On September 23,2012, I got the following text from my lovely daughter: “Dad! EWR-SJO $283 RT for 4402 UA PQM… Book now!!” The one thing Angelina is good at is finding cheap airfare for the family, but when it comes to her paying me back $, that’s another story, ha!
Anyway, the timing of the text was great; my wife and my 27th-year wedding anniversary was coming up in October, and I needed to get my act together with plans. I figured this would be a great opportunity to pull together a “surprise anniversary gift” being the knight-in-shining-armor husband that I am, so quickly took out my American Express Premier Rewards Gold Card and booked us two tickets, earning me 3x Membership Rewards points per dollar in the process. What’s even more golden was knowing that I’d be “the man” for surprising my wife with a vacation in Costa Rica.
Well… the surprise was on me. My wife had an emergency work dilemma and could not get off that weekend for the life of her. Naturally, the dilemma was now on Dad (this seems to be the trend), and I had to construct a new plan. The airfare had cost me $566, and cancellation fees would be $300 for both tickets, yikes! I prayed and prayed up until the very last minute that there’d be a schedule change to save my butt (related post), but of course that never happened. What do I do now?
For one thing, my wife solved this quickly by
kicking me out encouraging me to go alone. I always wanted to travel Internationally on my own for the following reasons: no compromises, no one to blame, my own itinerary, I am the king… ok, you get it – those kind of reasons.
For the first night in San Jose, I used 9,000 Club Carlson points to book a room at The Country Inn and Suites by the airport (FYI: the hotel’s airport shuttle is free if you arrive before 9 pm. I landed at 9:30pm, so it cost me $18 for the taxi fare). The Country Inn and Suites is in the middle of nowhere, but its not too shabby for one night to be near the airport. Plus, with my gold status with Club Carlson, I was upgraded to a better room, which included free wifi and a good breakfast.
The next day I arranged for a taxi ($18) to take me to Hotel Santo Tomas where I spent the next 2 nights for $120 (special last minute rate) based on the good TripAdvisor reviews.
My first impression of the hotel was not a good one. Gates, buzzer to be let in, rough neighborhood… you get the picture. Once buzzed in though, I was greeted by friendly English-speaking staff, and I was set up in a clean, basic room. The hotel had its own bar, free wifi, and a great breakfast at unbeatable price. The hotel is also within walking distance to all the main tourist activities. It is safe to walk and tour during the day as there are plenty of police present in the vicinity; however, I would not recommend walking at night; take a cab, if you must. For you Priority Club members, there is a Holiday Inn two blocks away.
The next day I arranged to take a tour to the Arenal volcano and Tabacon Spa. This tour was definitely the highlight of my trip, and I highly recommend it. For $121 you get hotel pick up/drop off, a full lunch overlooking the volcano, and a buffet dinner at the Tabacon Thermal resort.
On my last night, I stayed at the Radisson Hotel and Casino using a 35% off code, so the room only cost me $79. I earned 4,000 Club Carlson points and was upgraded to a nice room; oh, and I won $100 playing blackjack in their small casino… so in my mind, the room and taxi to airport was paid for by blackjack winnings. Score!
The Radisson is in a better and quieter part of town, but it is a business hotel, away from all the action. I was also pleasantly surprised to learn that this hotel actually ended up being part of Radisson’s current “Stay One Night, Earn One Night Promotion” (related post) for US and Caribbean properties. I guess Club Carlson considers Costa Rica part of Caribbean because my free night certificate posted to my account after a few days.
On the way home, my United flight was delayed five and a half hours. United offered an “appreciation” deal to all passenger as a courtesy. My choices were either 10,000 miles or $250 credit. Feeling creative, I sent a secure message to United asking if I can take the 10000 miles and full refund of my wife’s ticket without incurring the cancellation fee… and to my surprise, they accepted!
I must say that all in all my solo trip was a great experience earning me 14,410 United miles, 4,400 Club Carlson points, a free night at Radisson, $100 back in my pocket from the casino, and no cancellation fee!
Special thanks to all the readers who appreciate the Dad Posts, especially Courtney, Debbie Schroeder, Marina Dee, Chris Kirwin, Brad, and Vicki Burton – my six special fans who commented for more Dad Posts on Angelina’s anniversary post.
Have fun and keep on traveling [solo too!]
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