I’ve always wanted to go to a luxurious, all-inclusive resort in the Dominican Republic. I had a friend who went on his honeymoon there and had a memorable experience. I also have a few friends who serve communities in Santo Domingo that love the culture and people. It’s been on my mind to visit for a long time.
After my wife took a trip with a friend to Playa Del Carmen last month, it was my turn to take a Dad-cation away from our lovely, but wildly energetic toddler. A beautiful beach, tasty free food, and the occasional cold beverage sounded ideal.
The perfect stay came about with the Hyatt Zilara in Punta Cana, where we could stay at an all-inclusive resort and use points for incredible value. Hyatt has several Zilara and Ziva hotels in the Caribbean and Mexico.
Hyatt is one of my favorite hotel brands because of their range of hotel sizes and brands—from boutique to exotic to trendy. Their loyalty program is also really strong. It’s easy to book with points and there are no resort fees on award stays.
Trip Summary: Relaxing Dominican Dad-cation
The Destination: Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
Length of Stay: 5 Days, 4 Nights
Hotel: Hyatt Zilara, Punta Cana
Flights: First class on American Airlines Denver to Punta Cana (via DFW and MIA), Southwest Airlines from Punta Cana to Denver (via BWI)
I usually skip over the flights because I’m more about the destination than aviation. However, I purposely booked a 2-stop flight on AA because I could wake up 2 hours later, AND because first class was only 22,500 miles! After six months of being at home, I went for the adventure with a great deal on first-class and some lounge hopping.
Before the flight, I was able to get into the recently opened American Express Centurion lounge in Denver when it opened up at 7 am. After an expensive swiss-machine cappuccino, I was ready for the travel day. Then, I got another cappuccino in the Dallas Centurion lounge alongside some other tasty treats.
My flight from Dallas to Miami was so cool! The plane was a 777-300, which is a pretty special plane for AA. I was directed to the left when I entered the plane for the super exclusive “Flagship First Class” seats.
I’m not a snob or expert when it comes to first-class, but this flight was really cool. My seat had two seats: one for relaxing, and another seat for sitting to do work or eat. I didn’t know a seat could have a seat. I tried to watch Rocky, but soon fell asleep when I moved my seat to the lay-flat position.
Here’s a quick tip from my flight planning: I was able to get a great deal in first class there with American Airlines miles. I say this to remind beginners that you can always look at one-way tickets when booking with points or miles.
The reason this works is that one-way award flights or normally 1/2 the cost of a roundtrip award flight. (If you pay cash, one-ways always seem to be more expensive.) You can often find great deals for a one-way but not round-trip. Consider using different airlines on the departure and return trip for max value.
Where We Stayed: Hyatt Zilara (Punta Cana)
The Hyatt Zilara is an adults-only resort next to a sister property, the family-friendly Hyatt Ziva. Both were enormous, with several restaurants and pools. We were allowed to go to both properties. However, it was quite nice to have an adults-only zone away from kids for a few days. =)
My first impression was that this hotel reminded me of a 5-star Las Vegas hotel. There was no spared expense for the layout, architecture, and pools. However, this 5-star included free food and an incredible beach!
The beach was vast with palm trees scattered throughout, and plenty of chairs and umbrellas to use. It reminded me of my college days at the University of Miami when we would go to Key Biscayne.
We went off the resort on Day 3 to go on a deep sea fishing trip (not included at the resort). I enjoyed about 30 minutes of it until I got really dizzy and seasick. According to the captain it was a calm day, but our boat was rocking! Jeremy had his sea legs working and managed to catch a big white marlin. I was just impressed that I could keep it together long enough to take the picture.
I don’t have a lot of experience with all-inclusives, but the food here was incredible! They had several different restaurants with various themes, including French Polynesian, Peruvian, Indian, Seafood, Steak House, and Italian. So good. Also, room service was free and available 24/7. We took advantage of it for breakfast before our early fishing trip.
Points vs. Actual Expenses
For this trip, I used a combination of AA miles and Southwest miles for flights. My friend Jeremy and I used Hyatt points for the hotels. I needed a few more Hyatt points than I had in my account, so I transferred Chase Ultimate Rewards points over to Hyatt at a ratio of 1:1 to get the additional points I needed to book the hotel.
Hotel: 100,000 Hyatt points split between Jeremy and me (retail $2,856)
Flights: 22,500 AA Miles for first class (retail $368) and 13,000 SW miles (retail ~$200)
Food: 5-star meals and fancy cocktails every day was 100% free! (retail ~ a lot!)
Extra value came from having Hyatt Globalist status. Because of status, we got special access to a few more restaurants, an ocean view room, and our own butler! The butler was not someone who waited on you 24/7, but he was someone we could call to get us dinner reservations, reserve the Hobie sailboat, and even organize our required Covid test. It was pretty cool to have a butler AND be at an all-inclusive.
Points and miles used from the following cards:
A special note on Hyatt’s service: they seem to have a unique service concept. For example, when I stayed at their Andaz brand in Costa Rica, the whole experience was aimed to feel like we were a guest at a friend’s house. You could feel that within the whole staff.
With the Hyatt Zilara, it was all about service with heart. In fact, almost every staff member would touch their right hand to their heart every time you interacted with them to express that. It made me realize the power of simple gestures.
I would definitely recommend the Hyatt Zilara (for adults) and Hyatt Ziva for families. At a cost of 25,000 points per night for 2 people, it’s an incredible value when you think about the food, drinks, and amenities that probably exceed the value of the hotel room itself. If you can land good deals on flights, this resort is a no-brainer.
This was my first trip in a while, so naturally I would have loved to stay longer. It was incredibly easy to plan since it was just myself and only included one hotel reservation. Booking with Hyatt points on the phone is super easy. Then, I used AA.com’s portal and Southwest’s portal for flights.
Having spent time in first class, airport lounges, and butler service at the hotel, it was not lost on me that people pay top dollar for these kinds of experiences. I have to believe that my trip is that much sweeter because I don’t feel the pressure of having these luxuries live up to their high cost.
I have always worried about our finances and want to be frugal for our family. That’s one of the coolest parts of free travel for me. Traveling for free reduces my stress knowing that I didn’t take away money from our monthly budget to have this awesome experience.