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Here’s what you need to know about getting to (and staying in) Tulum on points – The Points Guy

If you’ve been on Instagram or Twitter lately, it seems like everyone is either in, or already visited, Tulum. It’s popular among a specific group of millennials, with its off-the-grid beaches and spiritual retreats. The hot spot also inspires a lot of ire, with one viral post even implying that Americans — and New Yorkers, in particular — killed Tulum.

Here’s what you need to know about getting to Tulum (and staying there) using points and miles.

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Airfare to Tulum

Tulum is served by two major airports: Cancun (CUN) and Cozumel (CZM). You’ll have to take a ferry from Cozumel if you want to get to Tulum, and Cancun is roughly an hour and a half drive. You can find direct flights from Miami (MIA) and Dallas (DFW) to Cozumel on American and from Houston (IAH) on United.

The vast majority of travelers will fly into Cancun, which is served by the three major U.S. airlines, along with Southwest, Aeromexico, Volaris and Interjet.

Photo Taken In Tulum, Mexico

Cheapest Oneworld awards to Tulum

Your best bet is to use either American Airlines AAdvantage miles or British Airways Avios. 

If you take advantage of American’s off-peak dates, you can snag round-trip economy tickets for just 25,000 miles plus taxes and fees. If you prefer to fly up-front, that price will increase to 50,000 miles round-trip.

Screengrab from American Airlines
Screengrab from American Airlines

If you’re low on AAdvantage miles, one of the easiest ways to earn them is through sign-up bonuses and everyday spending on co-branded credit cards. Citi and Barclays currently issue six credit cards with different welcome bonuses and point-earning abilities.

  • Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard®: Earn 50,000 bonus miles after spending $5,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening. Earn 2x AAdvantage miles on eligible American Airlines purchases and 1 mile elsewhere. ($450 annual fee)
  • Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard®: Earn 50,000 bonus miles after spending $2,500 on purchases in the first three months of account opening. Earn 2x AAdvantage miles on gas station, restaurant, and eligible American Airlines purchases and 1 mile elsewhere. ($99 annual fee waived for the first 12 months)
  • CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® Mastercard®: Earn 65,000 bonus miles after spending $4,000 in purchases within the first four months of account opening. ($99 annual fee, waived for the first 12 months)
  • American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp℠ Card: Earn 10,000 bonus miles and a $50 statement credit after spending $500 on purchases within the first three months of account opening. Earn 2x AAdvantage miles on grocery store and eligible American Airlines purchases and 1 mile elsewhere. (No annual fee)
  • Barclays AAdvantage® Aviator® Red World Elite Mastercard®: Earn 60,000 bonus miles after making your first purchase in the first 90 days and paying the $99 annual fee. Earn 2x AAdvantage miles on American Airlines purchases and 1 mile elsewhere.
  • Barclays AAdvantage® Aviator® Business Mastercard®: Earn up to 75,000 miles: Earn 65,000 miles after spending $1,000 in the first 90 days and earn another 10,000 miles when a purchase is made on an employee card. Earn 2x AAdvantage miles on office supply, telecom, car rental and American Airlines purchases, and 1 mile elsewhere. ($95 annual fee)

The information for the Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select, CitiBusiness AAdvantage Platinum Select, Barclays AAdvantage Aviator Red, and Barclays AAdvantage Aviator Business card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

British Airways uses a distance-based award chart, instead of a traditional zone-based one. That means you can score big on short-haul partner flights starting at just 15,000 Avios round-trip in American’s economy class.

Avios are incredibly easy to collect thanks to British Airways’ partnership with three major transferable points currencies. You can transfer from Chase Ultimate Rewards or Amex Membership Rewards to British Airways at a 1:1 ratio. You can also transfer from Marriott at a 3:1 ratio (plus a 5,000-Avios bonus for every 60,000 Marriott points you transfer).

Related: Maximizing the British Airways Distance-Based Award Chart

Cheapest Star Alliance awards to Tulum

The best option, by far, is to use Turkish Miles & Smiles for just 10,000 miles each way in economy or 15,000 in business class to get to Cancun. You can transfer Citi ThankYou points to Turkish at a 1:1 ratio using the Citi Prestige® Card and Citi Premier℠ Card.

The information for the Citi Prestige and Citi Premier Card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

United doesn’t publish an award chart anymore, but you can still find cheap fares down to Mexico. One-way award tickets to Cancun from Newark (EWR) start at just 17,500 MileagePlus miles each way in economy in November and business class starts at 30,000 miles.

(Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

If you’re low on miles, United is a 1:1 transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards and a 3:1 transfer partner to Marriott Bonvoy.

If you’re starting from scratch or looking to save up for an expensive award, you’ll want to consider signing up for a United credit card. You’ll have your choice between entry-level and premium cards and personal and business options:

  • United Club Infinite Card: Earn 100,000 bonus miles after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first three months your account is open.
  • United Explorer Card: Earn 60,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months your account is open. The first year annual fee is waived, and it’s $95 per year after that.
  • United Business Card: Earn 60,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening.

Aeroplan’s award chart is incredibly valuable both for short-haul economy flights or international premium-cabin seats. Aeroplan points are a bit cheaper and a bit easier to earn. Round-trip economy tickets on United or Air Canada will set you back just 40,000 Aeroplan miles or 60,000 miles in business.

American Express cardholders can transfer their Membership Rewards points to Aeroplan at a 1:1 ratio. Transfers can be made in 1,000 point increments and generally process instantly, so don’t transfer points until you’re ready to book an award ticket.

Cheapest SkyTeam awards to Tulum

Air France and KLM Royal Dutch’s combined loyalty program is Flying Blue. This program has quickly become one of the most well-known airline loyalty programs. One thing to note is that all Flying Blue award tickets are priced dynamically. 

This means that there’s no set award chart and that some tickets can be costly. Instead, Flying Blue now offers a pricing calculator, which will let you know the minimum number of miles needed for an award. I ran several searches from airports like New York, Miami, Los Angeles and Atlanta and the cheapest award ticket I found was 11,500 FlyingBlue miles one-way from Miami on Delta Air Lines.

Screengrab from FlyingBlue

The best way to earn Flying Blue miles is by using a transferrable points card. You can transfer points to Flying Blue from American Express Membership Rewards, Capital One miles, Citi ThankYou, Chase Ultimate Rewards and Marriott Bonvoy. Amex, Citi and Chase transfer at a 1:1 ratio, Capital One transfers at a 1:1.5 ratio, and Marriott transfers at a 3:1 ratio.

Delta was one of the first airlines to pull its award chart and move to dynamic pricing. But you can still snag great award availability on short-haul flights. For instance, a round-trip November flight from Atlanta (ATL) to Cancun starts at just 18,000 SkyMiles round-trip (albeit in basic economy), but just 30,000 miles in Comfort+ and 54,000 in first.

(Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

Currently, Delta SkyMiles has one credit card transfer partner: American Express Membership Rewards. You can transfer Membership Rewards points to Delta SkyMiles at a 1:1 ratio. You can also transfer hotel points from a variety of programs to your Delta SkyMiles account. 

Here’s a look at the full suite of Delta SkyMiles credit cards from American Express (terms apply):

Personal cards:

Business cards:

Tolum hotels you can book with points

Many hotels in Tulum are local resorts or family-owned. That means you won’t find big brands like Hilton in the area — you’ll have to go to the more popular beach destinations for that.

Hilton

There aren’t any Hilton hotels in Tulum, but you can find several in nearby Playa Del Carmen and Cancun, starting at just 23,000 Hilton Honors points in December. While the program no longer publishes an award chart and causes frequent heartburn with its seasonal pricing, there are plenty of ways to extract substantial value.

There are a variety of ways to boost your Hilton Honors account balance. One of the quickest ways is by adding one of the program’s co-branded credit cards to your wallet. Here are the current options:

Hyatt

World of Hyatt has one property in Tulum proper, Kasa Hotel Parota, a Small Luxury Hotels property. A Category 6 property, rooms cost 25,000 Hyatt points a night.

World of Hyatt points aren’t the easiest to earn, but credit cards like The World of Hyatt Credit Card ($95 annual fee) can get you to your next redemption. The World of Hyatt card offers up to 50,000 bonus points. You’ll earn 25,000 bonus points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months and an additional 25,000 bonus points after spending a total of $6,000 within the first six months of account opening. 

You can also transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards to World of Hyatt. Points earned on cards like the Chase Sapphire Reserve and Chase Sapphire Preferred Card transfer to World of Hyatt at a 1:1 ratio. 

Marriott

Marriott Bonvoy has one hotel in Tulum, the category 6 Papaya Playa Project. Award nights range from 40,000-60,000 Bonvoy points per night, and you’ll get the fifth-night free on award stays.

Papaya Playa in Tulum
Papaya Playa in Tulum. Photo courtesy of Design Hotels

The fastest way to earn Marriott points is by spending on a co-branded credit card. You can transfer points from both Chase Ultimate Rewards and Amex Membership Rewards to Marriott at a 1:1 ratio, but this usually represents a pretty poor redemption value.

If you’re short on Marriott points, there are several cards for you:

Activities in Tolum

People are attracted to Tulum for its nature and history. If you have a ton of points saved up, you can use Chase’s “Things to Do” portal to search for activities. This might not be the best use of your points, however.

If you already have some Chase Ultimate Rewards points earned via the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, for instance, they are only worth 1 to 1.25 cents each toward travel.

Ground transportation 

If you’re set on driving in Tulum, you’ll need to pick up a car at Cancun’s airport. The airport is served by major rental car companies like Hertz, Budget and National. If you have a card that earns cash back or transferable rewards, you can redeem them for car rentals.

The Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal is a great place to redeem points for rental cars. If you have a Chase Sapphire Reserve, your points are worth 1.5 cents each, while Sapphire Preferred cardholders are worth 1.25 cents each. You’ll be eligible for primary car rental coverage if you use points tied to your Sapphire Preferred or Reserve account.

You can also redeem Amex Membership Rewards points for rental cars through Pay with Points. This isn’t the best value, considering you’ll get 0.7-0.85 cents of value out of each point, while TPG values Membership Rewards at 2 cents each. 

Related: 10 best ways to redeem your points and miles for a car rental

Bottom line

Getting to Tulum is the easy part: fly into Cancun (or Cozumel) using any of the three major U.S. airlines. But staying in Tulum will require some creativity on your part. It’s not Cancun or Playa Del Carmen, so you’ll have to drive over an hour to experience Tulum’s beauty. 

And while there aren’t a ton of points hotels, the few in the area are well worth the price. If you’re okay being a little off the grid, there’s no reason Tulum shouldn’t be your next vacation destination.

Featured photo by Getty Images