I only had to purchase three tickets as my daughter was my companion due to my Southwest Companion Pass.
Fly Into: Nassau (NAS), with nonstop flights from Houston (HOU), Fort Lauderdale (FLL) and Baltimore (BWI) on Southwest.
Grand Cayman, known for its picture-perfect Seven Mile Beach, is an ideal destination for families looking for a relaxing beach getaway. Here you’ll find soft white sand, crystal clear waters and many kid-friendly activities throughout the island. And if you haven’t heard about Stingray City, this is a must-do adventure during your visit. There are not too many places where you can actually swim with stingrays, but Grand Cayman has you covered.
For those looking to redeem their hotel points for a free night stay, Grand Cayman is the perfect place. It has everything from budget-conscious to high-end luxury and everything in between. The Westin Grand Cayman is currently on my radar, and I love that I can get there by using my Marriott Bonvoy points for the stay, combined with Southwest points and the Companion Pass for flights.
Fly Into: Grand Cayman (GCM), with nonstop flights from Houston (HOU), Fort Lauderdale (FLL) and Baltimore (BWI) on Southwest.
Costa Rica is perfect for those seeking some variety in their vacation — you can start with the Arenal Volcano, and then head to the rainforest and finish by surfing at the beach. Don’t miss the thrill-seeking activities of whitewater rafting and zip-lining along the way. In my opinion, Costa Rica is a better-suited vacation for families who are past the baby and toddler stage, although you can still just relax and get pampered in some great resorts with younger kids.
For those looking to use their hotel points, the Andaz Costa Rica in Papagayo will give you the biggest bang for your buck. Although it is now a Category 5 property costing 20,000 World of Hyatt points a night, this hotel provides an amazing not-to-be-missed value. Not to mention, the kids club there is absolutely free for kids four and up.
If you are looking to fly Southwest, know that it actually flies into two airports: San Jose and Liberia. This allows you to start your vacation in one area and then travel around the country departing from another area, if desired.
- Liberia (LIR), with nonstop flights from Baltimore (BWI) and Houston (HOU) on Southwest.
- San Jose (SJO), with nonstop flights from Baltimore (BWI), Houston (HOU) and Ft. Lauderdale (FLL) on Southwest.
If you’re looking for an all-inclusive for your family, the Dominican Republic is the place to be. Vacationing there with your family is easy as it is one of those places where you do not really have to leave the resort. Instead, just relax at the pool and beach. There are many kids club opportunities and, typically, nightly entertainment. My family had a great vacation in the Dominican last year at The Reserve at Paradisus Punta Cana and later this year I am targeting a visit to the Hyatt Ziva Cap Cana. Of course, I flew to Punta Cana on Southwest with my Companion Pass and have the same plan for this year’s upcoming trip as well.
The Westin Puntacana Resort & Club is not all-inclusive, but can be booked for just 35,000 Marriott Rewards points per night during a standard date. This opens up the ability to use a Marriott up to 35k certificate from cards like the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card or Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card.
Just keep in mind that Southwest only flies to Punta Cana within the Dominican. It is a fairly large country with many different resort areas, so make sure to plan your hotel(s) accordingly. On a side note, the Punta Cana Airport will also allow you to swim outside while overlooking the airport operations if you have Priority Pass. This is a great way to keep your kids occupied while waiting at the airport.
Fly Into: Punta Cana, with nonstop flights from Ft. Lauderdale (FLL), Baltimore (BWI), Chicago (MDW), St. Louis (STL), Atlanta (ATL) and Houston (HOU) on Southwest.
Southwest actually flies to four destinations in Mexico — Cabo, Puerto Vallarta, Cancun and Cozumel. Getting to Mexico is actually quite easy on Southwest as it serves many destinations throughout the U.S. and has a ton of nonstop flights, which is great for families. For the most part, there are many departure options 365 days a year. Some of the other destinations on this list run on a more seasonal schedule, giving you some limitations, but with Mexico, the options are pretty endless.
Related: Best times to visit Mexico
Mexico can even be more economical than many of the Caribbean destinations served by Southwest listed here. There are a ton of all-inclusive opportunities and that’s ideal so you don’t have to constantly open your wallet for food or shell out top dollars for your children to enjoy a kid club.
- Cabo San Lucas (SJD), with nonstop flights from Houston (HOU), Austin (AUS), Baltimore (BWI), Chicago (MWD), Denver (DEN), Sacramento (SMF), Oakland (OAK), San Jose (SJC), Los Angeles (LAX) and San Diego (SAN).
- Puerto Vallarta (PVR), with nonstop flights from Houston (HOU), Denver (DEN), Oakland (OAK) and San Diego (SAN).
- Cancun (CUN), with nonstop flights from Ft. Lauderdale (FLL), Baltimore (BWI), Pittsburgh (PIT), Columbus (CMH), Atlanta (ATL), Milwaukee (MKW), Chicago (MDW), Indianapolis (IND), Nashville (BNA), St. Louis (STL), New Orleans (MSY), Denver (DEN), Austin (AUS), Houston (HOU) and San Antonio (SAT).
- Cozumel (CZM), with nonstop flights from Houston (HOU).
Turks and Caicos Islands
Turks and Caicos is one of those destinations that has it all — white sandy beaches, amazing restaurants, lots of adventure and great nightlife. And while this destination might be high on your list for a relaxing beach getaway, there is probably one reason you have yet to visit: It is incredibly expensive! There are many luxurious and family-friendly hotels throughout the island, and you do have to dig as deep into your pockets to afford them. Fortunately though, with Hyatt’s partnership with Small Luxury Hotels you now have two properties to stay at using your World of Hyatt points. Also, there are plans for the Andaz Turks and Caicos to open in 2021, which will allow families to use their hard-earned Hyatt points for an award stay. For other non-chain properties, you can use your Citi Prestige for your 4th night free as this is still an island not to be missed.
The information for the Citi Prestige has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
Fly Into: Providenciales (PLS), with nonstop flights from Baltimore (BWI) and Fort Lauderdale (FLL) on Southwest.
If Central America is on your family’s horizon, you can fly to Belize on Southwest Airlines. Belize offers a ton for families of all ages, including the rainforest, world-class club diving and beautiful beaches.
While buying your own undeveloped island for less than a New York City studio apartment is an option, you can also use your hotel points for a free night stay. Save up your Hilton Honors points and stay at the Mahogany Bay Resort & Beach Club, Curio Collection by Hilton for 50,000-80,000 Hilton Honors points a night. (You do need to take a 15-minute flight or water-taxi to get to this resort). Get your fifth night free by having status and take advantage of Diamond perks simply by having the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card.
Fly Into: Belize City (BZE), with nonstop flights from Denver (DEN), Houston (HOU) and Fort Lauderdale (FLL) on Southwest.
Similar to Mexico, Jamaica also offers many all-inclusive options for your family — if that is your thing. Although there are a few international airports in Jamaica, note that Southwest only flies into Montego Bay. This means you’ll want to find a hotel on the western side of the island. Fortunately, you have a few options from the Hyatt Ziva Rose Hall (or Hyatt Zilara Rose Hall for an adults-only getaway), the Hilton Rose Hall Resort & Spa or the Holiday Inn Resort Montego Bay.
I personally love the option to be able to use my hotel loyalty points at an all-inclusive property. This provides the perfect way to truly have a “free” vacation and not be hit with expensive resort food. Also, at the Holiday Inn, you’ll receive your fourth night free simply by having the IHG® Rewards Club Premier Credit Card.
Related: Best Jamaica activities with kids
Fly Into: Belize City (BZE), with nonstop flights from Denver (DEN), Houston (HOU) and Fort Lauderdale (FLL) on Southwest.
The Southwest Companion Pass will easily allow your family to experience some amazing international destinations at quite a discount. Having the Southwest Companion Pass for the past 12 years has opened up travel to us in ways we couldn’t have otherwise experienced. It has allowed my family to save thousands and thousands of dollars throughout the years.
Featured photo courtesy of Southwest.
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