As one of the most biodiverse and naturally stunning destinations in the world, Costa Rica is the perfect place to get a taste of “Pura Vida!” (pure life). All year-round, this ‘rich coast’ is teeming with remarkable sights, mouth-watering yet healthy food, welcoming locals, and fun adventures for the whole family. So here’s how we did Costa Rica for free!
For us, Costa Rica is a place we hold dear in our hearts. I had visited twice before, once for grad school studies and the other time for a nonprofit I support. My wife also went on a mission trip to Costa Rica when she was in high school. Our most recent trip was our first Costa Rica trip to relax and enjoy a mix of beaches, hot springs, volcanoes, rain forests, jungles, and other exciting spots. Despite navigating it all with an on-the-go 1-year-old, the trip did not disappoint. Of course, it’s hard to have a bad trip when you’re getting over $5,000 in free travel! Plus, it’s been quite a while since our last big vacation due to having a baby, so I enjoyed getting back into the free travel groove.
Our Destination: Costa Rica
In total, we spent 8 days and 7 nights vacationing in Costa Rica. First, we stayed at the Hyatt Andaz Papagayo in Liberia for 4 nights. Afterward, we spent 2 nights in La Fortuna’s Royal Corin Hot Springs. To round the trip off, we hopped off to San Jose where we lodged at the Marriott Hacienda Belen for our last night.
Trip Summary: 8 Days, 7 Nights Exploring Costa Rica
- Denver (DEN) to Liberia, Costa Rica (LIR)
- Liberia – Hyatt Andaz Papagayo (4 nights)
- La Fortuna – Royal Corin Hot Springs (2 nights)
- San Jose – Marriott Hacienda Belen (1 night)
- San Jose (SJO) to Denver (DEN)
Where We Stayed (1 of 3): Hyatt Andaz (Papagayo)
The Hyatt Andaz (Cosa Rica Resort at Peninsula Papgayo) was a bucket list hotel for me. So many travel bloggers write about it for good reason. It’s a beautiful place, and it’s a great deal with Hyatt points. Andaz also caters to families with a KidsClub (including babysitting services). In addition, all kids under 4 eat for free at all restaurants, including room service! This was an incredible benefit since we are still battling meal time with Micah who is 13 months old. This was best for the mornings when we could get anything from the $30+ buffet for him for free.
The Pools: Pretty unique!
The Andaz pools combined views of the bay with the feel of a jungle. The overlooking view reminded me of Santorini. There are plenty of great spots, a retro VW van as a bar, and infinity pools that give a good sense of relaxation.
We really loved the food – from unique breakfasts to fresh ceviche to creative drinks. In my interview with the PR director, I learned that the #1 ranked mixologist in Costa Rica works at their swanky Chao Pescao restaurant. We only went there once, but the tapas were great. It was also pretty cool to get their take on an Old Fashioned served in a treasure chest with smoking cinnamon sticks.
Where We Stayed (2 of 3): Royal Corin (La Fortuna)
La Fortuna is a great headquarters for everything you imagine exploring in Costa Rica. There are lots of tours – covering anything from coffee, chocolate, and sloth walks to rafting, ziplining, fishing, and volcanoes. Our trip was low key, my wife did manage to get away to go zip-lining near Arenal with Sky Adventures. I imagine though that you could stay here for a week and have tons of adventurous days.
We booked the Royal Corin through the Chase Portal.
60,000 80,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards Points after you spend $4,000 in the first 3 months. Our #1 personal card that we recommend most often. Single best "starter card" for beginners and MVP card for free travelers. Now includes a $50 grocery credit as part of the signup bonus.
The Hot Springs:
While the Royal Corin was a step down from the Andaz in terms of modern, cool hotels, the pool and hot springs were pretty incredible. Everything was open until 10 pm, so we headed down there each night after Micah went to sleep (of course, keeping our Wyze Cam set up as a baby monitor).
Where We Stayed (3 of 3): Marriott Hacienda
This hotel was an easy win because one of our annual free night awards were expiring with Marriott. On its own though, it was amazing. The building reminded me of the museums I had been to in Peru. If you’re in San Jose, this would be a great use of a free night award or using points. It was very close to the airport as well.
How We Did This For Free!
We used a combination of rewards, points, and miles for this trip. For our accommodations, we put our Chase Ultimate Rewards and Marriott Bonvoy Free Night to good use. With Chase Ultimate Rewards, we booked 2 hotel nights through the Chase Travel Portal and transferred to Hyatt for our stay at the Hyatt Andaz. To top it off, we redeemed my wife’s annual free night award with Marriott for our final night.
For our other expenses, Capital One Venture Miles covered our rental car and food. We used American Airlines (AA) Miles for our flights to and from Costa Rica. Costs of both flights were covered even if they were booked as one-ways.
Since getting pregnant and having a baby, we had racked up a ton of AA miles that we never used. It wasn’t the best use of AA miles, but we were able to get the flights we wanted (including a seat for Micah) instead of paying the $900+ roundtrip prices in cash.
Free Food Trick:
If you have a Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card, you can use “Capital One Miles” to reimburse yourself for any Venture card purchases that code as travel expenses. That being said, the trick at a resort is to put all restaurant charges on “the room.” Then, use the Venture Card to pay the room bill. Once your statement comes out, you can use Venture Miles to erase that charge because it will code as “hotel – travel”.
Our Points vs. Actual Expenses
Take a look at how much we saved on this trip! The table below lists how much points or rewards we redeemed and their corresponding retail value. In total, we saved $5,513.53 for this trip!
Expense Points Redeemed Retail Value Accommodation/ Hotel Andaz 80,000 Hyatt points $1,720 Corin Portal
(Master Suite with Volcano View)
50,077 points $625.96 Marriott Hacienda Belen 1 Free Night Award $230 Flights AA Miles 157,500 miles $2,670 Rental Car Venture Miles 26,757 $267.57 $5,513.53
Whenever I travel “for free,” I really don’t take it for granted even though it’s been a normal thing for about 10 years. Free Travel continues to open up new worlds and cultures that we may not have otherwise known.
With the ability to fly and stay for free, the stress of making the trip unforgettable melts away. We didn’t kill our budget or have expectations through the roof. I love approaching travel like that. Everything feels like a gift, and we can afford unexpected expenses or overpriced conveniences. In my former life as a “retail price traveler,” I often missed the beauty of the travel itself because I was tracking our budget and feeling as good about avoiding little expenses as the travel itself.
To read more on Free Travels check out Disney for Free With Miles and Undercover Tourist and How to Redeem Chase Ultimate Rewards for Free Travel.
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