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All family trips are not created equally. Some itineraries are a much better fit for families than others, especially if your goal is to travel predominately using your points and miles. Over the past eight years of enjoying award travel with my own family, we have naturally enjoyed some trips a little more than the rest. The best trips for families traveling on a miles and points infused budget are not necessarily the ones that give you the best return for your miles on paper.
Using points and miles for extremely luxurious redemptions to fly Lufthansa first class or Singapore Suites, or to stay at the Park Hyatt Tokyo, can be great experiences, but redemptions that are stellar from a cents-per-mile perspective may not always line up with the perfect vacation itinerary for your family. Instead, the best family award trips are the ones that offer you a decent value for your points, but more importantly, align with where your family wants to be, and what they want to do.
Five of our own best family trips using points and miles are outlined below. While you will find a fancy hotel or two on there, at the heart of the best trips are the experiences that take place outside of the hotel room or airplane seat.
1. Explore the Andaz Costa Rica
If you like a perfect blend of a new passport stamp, outdoor adventures, swimming and beach time, you will be hard-pressed to find a better family destination than the Andaz Costa Rica.
Once you arrive, your family can take advantage of the complimentary kid’s club, the private beach house, multiple infinity pools, easy access to the jungle, horseback rides, waterfalls, nature tours and incredible food and coffee.
Why We Loved It
Your family can be as active or mellow at the Andaz Costa Rica as you want. The complimentary kid’s club for children ages four and up means that you can mix adult time with family time within the same day without spending hundreds of dollars on childcare. The coffee, drinks and ceviche at the Andaz Costa Rica are enough to make us want to return by themselves, but the lush jungle setting, complete with monkeys, seals the deal and made us repeat visitors.
How You Can Get There
At just 15,000 World of Hyatt points per night, or a Category 1 – 4 Hyatt award certificate, you can secure a sleek room at the Andaz Costa Rica without paying the going rate of hundreds of dollars per night. You can transfer points to the World of Hyatt program from Chase Ultimate Rewards and cards such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred. The World of Hyatt Credit Card offers you the chance to earn up to two Category 1-4 award certificates that you could use to cover a standard room at the Andaz Costa Rica.
The best value for award flights into Liberia, Costa Rica, (LIR) can often be found on Southwest or JetBlue, though the airport is also served by the major US airlines. However, due to its international location, traditional airline award charts may require more miles to travel to that zone than the carriers that tie the award price to the selling price of the ticket.
Those looking to expand their family should note that Costa Rica, and most of the entire region of Mexico, Central America, and beyond, are under Zika warnings as per the CDC.
2. Experience the Magic of Walt Disney World
We did not set out to be annual visitors to Walt Disney World, but life seems to have pushed us in that direction. While families should not feel like Disney is the only good destination for traveling families, the reality is that Disney knows what it’s doing. From Baby Care Centers in the parks to Magic Bands and FastPass+ reservations, there are may ways that Disney makes family travel pretty darn simple and fun. I have been to Disney with a child at just about every age and development stage from two months old through third grade, and every single trip has been special and unique.
Why We Love It
Disney Magic is real, and as long as you know how to plan in advance to secure your dining reservations at 180 days out and FastPlass+ reservations at 60 days from check-in (30 days if staying off-site), then Disney is charming, engaging and captivating for our girls. A dinner in Cinderella’s Castle may sound cliche to some who prefer exploring real castles in Europe, but for my three-year-old, being greeted by Cinderella, Aurora, Jasmine, Rapunzel and Tiana ranks higher than a stuffy tour of a real castle right now.
If anyone in your family has dietary restrictions, then Disney World jumps even higher on my list of recommendations as they manage those challenges like the professionals that they are.
How You Can Get There
Orlando International Airport (MCO) is served by all the major US airlines, so you have your pick of miles and awards to get you there. If you can fly to Orlando on an American Airlines-operated flight of 1,151 miles or less that has saver award availability, then you could book those flights from just 7,500 British Airways Avios. Southwest and JetBlue often have low-priced awards into MCO due to their revenue-based award pricing models. On our most recent trip to Orlando, we flew Spirit Airlines as prices were around $100 round-trip per person, making cash the better deal over using miles.
For your hotel stay, you can use Marriott Reward points to book nights at the Walt Disney World Swan or Walt Disney World Dolphin and enjoy most of the Disney Resort perks, though the cost to book award nights at these properties will increase dramatically in August 2018. There are some additional points-friendly hotels available in the Disney Springs area that now also convey most Disney Resort perks.
If you don’t need the Disney-specific perks, you can use Hyatt points to stay at the nearby Hyatt Grand Cypress. On our last few trips we have gone all-in and booked stay at true Disney Resort such as the Polynesian. This allowed us to enjoy all of the Disney perks, including the Magical Express Bus transportation to and from MCO, and be fully-immersed in Disney as Walt imagined it.
You can book a Disney Vacation package or Disney Resort hotel stay through Chase Travel using the points from your Chase Sapphire Reserve at a value of 1.5 cents each, or use the points from your Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card or Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard at a value of 1 cent each to cover the cost of a Disney Resort stay.
3. Indulge in a Fancy Trip to Paris
About a year before we welcomed our second daughter to the family, I took my oldest daughter for a girls-only fancy trip to Paris. We flew in lie-flat business-class seats, stayed at the Park Hyatt Paris-Vendôme, tasted macarons everywhere we went, played in the parks and even met up with Grandma Points and her sister for a three-generations Parisian experience.
Why We Love It
This trip was just about doing what the “girls” wanted at our own pace. We enjoyed the springtime weather, shopped for paintings and books along the Seine, and enjoyed the classic rides at Disneyland Paris.
We were experiencing Paris in a very comfortable and luxurious way thanks entirely to points and miles. We would have never been able to fly in lie-flat seats or stay at a high-end Park Hyatt without award travel. This trip was a concrete example of how many doors points and miles can open. Heck, even our delightful room service breakfast would have been out of range at nearly $200 were it not for my Hyatt elite status that made it essentially free. Four years later, I still remember how incredible and fluffy those eggs were…really.
How You Can Get There
You can fly to Europe round-trip in business class as we did from just 88,000 Amex Membership Reward points earned via cards such as the Amex EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express or The Platinum Card® from American Express transferred to Star Alliance partner ANA at a 1:1 ratio. United would want at least 120,000 MileagePlus miles for a business-class round-trip award on the same flights, so you can save big by starting to learn about various partner award charts, including ANA. Another idea is to brush up on the Air France Flying Blue program and keep your eyes open for a business-class award flight to Paris available from about 66,500 miles per direction plus taxes and fees. You can transfer points to Flying Blue from all of the major credit card programs, including Chase Ultimate Rewards, Amex Membership Rewards and the Citi ThankYou program.
To stay at the Park Hyatt Paris Vendôme as we did, it will now cost you 30,000 World of Hyatt points per night that you can earn with the World of Hyatt Credit Card or transfer from Chase Ultimate Rewards and cards such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred. Be aware that the maximum occupancy for a standard room at the Park Hyatt Paris-Vendôme is typically just two people, though some deluxe rooms can accommodate two adults and a child. The recently renovated Hyatt Regency Paris Etoile may be a more family-friendly option at just 15,000 points per night with standard rooms available that sleep up to two adults and one child.
If you need more space, you can also use your Hyatt points in Paris to book stays in multi-bedroom properties via Hyatt’s home rental partner, Oasis at a ratio of $200 in credit for 15,000 World of Hyatt points.
4. Hawaii, Hawaii and more Hawaii
Unless you happen to live on the West Coast, Hawaii is admittedly a distant destination. There are likely much closer and less expensive beaches to enjoy than Hawaii. But for us, Hawaii is so, so worth it. As long as you don’t just spend your time on Waikiki, you are in for a treat of a lifetime when you make the journey to this small group of islands in the middle of the vast Pacific.
Why We Love It
I’ve been to Hawaii about a half dozen times at this point, with more trips planned. I love everything about Hawaii, from the poke and shave ice, to the Hawaiian music, the surfing, the green mountains of Kauai and the picture-perfect resorts. When I try to describe how it feels to be in Hawaii, it is like you are floating because the air and temperature feel so perfect that you don’t feel anything. You feel absolutely perfect, and that is one of the many reasons that Hawaii is a top destination for our family.
How You Can Get There
If you live in a city with nonstop service on Alaska or American Airlines on the West Coast, or as far east as Phoenix, you can fly to Hawaii from 12,500 British Airways Avios each way. You can book economy round-trip awards on Delta-operated flights from 25,000 Korean SkyPass miles that you can transfer in from your Chase Sapphire Reserve. If you don’t want to mess with award availability, the companion certificate that comes with the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature credit card can knock down the total cash price for your family. I also recommend subscribing to @TPG_Alerts on Twitter, as the team does a great job sharing Hawaii airfare deals when they drop to the $300-$400 range per round-trip.
In terms of resorts, with families may want to check out the Hyatt Regency Maui, Grand Hyatt Kauai, St. Regis Princeville Resort on Kauai, Hilton Waikoba or the Grand Wailea.
5. Viva la Mexico
Since we live in Texas, Mexico is just a short plane ride away. The easily accessible location, postcard-perfect beaches, friendly people and vibrant culture make Mexico a fun destination for a short school break. Specifically, our family has very much enjoyed our Mexico vacations in Punta Mita and Cancun.
Why We Love It
In addition to being in a convenient location for those in the southern or western United States, Mexico offers tremendous family-friendly resorts and award values. The level of service we enjoyed at the St. Regis Punta Mita with our then two-month-old baby was both indulgent and attentive, yet not stuffy or overly formal.
The gated resort of the St. Regis Punta Mia is located on the Pacific Ocean about a 50-minute drive from Puerto Vallarta. There is a complimentary Kid’s Club for children ages 5 – 12 and nannies you can hire on an hourly rate. We wanted to take the nanny we hired home with us! Outside of the available childcare, we loved the deep blue ocean, multiple infinity pools and the fresh-caught seafood served by the water.
If your family is looking for an all-inclusive option in Mexico that you can book with points, I recommend the Hyatt Ziva Cancun. At the Hyatt Ziva Cancun we felt totally free to just enjoy our time together because everything was already covered by our award reservation, including the kid’s club, margarita bar, oceanside shrimp tacos and all of the surprisingly good restaurants.
At this family-friendly Hyatt Ziva all-inclusive resort, we were able to say yes to a visit to the dessert store, second breakfast, play time at the kid club, an evening show and poolside smoothies without stressing about the cost. It also didn’t hurt that the clear, turquoise water is truly breathtaking.
How You Can Get There
The great news is the St. Regis Punta Mita is about to get a lot more affordable using points. In August, the resort will be dropping from the current equivalent of 105,000 Marriott Rewards points per night to just 60,000 Marriott points per night. This is a steal for a resort that easily sells standard rooms for $500+ per night. The Hyatt Ziva in Cancun can be booked with 25,000 World of Hyatt points for double occupancy, but be aware that children ages three and up add to the points cost to the tune of an additional 12,500 Hyatt points per night.
Our favorite family trips don’t stop with these five top memories. If I were to go on (and on) you would hear about our family trip with a sleeping baby through Buckingham Palace in London, exploring the alleys of Edinburgh, horseback rides through Alaska, swimming with the stingrays in Grand Cayman and skiing through powder in Canada.
Points and miles have quite literally opened up the world for us, and we are grateful for every adventure, every memory, and every mile that made it all possible.
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