When Andrew and I began discussing the idea of a summer vacation, we knew we wanted this trip to be a celebration for a number of significant events in our lives that have or will happen this year: our second wedding anniversary, my 26th birthday, Andy’s 27th birthday, Andy (finally) graduating with his Associate’s degree, and becoming debt-free last November. We decided that celebrating all of these events wouldn’t be enjoyable for us by spending a week sleeping on the ground– we had enough camping for a while after our camping disaster in Wisconsin a few months ago– so we scrapped our original plans of spending a week at Yellowstone.
We are both beach bums at heart; when Andy retires from the Army, if we don’t move back to Kentucky, you will find us sitting on a beach somewhere. So, we decided what better way to celebrate these big occasions by spending a week in a literal paradise! For our honeymoon to Jamaica in 2016, we opted to use a travel agent (shout-out to Casey at Road Less Traveled Vacations!) since I did not have the mental energy to plan both a wedding and a honeymoon. Our honeymoon was fantastic, but for this trip, we wanted to branch out on our own. Thanks to Google, TripAdvisor, and Pinterest, I was able to do all the planning for this trip by myself!
We had started saving for this trip immediately after becoming debt-free; every month, we saved $200 in a high-interest savings account through Barclay Bank that earned us a whopping 1.85% interest (our money was making money!) By the time our trip rolled around, we had saved $2,000. We knew we could make our trip work on just $2,000 since we were also using travel rewards points for a good deal of the trip. Specifically, we would be using Southwest Airlines points + Companion Pass for our flights and the more flexible Barclay Arrival Plus points for the hotel, an excursion, and transportation needs.
Destination: Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
Since Andy and I have a Southwest Airlines Companion Pass and would be paying for our flights with points, we needed to pick a destination that Southwest services. But where? Well, we knew that we would book our hotel through Armed Forces Vacation Club (which is not affiliated with DoD, but Wyndham Resorts.) AFVC’s prices on resorts were crazy cheap at just $100 per night. The majority of AFVC resorts with openings during the week of our leave was in the Dominican Republic. Southwest’s flights from Minneapolis to Punta Cana were also easier and quicker than flying to another destination (we switched planes once in Chicago, instead of 2-3 times if we had traveled somewhere else.) So, the DR it was!
Hotel: AlSol Luxury Village
One of the features that I loved about the AFVC website was I could easily see if a resort was “all-inclusive required” or “all-inclusive optional.” The majority of all-inclusives charge $125 per person per day for food and amenities, and since there is no way we would ever be able to eat $250 of food every day, we knew we wouldn’t stay somewhere that all-inclusive was required. Thankfully, the resort we chose was all-inclusive optional: the AlSol Luxury Village at Cap Cana. We did have the option to pay cash whenever we wanted to eat at the resort, but we only ate a few meals at the resort since meals were provided on both excursions and we ate at a nearby restaurant on our beach day.
Transportation + Excursions
As far as transportation and excursions, we also booked our airport transfer and one excursion (the sailing + snorkeling + Saona Island trip) through AFVC’s website. The other excursion we booked directly with Scape Park Cap Cana. For any day to day transportation needs, we either used a hotel shuttle or had the hotel concierge call a taxi.
Enough of me babbling. Here’s an actual look at what we should have paid, how much we saved with our travel points, and what we actually spent.
Flights: 47,424 points (worth approximately $1,800 in cash) plus $229.62 for taxes
Souvenirs/Spending Money: $170
Airport Parking: $140
Travel Insurance: $136 (We opted for the pricier “Cancel for any reason” travel insurance. 110% worth it for peace of mind alone)
Pet Sitter: $235 for Lily; free for Gracie (We boarded Lily at the kennel, but had a friend check up on Gracie now and then in exchange for dinner + board games night when we returned)
Pictures of Excursions: $200
Total Value: $4,583.80
By using travel points, we saved:
$692.99 for hotel
$229.98 for Saona Island excursion
$1,800-ish for flights
$28.60 for airport transfer
Total Savings: $2,751.57
Total Amount Spent: $1,833.22!
I am so grateful that we were able to have such a wonderful trip on a smaller budget. Travel is a priority for us, and by pinching pennies where we could, we’ll be able to see more of the world in the future. Travel isn’t about how much money you spend; it’s about the memories you make.