As a credit-card newbie, it’s difficult to imagine booking reward flights or hotel nights without having to amass a ton of points and miles and waiting until the sun rises in the west and sets in the east to accumulate enough for a trip. Earning free nights and flights seems intimidating at first, but it doesn’t have to take ages, and you can book a simple trip by applying for just two credit cards.
In this installment of the series, we’re going to book a hypothetical trip to Los Cabos in Mexico with the help of two credit cards: the Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Card and the IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card.
Flight to Los Cabos
Southwest Airlines flies to Los Cabos International Airport, which serves both the San Jose del Cabo and Cabo San Lucas areas, from many airports directly, including Austin, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, Oakland, Santa Ana and San Diego. Of course, if Southwest flies to your preferred airport, you can book connecting flights to Los Cabos from most departure cities.
Southwest Rapid Rewards is the airline’s frequent flyer program, and its points can be used to book any open seat on any Southwest flight. Because the airline has a revenue-based award program, the number of points required for a flight varies based on its cash cost at the time of booking. More expensive flights require more points; less expensive flights require fewer points.
After spending just $1,000 on purchases with the Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card, you’ll earn 40,000 Rapid Rewards points to use toward flights. These bonus offers can vary, though, so you might be able to get a higher bonus offer if you time your application right.
Because flight award rates depend on how much a flight costs, there’s no set price. Depending on your route and travel dates, it’s possible to find flights to Los Cabos for 3,500 (yes, you read that right) to 15,000 miles per leg. One bonus easily can cover one, two or more round-trip flights to Mexico. If you’re flexible with your travel dates, don’t be afraid to play with the search calendar to find the lowest prices.
The Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card comes with a $149 annual fee, but it comes with tons of perks. You get to enjoy things like a $75 Southwest travel credit, four upgraded boarding positions per year (when available), 20% back on in-flight drinks and food, and 7,500 anniversary Rapid Rewards points every year you pay your annual fee.
The $75 travel credit easily cuts the cost of holding the card in half. Additionally, the four upgraded boarding credits allow you to secure a position in the A1 to A15 boarding group, which will give you a chance to sit closer to the plane’s nose and likely together with your travel companion. Typically, these boarding position upgrades cost $30 to $50 per flight, and you can extract quite a bit of value from the card’s benefits. Why scrounge for a middle seat in the back when you can be one of the first to board?
Lodging in San Jose del Cabo
Did you know that you can book all-inclusive resorts, just like regular hotels, with points? This strategy saves you money you’d otherwise spend on food, drinks and entertainment and keeps more cash in your wallet for day trips and excursions. For budget travelers, all-inclusive hotels are the way to go.
Mexico is full of some amazing all-inclusive properties, and if you’re sitting on a stash of IHG Rewards points, you can stay at Holiday Inn Resort Los Cabos without spending a dime. A reward night here goes for 40,000 points per night in a standard garden-view room and provides accommodation for two adults and up to two kids ages 12 and under who stay for free.
If you happen to have collected no IHG points, don’t fret because you can easily obtain them by applying for the IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card. Depending on when you apply, the card offers 80,000 to 120,000 points for a welcome offer, which means you can earn enough points to book two to three nights at the Holiday Inn Resort Los Cabos for you and your family.
Besides points, the IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card offers Platinum Elite status to cardholders, an anniversary free night upon each renewal and an opportunity to book four reward nights for the price of three. So, if you’re able to earn 120,000 IHG points, your three free nights turn into four! Extending your vacation at no additional cost has never been this easy.
The card has an annual fee of $89, which isn’t waived for the first year, but it’s a small price to pay for a few nights at an all-inclusive hotel in Mexico.
A vacation full of sun, sand and sea is yours to enjoy with a little strategy and minimum time investment.
Keep in mind that Chase restricts applicants by an unwritten rule called “5/24” among those in the know. If you’ve opened more than five credit card accounts with any bank in the last 24 months, you likely can’t get approved for any Chase credit cards at the moment.
Both the Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card and the IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card are restricted by the rule, and getting both of these cards isn’t an option for those who have dabbled in the hobby recently. However, if your recent credit history is clean and you have a good to excellent credit score, then the door is wide open and you can start opening Chase cards to your heart’s desire.
Make sure you plan out your spending strategy, meet all the minimum-spending requirements and pay off the balance in full every month. A free vacation is anything but free when you carry a balance on your credit cards as the fees quickly negate your rewards.
Mexico is already one of the most affordable vacation destinations, especially for those in the United States, but credit card rewards make it even more economical. After you cover the cost of flights, lodging, food and drinks with points, all you have to pay for are activities. Los Cabos has plenty to do, including taking a boat trip to the famous Arch of Cabo San Lucas, snorkeling at Playa del Amor or sailing at sunset, which sure sounds nice right about now.
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