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I love planning and taking complex trips using points and miles to fly in international business class and stay at luxury hotels for a fraction of the retail cost, but sometimes all I want is a relatively close destination for a quick and inexpensive trip. This is especially true when it’s cold at home and I’m seeking somewhere warm and ideally near a beach. 

I chose a combination of Merida, Mexico and the Mexican Riviera Maya for warm weather and proximity to beaches.

Planning the Trip                                                                 

In 2023, I took several trips that I postponed during the pandemic, including longer trips to Asia and Europe and some domestic trips. One of the trips I planned and later canceled was to Merida and Puerto Morelos, Mexico. Therefore, some of the initial planning for my December 2023 Mexico trip was done in 2021.

When I resumed planning in mid-2023, I decided on a shorter trip and switched my base in the Riviera Maya from Puerto Morelos to Playa del Carmen, Mexico. 

I was interested in visiting Puerto Morelos to experience a less developed beach town, but ultimately, I decided to stay in Playa del Carmen—where I stayed years ago—and visit Puerto Morelos as a day trip because Playa del Carmen had more chain hotel and bus transportation options.

Puerto-Morelos
These signs are ubiquitous at Mexican beaches, including Puerto Morelos. | Photo by Julie Neafach

I was interested in visiting Merida because my previous trips to Mexico have been beach trips, and I wanted to visit a different part of the country and spend time in a city with colonial history.

Governor’s Palace in Merida
This Governor’s Palace in Merida located on the Plaza Grande is not to be missed. | Photo by Julie Neafach

I improved the logistics for my 2023 trip by deciding to fly to Merida and return to the Washington, D.C., area from Cancun. This reduced ground travel in Mexico compared to the itinerary I had booked in 2021—before deciding to visit Merida—that included round-trip flights between my home area and Cancun. 

For reference, Merida is about 180 miles from Playa del Carmen and 190 miles from Cancun on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. Below is a map of the region.

Yucatan Peninsula map
Yucatan Peninsula map | Courtesy of Google Maps

Points, Miles and Cash Breakdown

Trip costs in points, miles and cash for transportation and accommodations for one person are as follows.

Hotel or Transportation DescriptionCostComments
Hyatt Regency Dulles (one night)3,500 World of Hyatt pointsAirport hotel before early flight
American Airlines flight: Washington (IAD) → Dallas (DFW) → Merida (MID)10,000 AAdvantage miles + $44.23 
Hyatt Regency Merida (three nights)10,000 World of Hyatt points + $128.09Used points for two nights and cash for one night
ADO Platino bus from Merida to Playa del Carmen$49.63 
Yucatan Resort Playa del Carmen (two nights)$277.34 – $250.00 = $27.34Net cost is amount paid after Hilton resort credit
ADO bus from Playa del Carmen to Cancun airport$13.93 
Southwest Airlines flight: Cancun (CUN) → Baltimore (BWI)$142.13 
Avis rental car (one day) and gas$54.92For drive home from airport on arrival

Flight Booking Details

I flew in economy class on this trip, which is my usual choice for shorter flights. For me, the business- or first-class experience on most flights within the continental United States or between the U.S. and Caribbean or Mexico isn’t differentiated enough to use significantly more miles or money to fly in premium cabins. For the flight to Mexico, I flew on American Airlines using AAdvantage miles. I returned home on Southwest Airlines on a cash fare.

Flight to Merida

Service from the U.S. to Merida (MID) is limited, with options including American Airlines flights from Dallas (DFW) or Miami (MIA), Aeroméxico flights from Atlanta (ATL) and United Airlines flights from Houston (IAH). I had some flexibility with travel dates and checked award rates using a combination of third-party and airline-specific search tools. I also checked cash rates.

American Airlines had the best redemption rates and schedule for my trip. There were a few options for 10,000 AAdvantage miles per direction in economy, and I selected a connection in Dallas with a long enough layover to visit the Capital One lounge there.

Looking at availability during May 2024 for December 2024 travel, award availability starts at 8,000 miles each way on select dates.

WAS to MID 45K

After I booked flights but before my trip began, a Capital One lounge opened at Dulles International Airport, so I was able to visit both lounges for free since I have the Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card. The Capital One lounges were the highlight of my travel day.

Bar at the Capital One Lounge
The bar at the Capital One Lounge at Dulles International Airport is empty at 6 a.m. | Photo by Julie Neafach

Flight home from Cancun

To minimize travel time, I sought nonstop flights from Cancun to the Washington metropolitan area. I’m flexible about using all of the following airports: Washington-National (DCA), Washington-Dulles (IAD) or Baltimore (BWI). My options for nonstop flights included Southwest Airlines to Baltimore and United Airlines to Washington-Dulles.

Southwest had better prices, and booking a cash fare made sense since I didn’t have enough Rapid Rewards points and had some travel fund credits. Award prices using Rapid Rewards points are closely tied to cash prices, so there usually isn’t an opportunity to get outsized value using points.

Initially, I booked a Wanna Get Away Southwest fare from Cancun to Baltimore for about $197 but was able to rebook at a lower price later. 

Since flights—including flights booked with points—from Cancun to the U.S. typically have over $80 in taxes and fees, that was a reasonable cash fare, although it was more than I paid in 2021. 

After booking the flight, I kept checking prices during Southwest fare sales, found a lower fare and was able to get a travel credit of about $54. This reduced the final cost to $142.13.

Before my flight, I visited a lounge in Cancun International Airport’s Terminal 4 that participated in Priority Pass, utilizing membership provided through my Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card.

Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card

Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel

LEARN MORE 

Hotel Booking Details

I stayed at three hotels for a total of six nights, and my net outlay was 13,500 World of Hyatt points and approximately $155 cash. This included food and beverages, as discussed below.

Herndon, Virginia: Hyatt Regency Dulles

Hyatt Regency Dulles
The Hyatt Regency Dulles is a good option for overnight connections and early departures. | Photo by Julie Neafach

I stayed one night at the Hyatt Regency Dulles before my early morning flight. It was a Category 1 hotel at the time, but it changed to Category 2 in March 2024. The night I stayed was an off-peak night, so the award rate for a standard room was 3,500 points.

I usually redeem Hyatt points when it’s possible to get at least 2 cents per point. In this case, I would consider using points when rates were over $70. Cash rates were about $140, so it was an easy decision to use points.

At Category 2 properties, standard room redemptions cost 6,500, 8,000 and 9,500 points for off-peak, standard and peak nights, respectively. You can use the hotel’s award calendar to see nightly pricing.

Standard room redemptions cost

There are several Hyatt properties with names that include the airport name “Dulles,” but I chose this property due to its proximity to the airport and its 24-hour complimentary airport shuttle service. Frequent shuttle departures make it ideal for early morning flight departures or late arrivals at the airport.

There are many hotels near Dulles International Airport, but I didn’t look beyond Hyatt for this stay, since the Hyatt Regency Dulles award price was so low, and I thought another Hyatt night might be useful towards achieving additional World of Hyatt Milestone Rewards.

Overall, this hotel met my expectations for a full-service airport hotel. Although I had Hyatt Globalist status, it didn’t really make a difference for this stay since I didn’t need parking and wasn’t there late enough to have breakfast. I was offered a breakfast box to take with me but declined it. 

The room and amenities were typical for a Hyatt Regency. Staff were competent and friendly, and there weren’t any issues with my requests for a wake-up call and taking the 4:30 a.m. airport shuttle.

Hyatt Regency Merida

Hyatt Regency Merida

I booked three nights at the Category 1 Hyatt Regency Merida. Standard rooms were available throughout my stay for 5,000 World of Hyatt points per night, and the cash rate with tax was about $128.

Although the cash rate translates to a redemption value slightly above 2 cents per point, it was close enough to my threshold that I was indifferent to using World of Hyatt points or paying cash. I ended up booking one night with cash and two nights with points.

Because of prices and my Hyatt Globalist status, I chose the Hyatt Regency without seriously considering other hotel chains. Although the hotel wasn’t perfect, I was happy with my choice. 

The Hyatt Regency Merida is a full-service hotel with multiple restaurants and bars, a fitness center, an outdoor rooftop pool, and meeting and event facilities. The room met my expectations for a Hyatt Regency.

Globalist status provided access to the Regency Club, which served breakfast from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m., had a “coffee break” in the afternoon and offered hors d’oeuvres and drinks from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. The evening food was sufficient as dinner. All food was self-serve on a buffet, with staff serving drinks. There also was a self-serve coffee machine that made espresso drinks, a tea setup and water dispenser.

I liked the location of this hotel. It was in what appeared to be an upscale area with several other hotels nearby. It took a few minutes to walk to Paseo 60, a complex with shopping, dining and a bus terminal. Popular Merida historical center sites also were within walking distance.

The World of Hyatt Credit Card

The World of Hyatt Credit Card

Earn 30,000 Bonus Points

– 30,000 Bonus Points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.
– Plus, up to 30,000 More Bonus Points by earning 2 Bonus Points total per $1 spent in the first 6 months from account opening on purchases that normally earn 1 Bonus Point, on up to $15,000 spent.

LEARN MORE 

Playa del Carmen, Mexico: Yucatan Resort 

Before deciding to stay at the Yucatan Playa del Carmen All Inclusive Resort, Tapestry by Hilton— which I’ll refer to as the Yucatan Resort—I considered other hotel brands. Since budget was a primary consideration for this trip, the other options I considered most seriously were Hyatt’s Thompson Playa del Carmen Main House and a Holiday Inn Express property. Because I wasn’t planning to spend much time at the hotel during my short stay, I didn’t care about being on the beach or at a hotel with resort amenities.

When I was planning my trip, the Thompson Playa del Carmen Main House was a Category 3 Hyatt property, but it changed to Category 4 in March 2024. 

For my travel dates, the hotel was going for 12,000 points per night for a standard room, and the cash rate averaged about $200 including taxes and fees. The cash price was more than I wanted to pay out of pocket, but the redemption value was below the threshold where I wanted to use points. I also had a Category 1 through 4 Hyatt free night certificate that I considered using, but I decided to use it at a Category 4 property on another trip.

I initially booked the Holiday Inn Express & Suites Playa del Carmen using IHG points. I don’t use IHG points for less than 0.5 cent each, so I compared the best available refundable cash rate to the points rate. The average nightly points rate was 22,500 points, which is equivalent to a $112.50 cash rate when valuing points at 0.5 cent apiece. Since the best available cash rate was higher, I booked with points.

I didn’t consider Hilton properties until American Express changed the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card benefits in October 2023, and I found myself with a $250 resort credit that expired at the end of December instead of my card membership anniversary date later in 2024. 

I found two properties in Playa del Carmen that are on Hilton’s list of resort properties where Aspire cardholders can use the resort credit to cover room rates and taxes, food and beverage charges and other incidental expenses. One property was the all-inclusive adults-only Hilton Resort Playa del Carmen, but one night at this resort would have cost almost $400.

The other property was the all-inclusive Yucatan Resort. To use a resort credit, I needed to book a cash rate. Furthermore, when I checked rates, using points was a poor value, since standard rooms weren’t available. The example below wasn’t the exact cash rate I booked, but this redemption would provide less than 0.33 cent per point (cpp), which is below my usual redemption threshold of 0.5 cpp for Hilton Honors points.

Yucatan Resort Rate

I booked two nights at the Yucatan Resort in a superior king bed room at a cash rate of about $136 per night. It ended up costing a few dollars more because of the differences in the exchange rate and the hotel adding a small environmental fee. My total for two nights came to $277.34, and after receiving the $250 resort credit, my net cost was $27.34.

Even without the resort credit from the Hilton Aspire Card, the Yucatan Resort was a bargain for an all-inclusive property, but anyone considering this property should do some research and understand that it isn’t a prototypical all-inclusive resort like many others in Mexico’s Riviera Maya. 

The Yucatan Resort is a relatively small property with 60 guestrooms. It’s not on the beach and doesn’t have all typical amenities you’ll find at large all-inclusive resorts. Its sister property is the beachfront Hilton Resort, and the Yucatan Resort offers an upgrade package for guests who want to enjoy the beach facilities, dining and other amenities at the Hilton Resort.

The Yucatan Resort Playa del Carmen
The Yucatan Resort Playa del Carmen is a good option for using the Hilton Resorts credit that comes with the Hilton Aspire Card. | Photo by Julie Neafach

Food and drinks were included in the room rate, and dining details and menus are available on the hotel’s website. Dining options at the time of my stay included:

  • Room service: For breakfast, lunch and dinner
  • El Mural: On the main level and open for breakfast from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m.
  • La Terraza: Near the pool and open for lunch and dinner daily and drinks all day
  • Sakura Maru: Near the pool and open for dinner on selected days of the week                                                                                                                               
  • Coffee Corner: 24/7 self-serve area on the main level with limited options                                                                                                                                   

Considering the low price for my trip dates, I was happy with this hotel. The room I stayed in exceeded my expectations, food was fine, but service could be improved.

The location of the hotel on 5th Avenue between Calle 30 and Calle 32 met my needs. Playa del Carmen’s 5th Avenue is a pedestrian-only street that runs parallel to the beach and offers shopping, dining and nightlife. The hotel was about a five-minute walk to the beach and also within walking distance to both ADO bus terminals.

I have Hilton Honors Diamond status, and I was curious about what benefits elite status provides at an all-inclusive property. When I checked in, neither my status nor a room upgrade was mentioned. My room had a pageant-contestant style sash on the door, thanking Hilton Honors members for their loyalty. I wondered if this was an upgraded room for Hilton Honors members. I requested and was given a one-hour extension for checkout. 

Other Transportation Booking Details

I relied on buses for transportation within Mexico. There are many different types of buses, and they vary in quality and cost. Tickets for some buses that are part of Mexico’s ADO system can be purchased in advance, either online or in-person at the bus station. Long-distance ADO buses often have lower prices when buying tickets further in advance.

I purchased my ticket from Merida to Playa del Carmen at the Merida bus station two days before travel, and I paid almost $50 for the premium ADO Platino bus. If I had booked at least one week in advance, it would have been about $41. Booking the regular ADO bus in advance would have been around $30. The regular ADO bus didn’t provide service from the Paseo 60 terminal near the Hyatt, so I chose to pay more for the convenience of a short walk to the bus terminal.

The ADO Platino bus was the nicest bus I’ve ever taken. Although seats didn’t fully recline into beds, there was significantly more recline and space between rows compared to domestic first-class flights. There were seatback entertainment screens, electrical outlets and Wi-Fi, but it didn’t work for most of the trip. Overall, this was a pleasant way to travel for the 4.5 hours trip from Merida to Playa del Carmen.

ADO also operates frequent bus service between Playa del Carmen, downtown Cancun and the Cancun airport. I used ADO for transportation from Playa del Carmen to the airport, and this ticket cost about $14. The trip took about 90 minutes.

I used buses for day trips to beach areas. I used AutoProgreso to visit Progreso from Merida and Playa Express to visit Puerto Morelos from Playa del Carmen. Payment was cash only with round-trip fares of 48 Mexican pesos ($2.80) for the Progreso trip and 60 Mexican pesos ($3.50) for the Puerto Morelos trip.

Progreso
The beach in Progreso, Mexico, has a long malecon and a sign. | Photo by Julie Neafach

There are other transportation options with higher and lower costs between Playa del Carmen and Puerto Morelos or other Riviera Maya locations, but Playa Express worked best for me considering cost, comfort and schedule. 

Playa Express might not be as convenient for some people, since their starting and ending location at 20 Avenida Nte. 652 is near Route 307 and Avenue Benito Juárez, rather than 5th Avenue. Playa Express uses small Mercedes buses, which are nicer than the equipment typically used by colectivo vans. 

ADO operates first- and second-class buses to Cancun (the city, not the airport) that will drop off passengers in Puerto Morelos, but the cost is higher and the service is less frequent. Taxis or private shuttles are other options and cost more than buses.

Since my flight to Baltimore arrived too late for me to use public transportation to get home, and ride services or taxis to my area are always over $100, I rented a car from Avis to drive home and returned it the next day to a non-airport location. The car rental was almost $48, and I spent $7 on gas.

Final Thoughts

I enjoyed my budget-friendly trip to Mexico. The perks provided by hotel status and credit card benefits contributed to the overall value and my enjoyment of the trip. I’m interested in spending more time in Merida and the Riviera Maya, so a return trip is on my radar.