How My Family Just Took a $5,218 Vacation to Cabo San Lucas for $42

My family of five and my folks returned last week from a great vacation to Cabo San Lucas. I’ll tell you a bit about the trip via the pictures and captions in this post. But mostly I want to share how the seven of us paid a total of $42 for roundtrip flights and 5 nights at a 4-star resort. I want to give you ideas for how you can do the same. Because you can.

McAdam Family at Sunset in Cabo

My family attempting to pose for a picture on our recent trip to Cabo San Lucas

We had expenses on the ground such as transportation and food that went beyond the $42. But that’s how much we spent on hotel and flights. Here’s how:

5 Nights in a 4-Star Resort in Cabo San Lucas for $19

In looking for potential vacation spots, I came across the Playa Grande Resort in Cabo. It looked great: 4-star hotel, with spacious suite-type rooms, on the water, with a beach, nice pools, balconies facing the water, etc.

My Three Kids Looking Out from the Balcony of Our Room

The view from our room at Playa Grande Resort

What I wasn’t excited about was the price. The studio rooms, where my folks would stay, cost $270 per night. The 1-bedroom suites, where my family of five would stay, cost $324 per night.

To stay 5 nights, which is how long we wanted to stay, would cost a total of $2,973:

Table Showing Cost of Playa Grande Rooms

Citi ThankYou Points to the Rescue

Not wanting to pay cash for the rooms, I decided to redeem Citi ThankYou Points. Specifically, I redeemed 263,018 ThankYou Points. Plus, due to some anomaly, I was charged $18.92 on the final checkout screen, which I decided just to pay.

If you subtract the $18.92 I paid from the total cost of the rooms, the amount we covered with points was $2,955.

My Family in Front of a Limousine

I had requested and paid for ground transportation by van. When we landed, however, our driver took us to this limousine and told us it was our lucky day! (Our boys don’t seem to have gotten the message, however….)

Over the past couple of years, my wife and I earned 310,000 Citi ThankYou Points by signing up for 2 Citi credit cards each (the Prestige and the Premier) and 1 Citi checking account each. We had to spend $12,500 between the four cards to earn their combined 210,000 bonus points. We didn’t have to spend anything to earn the combined 100,000 point bonuses on the checking accounts.

So by spending $12,500, we ended up with more than enough Citi points to cover $2,955 worth of hotel. That’s the equivalent of having gotten a 24% discount on that $12,500 worth of spend, assuming you value the hotel close to the price being charged for it. But even if you think the hotel overpriced, the discount on that $12,500 of spend is still very significant.

My daughter looking wide awake while I look tired

Wait, which one of us was drinking the coffee?

5 Flights to and from Cabo San Lucas for $23 Total

My folks have a lot of Frontier miles from back when Frontier was a good airline. We chose to redeem a bunch of those miles for the 5 ticketed passengers—my folks, my wife, my daughter, and me. (Our twin boys are under 2 years old so still fly free as lap children.)

Flights were expensive during the time we could travel. In total, if we had paid in cash, it would have cost us $2,244, broken down as follows:

Table Showing the Cost of the Frontier Flights

Frontier miles (like all airline miles) can only be redeemed for the “base fare” portion of the ticket. Frontier charges 30,000 miles roundtrip to Mexico. We redeemed 30,000 miles per ticket, i.e. 150,000 miles total for the 5 tickets. That got rid of $1,500 of out-of-pocket cost.

My Laptop on the Tiny Frontier Airlines Tray Table

Really, Frontier? Purchasing tray tables is a one-time cost. You couldn’t have splurged for normal-sized tray tables?

Covering the Taxes, Seat Selections, and Fees

There was still $744 remaining ($2,244-1,500) for the other items: taxes, seat selections, and bags. $472 of that $744 was for my family. $273 of the $744 was for my folks. I put my family and my folks on separate itineraries so that I could pay for each group separately for the following reasons.

For my family, I paid the $472 that we owed for taxes, seat selections, and bags using my wife’s Barclay Arrival Plus card. My wife had recently earned the signup bonus on that card. The signup bonus is, effectively, $500 in travel statement credits after spending $3,000 on the card in the first 3 months of card membership (a 16.7% discount on that $3,000 of spend). Using that card to pay the $472 resulted in a $472 statement credit on her card, meaning that we were out of pocket nothing for my family’s tickets.

For my folks, I paid the $273 that they owed for taxes, seat selections, and bags using my wife’s Citi Prestige card, which she had opened last July. That card reimburses $250 worth of travel charges each calendar year. Using that card to pay the $273 resulted in a $250 statement credit on her card, meaning that we came out of pocket $23 for my folks’ tickets.

My Daughter Burred In Sand, Underneath the Clouds

My daughter, Elizabeth, taking it all in

Are the Credit Card Shenanigans Worth It?

For a total cost of $42, my family of five and my folks flew to Cabo and stayed for five nights at a 4-star resort. Had we paid in cash, it would have cost us $5,218. We saved $5,176 or 99.2%. For me, that’s worth the credit card shenanigans.

I don’t know about you, but when I’m on vacation I don’t want to worry that maybe I’ve overpaid. Worse, I don’t want to worry that if my kids get sick we’ve just flushed five grand down the drain.

Michael, John, and Elizabeth with Playa Grande Resort pools in the background

I want to relax. I want my attention focused not on the cost of the experience but on the experience itself. And when ordering chips, I like to not feel bad about getting a side of guac. Saving over $5,000 on flights and hotels helps me not worry too much about the $2 extra for guac. . . .

How You Can Travel Inexpensively, Too

If you’d also like to “get the guac,” so to speak, you should do two things:

  1. Read my series on the basics of how to travel for free.
  2. Sign up to receive my blog posts by clicking here. The combination of tactics I used on this trip to save over $5k are perhaps overwhelming or intimidating for some readers. In future posts I will break many of them down and share other great techniques and opportunities for cheap travel.

If you’re the kind of person or family that would like to travel, but you don’t because of the cost, such techniques and opportunities can make travel possible for you. Or if you’re the kind of person or family that will travel anyway, these techniques and opportunities can allow you to divert a significant amount of money to other priorities.

My son, John, was my sunrise companion in Cabo. Or maybe I should say that I was his, given which one of us woke the other up.

I love to travel. I always have. And now I enjoy going on adventures with my family. If you feel the same way, I hope to help you have such experiences as well.

Question: Is there somewhere in particular you’d like to travel to? I might be able to suggest certain credit cards that would help reduce your costs significantly. You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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