Booking a luxury resort with points is a great idea, but it just requires some some research first.
It’s one of the major benefits of a travel loyalty program: saving up points. Whether earned via hotel stays, airline trips, or credit cards, you can use travel points to book a stay in a luxury resort you may otherwise not have been able to afford.
In addition to verifying the amount of points required for a luxury resort and making arrangements to travel, there are several other things to research before redeeming those points. It’s worth noting that point redemptions typically cover room and tax only. Many luxury resorts operate on an à la carte pricing model, which means incidentals can pile up quickly, making that “free” stay is suddenly expensive. Booking a luxury resort with points is a good idea, but one that just requires some research to maximize your budget.
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Always Check Resort Fees First
Many luxury resorts charge resort fees on all rates, regardless of whether they’re charged in cash or points. Mandatory resort fees are often charged per day throughout the stay and are payable at checkout, even when reservations have been prepaid using points. Some loyalty programs will waive resort fees for top-tier members when redeeming points, but if fees aren’t waived, budget for the daily amount plus tax.
Don't Forget About the Resort Transfers
The appeal of many luxury resorts is that they’re in remote areas, such as Bora Bora, The Maldives, or Fiji. However, their remote locations often require specialized transfers from the nearest airport, sometimes by boat, helicopter, or seaplane. Transfers are often not included in room rates and incur an additional cost, so it’s worth working out those cost details in advance, rather than later on.
It may also be prudent to review the resort’s location and transport options. Remote resorts are often on private islands or other secluded locations, meaning resort outlets will be the only options for dining or shopping.
Grab a Copy of the Menus Ahead of Time
Food at remote resorts can be expensive. To maintain an exacting international standard, resorts often hire ex-pat chefs who live on site. Additionally, premium ingredients that are flown in can come at a steep cost. Because food isn’t exactly a luxury (ya gotta eat!), it makes sense to do some groundwork before booking.
Find out what meals are included in the rate for points redemption bookings (sometimes they’re all-inclusive, more often they’re not). Get current copies of the menus from each dining establishment at the resort to find out what sort of costs you’re looking at. Many resort websites have versions of the menus without pricing, but the versions with current pricing can often be obtained with a quick e-mail to the concierge.
Try to work up a conservative estimate of food costs. If you come out ahead, great, but the conservatism gives some leeway for spontaneous fun. Don’t let your trip become an exercise in denying yourself that dessert or that second cocktail—trips like these are meant to be an indulgence. On Bora Bora, for example, it’s not unreasonable to budget $250 per person per day (for food, but not alcohol) for three meals eaten at the resort.
It’s also worth finding out what’s nearby, and how easy it is to get to. Most of the resorts on Bora Bora are on remote islets away from the main island, which is often a boat shuttle (for a fee) away. On Bora Bora, many guests from the resorts will take the boat shuttles to Vaitape to stock up on ready-made sandwiches, salads, or takeaway Chinese food (most of the resort rooms have refrigerators) instead of forking over $35 for a sandwich at the resort.
Shop for Activities and Excursions Beforehand
Activities lists are another item it makes sense to shop around for before booking. In many cases, resort concierges will send guests an e-mail prior to arrival, offering everything from transfers to daily activities at various price points. This is a situation where it might also be a good idea to email the hotel for their price list before booking.
For on-site activities like spa treatments, group fitness classes, or watersports, check pricing for budgeting purposes. For excursions, check pricing and then shop around. In many cases, the hotels will sell excursions from local operators at a markup. It can sometimes be worthwhile to book directly with the operator to avoid paying the markup, and they’ll often pick you up at the resort just like they normally would.
Double Check Local Tipping Culture
Even on free stays paid for with points, guests should tip as they would if they were using any other form of payment. Many luxury resorts have no-tipping policies, or include gratuities as part of a service charge (it might be worth asking if the service charge is applicable separately, similarly to how some resorts treat resort fees), while others recommend gratuities in line with local custom. The bottom line is that if you’re headed to a destination where gratuities are customary, don’t assume you’ll get a break by paying with points.