How we flew to Cancun and back for $80

We like to end the year on a beach, which means almost always traveling during peak season. I try to avoid using cash to pay for flights and hotel. Therefore, planning epic trips with minimal cash and points has evolved into my favorite hobby. This year, we opted for Mexico over Hawaii as the latter was too expensive using points. I also wanted to check out two Hyatt properties: the all-inclusive, adults-only Hyatt Zilara Cancun and the brand new Hyatt Playa del Carmen.

I used a combination of Southwest (SWA), British Airways Avios (BA), and American Airlines (AA) points to make this happen. Additionally, we needed a layover in Dallas. This is actually a TERRIBLE itinerary if you’re looking for a direct shot to Cancun. However, we were able to fly roundtrip, in business/first one-way, during peak season, for less than $80.


  • To Dallas via SWA @ $11.20 (airport fee)
  • To Cancun from Dallas via AA @ $54 (airport fee)
  • To San Francisco via AA in Business/First Class (woot!) @ $11.20 (airport fee).
  • Total out-of-pocket cost = $76.40 (including the stay at Element, total cost is $165)
  • Total points redeemed = 90,000 (60,000 AA, ~15,000 SWA, 15,000 Avios). If I add Ed’s layover at Hyatt DFW, total points redeemed would increase to 98,000.
  • Value ~$1,600 (for two)
A bit inefficient, but it also accomplished two goals:
  1. Helped me attain SPG Platinum 50 status which gives me 10 suite upgrades at any Starwood Hotel property (e.g. Sheraton, W, Westin, St. Regis, etc.,)
  2. Provided more options to Cancun through AA since Dallas is a major hub
  3. Bonus: Ed met up with a friend he hadn’t seen in years
  4. Bonus #2: We were able to hang out in the best lounge ever, The Centurion Lounge.

If we were to travel during non-peak, this trip could easily be done for 70,000 points (in Economy) with no layover.

Itinerary Details 


  • Flew SWA to Dallas using points (14,344 plus $5.60 per person)
  • Stayed overnight @ Element DFW ($87.98 per night)

2015-12-29 20.34.29-1

  • We met up with Noe, a friend of Ed’s from decades back. He took us to Hard Eight, an open-pit bbq. Since I don’t eat meat (except seafood), I made do with a dinner of: buttered corn, onion rings, and potato salad. Ed’s bbq looked epic.
American Express Centurion Lounge DFW
  • We woke up around 4:30am to hang out in Centurion Lounge for an hour. They didn’t have hot food items out yet, but we did have some fruit and yogurt. However, the bar WAS open, and I did have a glass of Chandon at 6:30am.
  • We flew via AA to Cancun using 7,500 points plus $27.09 per person.

We did this by transferring points at a 1:1 ratio from Ed’s American Express Platinum card to BA. He earned 100,000 points when he signed up for the card so these points can go a long way.

Since BA is a partner of AA via OneWorld, you can book travel on AA using BA points (called Avios). It was a bit of a pain because you have to call BA to use these points and the hold time could be up to 30 minutes. I could have also used AA points, but that would have been 17,500 AA points vs. 7,500 Avios. Saving 20,000 AA points was worth the time on the phone.

  • Used Canada Transfers to get to Hyatt Zilara Cancun. This was super easy – you bypass the craziness, look for the “Canada Transfers” sign, and you’re on your way in a private van ($30 per person). In budget mode, I would have looked into the ADO bus. This is approximately the cost of a taxi, too.

Key lessons:

  • Make sure to open a British Airways Executive account
  • Make sure the name on your reservation matches the name on your passport. For most people, this is obvious. However, I’ve had some issues since my passport name is my Chinese name and I usually go by my English name.
  • Make sure the person booking knows #2. Otherwise it’s another email/call to BA to change the name on the reservation. If you have to change the name of your British Airways reservation or the name our your BA account, do the following:
    • Email:
    • Include a scanned image of your passport
    • Call 1 800-247-9297 to confirm (you also use this number to make your reservation)
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  • We used Canada transfers to take us from our hotel in Playa del Carmen to Cancun airport. We paid $60 for a private transport when a taxi would have only been 750 pesos ($41). In budget mode, we could have taken the ADO bus for just 162 pesos ($9) per person.
  • We flew to Dallas together via AA using 30,000 points plus $5.60 per person

We opted to fly back via Business/First because Economy was 27,500 points and First was just 2,500 more. I was excited to see that we’d be flying one of American Airline’s newer planes – the A321s.

  • Since I made the mistake of waiting to book our return tickets, this meant that award availability was very limited. Ed and I weren’t able to fly back to San Francisco on the same flight. The only flight I found for Ed was to return the following day. He stayed one night at the Hyatt Regency DFW, using 8,000 points.
  • I flew directly back to San Francisco in First Class, on another A321s.
Key lessons:
  • Once you deplane from international in DFW, you can’t access the American Express Centurion Lounge.
  • American Airlines allows you to hold tickets for five days, free. This is awesome. United charges for this service.

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