Points, Miles & Life

Travel adventures on this earthly pilgrimage

Category: Family

Hotel Punta Leona Review – Stellar Price for an All-Inclusive

My wife and I are in the process of moving from just the two of us to a family of five. After literally years of waiting, we are now in Costa Rica adopting three beautiful kids. Our focus during these weeks in Costa Rica is on bonding with our kids. But this doesn’t mean we can’t take them on a few trips to see their own beautiful country. In other words, we’re taking a couple overnight trips while we’re here, and the first was to Hotel Punta Leona.

Our adoption coordinator set us up with a great rate at the hotel for a couple days midweek. Hotel Punta Leona was running a special, and we were able to book a room for $158 per night, all meals included. For a family of five, this is *amazing*.

Arriving at the Hotel Punta Leona

The Hotel Punta Leona is located on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast. It is about an hour and a half drive from SJO airport, and a little bit further than that from San José itself. A good portion of the drive is on Costa Rica’s only real freeway, so it is a lot easier to access than many other places in the country.

The turn off to Hotel Punta Leona is a little north of Jacó. Once you turn off the highway, the road is dirt essentially until you arrive at the hotel property.

The facilities reception have a manned security gate. After explaining that we had a reservation, the guard let us through half a minute later. It’s not that Costa Rica isn’t safe. I’ve just noticed that many places have manned security or attendants, including parking lots and other places that would be totally mundane in the U.S.

Check-in went smoothly, except for the fact that the hotel was currently without a computerized reservation system. The front desk even had to use one of the ancient, manual sliding credit card machines. With my Chase Sapphire Preferred Visa card that doesn’t have a nicely embossed front. Didn’t work so well. She had to manually write the numbers and other info.

Selvamar Room…for the 5 of us!

The Selvamar rooms are located a distance from reception and the rest of the facilities, so we had to hop back into the car and drive a couple minutes.

I knew going into this that the room was going to be small. It didn’t disappoint.

It was a fairly standard hotel room with two full-size beds, a desk, TV, and in-room coffee.

The bathroom was adequate. Overall, it was a tight squeeze for all of us for two days. But it was a deal!

The Selvamar rooms are at least in a nice setting. There rooms are arranged in groups of 4 with walkways and gardens in between. At dusk there were monkeys to watch swinging and climbing through the foliage above.

And there were iguanas along the path at times. Even though our daughter is a native Costa Rican, they totally freak her out!

There was also a small pool close to the restaurant and Selvamar rooms. Given the much nicer facilities elsewhere, we never used it.

Hotel Punta Leona Restaurant – Carabelas

Included in our rate were all meals at the restaurant near the Selvamar Rooms. It was a quick two-minute walk away.

Everything at Carabela’s is buffet style. I’d rate the food as above average as far as buffets go. Most tasted super fresh. The beef at our first lunch was amazing. There was typically enough variety that anyone would be satisfied.

They had starters and a nice salad bar.

Every meal featured a chef at the grill or stovetop making part of the meal. The first evening it was churrasco.

Soup.

And other entrees and sides.

Soft drinks were self serve. You could also order beer or wine. A server kindly offered both evenings, but we declined.

In the mornings we had an immersive breakfast experience with the local wildlife. We were approached by both monkeys and a coatimundi.

I had a good laugh when a monkey stole some food from a guest on our first morning. I wasn’t laughing when the same thing happened to me the next day!

Hotel Punta Leona Facilities

The facilities of the Hotel Punta Leona are spread out over a fairly large area. The main highlight for the kids were, of course, the large pools.

hotel punta leona pool

Compared to the other hotel at which we are staying for the bulk of the time in Costa Rica, they were wondrously warm.

There is also an activity center with foosball and other games if you happen to be at the resort during a downpour. Fortunately, the rain that had been a fixture every afternoon let up for both days we were at the coast. On the other side of the pool there is another restaurant. Our all-inclusive rate included snacks here from 10:00 to 5:00. We enjoyed some pizza the first afternoon, and then a raccoon that got a bit too close for comfort.

I promised our six-year-old that I’d take him to mini-golf. On our second afternoon we got the chance. What wasn’t explained to me was that some of the activities cost extra, and this was one of them. I’d figured that most of the activities listed on the paper given to us at check-in were part of the resort package and included in the rate.

So, we ended up paying about $11 for three of us to play mini-golf. Which ended up being a hysterical experience. After trying for maybe a minute to instruct them (as best I can…I’m no golfer), I gave up. They ended up racing through the entire course is a matter of 15 minutes, often swatting the ball as hard as they could and sending into the grass beyond the hole or onto another section of the course. I was content to watch and laugh while proceeding through the course behind them.

This was the worst mini-golf hole ever.

Some of the other activities and facilties offered by the hotel include a butterfly house, a morning nature walk, pool volleyball, and bingo and karaoke in the evenings. We didn’t take advantage of any of these. Turns out that basically all kids want to do is swim.

Playa Mantas

The bulk of the fun was had at Playa Mantas over our stay. We went swimming there the afternoon we arrived and the following morning. The waves were super calm, and the water was heavenly. I’d never swam in water so warm.

Now I finally understand why people enjoy beach destinations so much. I might have to revise my list of places I want to visit to include some more beach destinations. Growing up on the north coast of California has left me with a poor view of “going to the beach”, where the outing typically means a cold breeze and sand flying in my eyes. I’ll pass.

In contrast, this was like a tiny sliver of heaven on earth. I’d enjoyed walking in the surf in Florida in May, but this was even better. I could have swam all day. Unfortunately, swimming ended up resulting in a little incident that cost us a bit of time and money.

Playa Blanca

The final morning we paid the other beach a quick visit. It is a bit further from the facilities of Punta Leona, but it is a whole lot more beautiful than Playa Mantas.

However, there were red flags out warning against swimming. Luckily, we weren’t there to swim, but simply to play in the sand for a while and enjoy the beautiful setting. Afterwards we headed back, ate breakfast at Carabelas once again, and then took off.

Conclusion

Overall, we had a good stay. Although it would have been nice to rent a larger room for the 5 of us, we really couldn’t beat the rate the hotel gave us for the single room under the September kids promotion. In contrast, I sent the hotel an email asking what the day-use rate would be per person. We realized that it isn’t all that far away from San José. I almost spit out my coffee this morning when they quoted me $85 per person over 6 years old!

4 Checked Bags…You Can Obviously Guess Why

Today is a big day. My wife and I are *finally* headed out to adopt our kids in Costa Rica. It has been a long-awaited trip. We packed over yesterday and today…and ended up with 4 checked bags. *sigh* Life is never going to be the same.

When I travel by myself, I travel fast and light. One carry on and a personal item is all I need. When my wife and I travel, we typically check a single bag. We would avoid this, too, except that my wife often has to bring some supplements and liquids and cooking items that are pretty much impossible to get through security.

But 4 checked bags? I thought I’d never see the day.

Going from 2 to 5

I’m kidding. Mostly. Obviously, it would be nice to keep up how we currently travel, but I knew long ago that things would change oh so drastically. You can’t keep up the same pace with kids in tow. I’m sure we’ll still travel (I already have ideas), but it will almost certainly be less frequently. Not to mention much harder to hack! But this is the life we want, and we cannot wait to meet our precious children (we’ve already been Skyping with them).

Preparing for this trip has been a chore. The longest my wife and I have ever been gone was for a month-long adventure in Europe. We checked two bags for most of those flights, and had to do laundry multiple times during the trip.

But this adventure is even longer. We are estimating that we should be in Costa Rica for six weeks!

With all of our clothing, plus kids clothing, plus toys and games for the kids, plus gifts for various people involved in the process and in our kids lives, four full checked bags is understandable.

Bright and early start

Morning came early at the awful hour of 3:00 a.m. It was pretty brutal. But we are flying out of our upstart little airport (which is a huge plus), and the 6:00 a.m. flight is the most reliable. Currently, it is on time as we sit here at the terminal. We *did* have one time where it was canceled, however.

We should get to Houston with plenty of time to rest and have a comfortable overnight before continuing on to San Jose tomorrow.

Conclusion

I hope to blog a bit while we’re away, but that is looking fairly doubtful. Even this week has been nigh but impossible. All of our focus will be on the kids while we are in Costa Rica. This is a critical time for all of us, as we will be beginning to bond as a family.

#Snyder2to5

Travel Hacking with Kids: A New Frontier

Confession time: I have *totally* been called out a couple times on the fact that I contribute to a blog called “Points with a Crew“, yet I have no crew. Yeah. Family travel blogger without a family. Kinda weird.

But that is finally changing. I knew when I took on the gig at PWaC that I *would* indeed have a family. At that time, I figured we’d have our kids home by now. But…per the typical timelines we’ve experienced with the adoption process, things *always* take longer. We should know that by now.

I’ve written a bit about travel hacking our adoption trip. There is not a lot of opportunity here. Maybe for some trips away from San Jose. The fact of the matter is that there is simply no cheap lodging that will meet our needs for an entire month that we can obtain for close to free.

But what about future trips?

Travel hacking for….5??

Things are never going to be the same. Travel hacking for 1 is a breeze. Travel hacking for 2 isn’t much different, especially if you both are into earning and burning miles and points via credit cards.

Travel hacking for 5, though? Yeah…this is gonna be a whole new level. Especially with kids who can’t get their own credit cards.

Consider flights to Europe. Last summer we spent 120,000 miles to fly to Europe. This was for 2 people round-trip. For 5 we would need 300,000 miles. Quite a bit more.

And that is just for economy. Business or first class for 5? Forget it. We’d be saving for a few years or more.

Hotels are gonna be rough

As a couple you can basically stay anywhere. I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a hotel room where the occupancy *isn’t* at least 2 people. Award rooms always work (as long as there is availability).

Five people is another story. Many hotels don’t even offer a room with 5 person occupancy, let alone offer those rooms at the base award level.

Some places in the world are also more accommodating than others. In the U.S., occupancy rates are generally better/higher. I’ve found a decent number of rooms for 5 or 6 in various cities. You could also just book a room for 4 and bring in 5 (yes, ethics issue here).

Five is one of the hardest numbers. Six is probably worse (which I’ve booked for friends). Once you get above that, though, booking two rooms seems more and more ideal.

Cash back is where it’s at

I’ve decided that my strategy is going to shift substantially going forward. Until now, I’ve focused on mostly earning miles and points, with a little cash back and cash “points” on the side.

Now I am going to focus the bulk of my spending on cash back and/or flexible points that can be used to book paid travel at reasonable levels. One option is the Business Platinum card from American Express that gets 50% back when you book using your MR points (soon to be only 35%). Another is the BarclayCard Arrival+ which is essentially like a cash back card for just travel. A third is the US Bank FlexPerks which will essentially be like a 1.5% card for airline ticket purchases. There is also my trusty Citi DoubleCash.

With all the fare sales, we’ll often get a better deal (and have more flexibility) accruing cash “points” and using these to book our travels. Example: $500 fare to London on British Airways from SFO. We could use 40,000 UR points through the portal, or 25,000 Merrill+ points, or 33,333 FlexPerks (under the coming 2018 program). Any of these are better than 60,000 miles round-trip.

Miles will have their place

I definitely won’t give up miles entirely. I’d like to take my kids on “long distance dates” like Dan does with his kids, and miles will allow us to have some really special experiences.

I already have trip ideas. Family trip to Victoria, BC (using my Delta miles at a screaming good rate). Or flying to Hawaii using my (nearly) 125,000 Avios on Alaska Airlines. And then some trip ideas with a kid at a time.

Not so fast

Hold on now. My wheels are turning prematurely. We’ll be in an intense period of bonding as a family for the new several months, and I don’t expect to travel much the first year after we bring our kids home.

So the brakes are on when it comes to gallivanting across the globe. Full speed ahead on becoming a family.

There will be time enough for figuring out the points and miles game for a family of 5. It’ll be different. Maybe harder. But we’ll make it work.

Reflecting on our 2016 Travels

As I sit here on the 20th floor of the Hyatt Regency Vancouver, watching the snow gently swirling lazily down to the street below, I find myself reflecting on our 2016 travels. What a wonderful year of travel my wife and I have enjoyed. It has truly been amazing. So many experiences in so many place. And for so little out of pocket.

We started things off with a wonderful winter trip to Quebec City, Montreal, and New York City. Quebec City is about as European as you can get without traveling to Europe, and we had a lovely four days in a tiny apartment we rented. It was our first experience using AirBnb, and also our first experience of negative Fahrenheit temperatures. Additionally, I realized that my wife absolutely loves ice skating, but is terrified of skiing.

Spring included a couple trips to visit family and friends. Summer then brought our biggest adventure. We were able to spend 30 days in Europe, enjoying the balmy French Riviera, the art and history of Italy, and the exquisitely beautiful Emerald Isle. I already long to go back to Ireland.

During autumn we surprised my in-laws in Portland for a few days in the rainy Pacific Northwest. And now we are on our final adventure of the year, one that will bridge 2016 and 2017, here in Vancouver. We enjoyed Granville Public Market today, and plan to have an easygoing New Years Eve. Tomorrow will be spent in Stanley Park, and Monday is yet unplanned.

All Thanks to Travel Hacking

Through the miles and points we accrued in 2015 and 2016, we were able to enjoy these experiences at a fraction of what they normally would have cost. The flights for nearly all of our trips have been on miles we’ve earned, and much of our hotel has been on points. For our summer trip to Europe, we paid for a total of 4 nights of hotel, plus minimal amounts in taxes for many of the other nights. Flights for the two of us cost a mere $350 total.

I absolutely love helping others interested in the world of “travel hacking”. This is one of the biggest reasons I was so thrilled to be on-boarded with Points with a Crew as a contributor this month. It has allowed me to write for a larger, more established audience (sadly, I’ve written less here).

For my local friends and family, I hope to hold a “Travel Hacking 101” session in late January 2017. I am still thinking about the venue and format, but I would like to set up a time for both a presentation and some Q&A afterwards. If you’re reading this and live in Humboldt, send me a message via email or Facebook if you’re interested and want a spot before I release the invite to the world.

Reflecting on our 2016 travels

Looking forward now to 2017

Looking Forward

Things are mostly unknown looking into 2017. I wrote about 3 trips I look forward to over at Points with a Crew, but these only carry us through January (as we are currently on one of the 3 I wrote about!). We know that 2017 will likely bring a large amount of change to our lives.

Actually….our lives will probably be turned upside down. It is almost certain that 2017 will be the year we finally adopt our children. My wife and I recently had to do a home study update (since it has been so long since we completed the initial one), and from the communication we have had with our agency, they are very hopeful that we will have a referral soon. We are so excited.

This does mean we have to keep the travel plans to a minimum, since we will need to drop everything and be ready to travel about 6 weeks after we say yes to our kids. But I am completely fine with that. Starting our family will be our new adventure. 🙂