Editors Note: Two Card Trips is a series of articles that show how you could book a trip using points/miles earned from just two different credit cards. Today’s two card trip takes us to Puerto Vallarta with points earned from the Citi Premier and the Hilton Ascend card.
Let’s jump right in!
The Two Credit Cards
Let’s take a look at two credit cards that don’t get a lot of attention: the Citi Premier and the Hilton Honors Ascend Card from American Express.
The Citi Premier has a welcome bonus of 50,000 Citi ThankYou Points when you make $4,000 in purchases within 3 months of opening the account. You’ll earn 3X points per dollar on travel (including gas stations), 2X points on dining and entertainment, and 1X point everywhere else.
The Hilton Honors Ascend Card from American Express comes with a welcome bonus of 150,000 Hilton Honors points when you spend $3,000 in purchases within your first 3 months of card membership. You’ll earn 12X Hilton Honors points per dollar at hotels and resorts in the Hilton Portfolio, 6X points at U.S. restaurants, U.S. supermarkets, and U.S. gas stations, and 3X points everywhere else.
The Hilton Ascend card also grants you automatic Hilton Honors Gold status (with the ability to get complimentary Diamond status if you spend $40,000 on the card in a calendar year), a Priority Pass Select membership with 10 free lounge visits per year, and a Free Weekend Night Reward if you spend $15,000 in a calendar year.
Where to Stay
The Hilton Puerto Vallarta Resort is an all-inclusive resort, meaning that food and drink, activities, and entertainment are complimentary for hotel guests. Award stays range from 49,000 to 70,000 points per night depending on the season. For example, weekends in May and June were 49,000 points per night for one guest, 58,000 points per night for two guests, and 70,000 points per night for 3-4 guests.
Note that Hilton Honors award prices fluctuate depending on a variety of factors – including dates, length of stay, and the number of guests – with maximum per-night costs ranging from 5,000 to 95,000 points for standard rooms. The majority of hotels are in the 30,000–40,000 range.
In December, rates were 70,000 points per night regardless of the number of guests (up to 4).
Hilton also gives you the option to pay with a combination of points & money: they’ll use the “Honors Discount” rate and prorate it against the number of points you want to spend. So for example, in May you could pay $274 in cash, 58,000 points, or anywhere in between (e.g. 29,000 points + $137 in cash.
If you’re traveling with kids, this hotel charges different rates for depending on their ages: children under 5 have no extra fees; children ages 5-12 cost $65 per night per child, and children ages 13+ are considered adults. If your 5 to 12-year-olds are included as adults in the reservation, you won’t have to pay anything extra.
So, there’s a bit of strategy here: if you’re traveling in December and it will cost 70,000 points per night regardless of the number of guests, then you can save money by including the kids as adults on the reservation; if you’re traveling in May, you can choose between spending more points to add them as adults, or spend $65/night and save the points for a future trip.
How to Get There
One of the great things about Citi ThankYou points is that they can be transferred to 15 different airline mileage programs, including Avianca LifeMiles and Singapore Airlines Krisflyer (both great options for booking flights on Star Alliance airlines like United and Lufthansa), and Air France/KLM Flying Blue and Virgin Atlantic Flying Club (which work well for booking flights on Delta).
You can also redeem points directly for cash tickets at a rate of 1.25 cents per point – so the 50,000-point welcome bonus could buy $625 in airfare. This means you have a lot of options and flexibility when planning your travels!
If Alaska Airlines is an option for you to get to Puerto Vallarta, you can transfer Citi ThankYou Points to the Singapore Airlines Krisflyer program and use them to book your Alaska Airlines flights. Alaska flies to Puerto Vallarta from Los Angeles, Orange County, San Diego, and San Francisco year round, and seasonally from Portland and Seattle, and those flights will cost you 12,000 miles each way (24,000 miles round-trip).
If Alaska Airlines isn’t an option for you, both Avianca Lifemiles and Singapore Krisflyer charge 17,500 miles each way (35,000 miles round trip) for United Airlines flights between the US and Mexico.
You can also book Aeromexico flights with Avianca Lifemiles, but the rates are worse – 22,500 points each way or 45,000 points round-trip.
Depending on where you’re traveling from, that may not be a great deal – since you can book cash tickets directly using your ThankYou points at a rate of 1.25 cents per point. Transferring 35,000 points to Avianca or Singapore is only a deal if a cash ticket would cost more than $437.50. And keep in mind that when you book a paid ticket with your ThankYou points, you’ll also earn airline miles on your ticket!
If you decide to rent a car and venture out on your own, you can also use your ThankYou points to pay for your rental car through the ThankYou Rewards website. Just like booking flights, 1 ThankYou point = 1.25 cents.
So a $200 car rental would cost 16,000 points. Alternately, you can use your Citi Premier in the Uber app to earn 3 ThankYou points for every dollar spent on your trips.
Welcome Bonus Restrictions
Citi has some welcome bonus eligibility and approval rules you should be aware of before you apply. For the Citi Premier card, you will not receive bonus points if you have opened or closed a Citi ThankYou Preferred, Citi ThankYou Premier, Citi Premier, or Citi Prestige credit card in the past 24 months.
The welcome bonus for the Hilton Honors Ascend Card from American Express is not available to applicants who have ever held a Hilton Honors Ascend Card or its predecessor, the Hilton Honors Surpass Card. American Express “may also consider the number of American Express Cards you have opened and closed as well as other factors in making a decision on your welcome offer eligibility.”
With just the welcome bonuses from two credit cards, it’s possible to book round-trip flights from the US to Puerto Vallarta for two people and three nights at the all-inclusive Hilton Puerto Vallarta, depending on the time of year you are traveling. If you combine points and cash, you can easily extend your hotel stay for just a little more!
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