In the spring of 2015 Nicoleen and I spent 4 nights at Couples Resort in Negril, Jamaica. Although we got the airfare for free by using the points and miles tactic, we paid to stay at the resort. In this trip report I’ll go into detail on how we got the free airfare and give a review of the resort.
Origin of Concept
I graduated the U of MN in June 2013 and gained full time employment in January 2014. My graduation present to myself was my trip to Europe that next summer. But even before that trip was planned I was scheming to surprise Nicoleen with an unforgettable 10th anniversary vacation for the summer of 2015. I figured the best way to make it a surprise was to create a decoy vacation, since she would probably be expecting some sort of trip for our milestone anniversary.
Aside from the decoy plan, I also thought Nicoleen and I deserved a vacation (which we hadn’t done in years) since I finally had year round, full time income. My points and miles balances were still getting established at the time. I had no hotel points at all, so I started shopping for an all-inclusive resort at a destination we could reach by using miles.
The Planning Phase
Since this trip was a surprise for Nicoleen, I wanted to tailor it to her preferences. She loves warm, tropical, pool & beach type vacations. The trip was a decoy, so I needed it to be fairly short. But it had to be long enough for her to believe this was “the” anniversary vacation. Here was my thought process:
The “real” anniversary trip to Europe was to be in the summer, so this trip had to be in the spring. I can’t take time off in the spring because my new job requires me to be available during Minnesota’s wildfire season. Late February is the latest I could take time off.
Nicoleen loves warm weather vacations, but if she’s going to swim, it has to be actually hot. So I needed a destination with a definitively hot climate in late February. That ruled out anything north of Key West. It also had to be somewhere relatively quick to get to, which ruled out anything outside of North or Central America. The Caribbean met all these requirements.
I had no hotel points or free night certificates at the time, so that whole aspect of planning was a non-factor. I was shooting for a 4 night stay, so I didn’t want too much time locked up in logistics or ground transportation. An all-inclusive resort seemed to fit the bill nicely. We wouldn’t have to worry about finding places to eat or finding our way around with local transportation. With an all-inclusive, you can basically get to the resort and stay there the whole time.
Once I decided on all-inclusive resorts, my list got pretty short. There are the big ones: Beaches, Sandals, Club Med, etc. But I was looking for something a little less circus-like. After a few hours on TripAdvisor and other review sites, one resort chain stuck out. Couples Resorts has 4 locations, all in Jamaica. All rooms are double occupancy, and no kids are allowed! (I just sold half of you on this place with that one line 🙂 ) Couples resorts have almost universally positive reviews online. They are priced similarly to the giant all-inclusive chains, but they have fewer hidden fee amenities.
After some extensive searching I reverse-engineered most of their pricing structure. Each day of the year is priced according to demand, with prices changing in 2 week blocks or longer. A stay spanning two different price levels will show the average price for the stay, applied to each night individually. The different promotions listed on their website pretty much all result in the same discount, so I felt like I was getting the best price available.
Since I was splurging on a fancy all-inclusive resort and paying cash, I needed to get a stellar deal on the airfare. I set my budget at “free” and was able to stay within that budget!
At that time, my points and miles balances weren’t very built up, and I didn’t have much diversity in point types. I mainly had Chase Ultimate Rewards to work with, so my major airline options were United or Southwest. Both airlines are transfer partners with Chase Ultimate Rewards, with a 1:1 transfer ratio for points to miles. Southwest had recently started flying to Montego Bay, Jamaica, and they offered the cheapest flights, points-wise.
Southwest Flights and Couples Negril
The flights on Southwest were unremarkable. We forgot to check-in online 24 hours before the flight, but we still got to sit together. For a full review of the wonderful and relaxing Couples Negril resort, see my review post!
Other transportation: $30.00 (tips)
Total cost for 5 day, 4 night Jamaican all-inclusive vacation: ~$2,913.80
Total cost we paid: ~$2,455.40
Savings from using value tactics: $458.40
Points earned on trip: 4,651 Ultimate Rewards
The airfare for both of us cost 40,880 Southwest Rapid Rewards, which I transferred from my Chase Ultimate Rewards account, earned mainly with my Sapphire Preferred card. Award tickets still incur taxes and fees, which came to $223.40 for both our round trip flights. The cash cost of both tickets would have been $681.80. That’s still a really good price and some may argue I should have saved the points for a better redemption value. I stick with my decision to use transferred UR points on the airfare. Free airfare at a slightly inefficient redemption rate is still free airfare!
Couples Resorts offers free shuttle service from the airport in Montego Bay to the resort in Negril. Through a weird turn of events I won’t get into here, we discovered that we had a connection to the contract transport company. Instead of waiting in the Couples lounge at the airport, we were whisked away in our own private van! I think between both trips we tipped $30.
As this trip represented the last vestiges of my old, unenlightened ways, we paid cash for the resort. (By “cash” I mean we paid the full price, but obviously we used a card to pay). This guilty splurge was $525.50 a night, totaling $2,102.
Food and Shopping:
Food, drinks, entertainment, beach amenities, and even oceanside drink delivery were all included! That’s the beauty of an all-inclusive resort like Couples. Our only out-of-pocket expenses were purely optional and included a professional photo and some souvenirs. Even the formal dinner and the sunset catamaran cruise were included!
Overall we had a wonderful time! I think if I had to straight-up pay for a resort stay again, I wouldn’t hesitate doing so at Couples Negril. The weather was fantastic, and we met some fun and interesting people. Using points to book the flights made the sting of the resort cost a little less painful too.