Mexico: How I’ve Used Chase Ultimate Rewards Points 3X for Incredible Travel There and Why There’s No Way in Hell I’m Going Back Anytime Soon

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I’ve made 3 separate trips to Mexico using Chase Ultimate Rewards points over the past few years, staying for weeks or months at a time (I work online).  And it was wonderful.

I soaked in the in-suite hot tub overlooking the beautiful beach from my room at the Hyatt Zilara Cancun while guzzling, er, sipping, all-included name-brand cocktails.  I paid $0 for this $500-a-night room thanks to Chase Ultimate Rewards points I earned with my Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card along with big bonuses from cards like the #1 business card, Ink Business Preferred Credit Card.

Chase Ultimate Rewards Points Got Me a Luxury Stay Worth $500-a-Night at the Hyatt Zilara All-Inclusive Hotel!  It Was Awesome!

Southwest Airlines got me there just fine with Chase Ultimate Rewards points and with 2 free checked bags.

And when I booked with Airbnb, I earned 2x Chase Ultimate Rewards points by using my trusty Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card with no foreign transaction fees.

But, no mas!

Chase Ultimate Rewards Points Transfer to Southwest for Free Flights and to Hyatt for Luxury Hotel Stays.  But Even Still, I’m Looking Elsewhere

Some of my Million Mile Secrets teammates disagree.  Harlan was in Mexico City recently and said he felt safe.  Emily is planning a trip to Cancun.  Not me.

I felt safe in Cancun and Playa del Carmen and Isla Mujeres (a somewhat-hidden and serene quiet gem, just a short ferry ride from Cancun).

Isla Mujeres Is a Relaxed Island Spot Perfect for Chill Tourists and Iguanas

But now I’ve read story after story about awful murders of innocent people including tourists in tourist towns.  And the deaths attributed to bad liquor also have me opting to go elsewhere.  It seems to be an “open secret” that Mexican authorities blame murders as drug dealers killing drug dealers when in reality, innocent people are getting killed too.

I realize I live in a dangerous country (US) but Mexico seems overrun with organized crime that is ruining this beautiful nation.

I’ve met very kind people in Mexico.  The 3 different Airbnb hosts I’ve had were all great folks.  Twice I lived with my host, renting a spare bedroom in a nice non-touristy neighborhood just a 10 minute ride outside the hotel zone.  When you live with someone for a month, you can get to know them a bit along with their friends.  They were great.  These folks were kind and smart small business owners, eager to be helpful.  The everyday local people I’ve met in Mexico while exploring the towns and beaches were really nice too.

And while my former Airbnb hosts welcome me back, I can’t do it.  Last time in Cancun (2017) my host mentioned something about not trusting the alcohol served in “hotel zone,” which is the main tourist strip.

Being a local, he showed me other places to party that were a bit more upscale.  Even so, I did make a number of visits to Senor Frog’s, Fat Tuesday, and the other establishments that line the avenue full of revelers.  It turns out Fat Tuesday has been accused of selling alcohol that can poison you — and it can happen after just one drink.

And it’s not just places aimed at younger people, five-star Iberostar Paraíso Del Mar resort in Playa del Carmen has also been named.  You may know the story of Abbey Conner.  The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel did an investigative report.  She was found floating face-down in a pool after she and her brother drank there.  The New York Post reports that authorities in Mexico have seized 10,000 gallons of illicit alcohol from a manufacturer supplying it to popular resorts.

Here are stats I’ve seen:

  • 2017 was Mexico’s deadliest year on record
  • 31,174 murders recorded
  • May 2018: Mexico broke the previous deadliest month on record set in October with 2,530 reported cases of intentional homicides during the month, or 93 per day.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime:

  • 10.19  intentional homicides per 100,000 people in Quintana Roo (state where Cancun is) in 2016
  • and in 2017 murders more than doubled to 21.57 per 100,000
  • Mexico City looks considerably safer at 12.3 murders per 100,000

To give you an idea, Florida and California each have a murder rate of ~5 people per 100,000.  I feel safe in Florida.  Not sure I want to go to a place with 4X the murder rate AND the possibility of tainted margaritas.

You may recall these other stories that made the news here in the US.

April 2018: tourists watched as a man’s body washed up at Caletilla Beach in Acapulco.

And the Washington Post reported,  “Officials in Mexico said they discovered 8 bodies in multiple locations across Cancun, a popular beach resort city — and magnet for American tourists — on the Yucatán Peninsula.  At least one victim had been bound before being shot, while another was apparently killed while lying in a hammock.  Other victims were dumped on the streets, dismembered and stuffed into plastic bags, or left inside an abandoned taxi.”

There Are Many Warm-Weather Alternatives Where You Can Use Your Chase Ultimate Rewards Points

Yes, Mexico has a rich history, beautiful beaches, and Mayan ruins to explore.  But if you’re mostly going for a warm weather vacation or to party, you’ve got options.  You can use miles and points at Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic, the Bahamas, and on and on.

When you have great cards like the

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card #1 pick for folks new to using miles instead of money for travel


Ink Business Preferred Credit Card best business credit card

you can transfer your points to Southwest.  Then fly on Southwest comfortably and with 2 free checked bags per passenger to destinations such as

  • Aruba
  • Bahamas
  • Cuba
  • Dominican Republic
  • Jamaica
  • Turks and Caicos Islands
  • and all over the US like South Florida, Orlando, San Diego, and soon… Hawaii.

It’s super easy to move your Chase Ultimate Rewards points to partners like Southwest and Hyatt.

With a Quick Click You Can Move Your Chase Ultimate Rewards Points for a Free Hyatt Hotel Stay

Bottom Line

I really hope the government of Mexico can get the violence under control.

I lived in New York City when it was a violent city rife with murders and assaults.  It wasn’t fun.  It’s much more enjoyable now.  I’m sure plenty of tourists skipped New York City back then for other big city options, just as I’m skipping Cancun and Mexico for now.

Maybe if I only planned to stay on the grounds of a hotel I trust like the Hyatt Zilara, I’d go back.  But for me, I usually like to explore the area.

Am I wrong for avoiding Cancun and Mexico?

Million Mile Secrets is a contributor to Million Mile Secrets, he covers topics on points and miles, credit cards, airlines, hotels, and general travel.

Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)

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1 year ago

I would say that you are wrong for avoiding Mexico. Bad things can happen anywhere and the statistics you quote are almost always badly skewed towards small, isolated pockets. I remember seeing an article about the murder rate in Honduras (often described as the most violent country in the world) which compared it to New Orleans. New Orleans had a higher rate. Yet how many people would skip Maris Gras based upon that statistic? I spend much of the year in Monterrey in Northern Mexico and often travel to the state of Tamaulipas, and even there in most places, I feel safer than any large American city. Granted even though I am not Latino, I speak Spanish and that makes a big difference. Last time I crossed into Nuevo Laredo from Texas, the Mexican border guard asked me if I was from Argentina; the number of non-latino Americans has dropped dramatically.

1 year ago

I completely agree with you, Scott. I have loved Mexico for years and no way am I risking it. I’m sure the murdered tourists felt the same as many of the comments. This is not being judgemental. These are facts, not “thoughts”.

1 year ago

I go to Baja to work twice a year. The statistics won’t deter me, as I rely on the assessments of my friends who live there. One of the best things we can do for Mexico is to support local businesses. The grocery store. The ice cream shop. The artists on the plaza. Their businesses are the first to feel it when tourism falters, not the international resort chains. These kind people will phone their Dad to find out where you can get a product they don’t sell. The folks at the ice cream shop will make you custom smoothies, cause they can. Street sweepers take off their mask to say good morning. The cafe will agree to hold the cheese and ask if you want avocado instead, no charge. These are some of the kindest people I’ve met, and I would not deny them my business for fear of becoming a statistic.

1 year ago

Very eye opening and informative. My friends tell me the same things about Chicago. A city I am planning to visit soon.

That being said I wish I had a job that allowed me to travel while working…

1 year ago

My wife and I and occasionally my family along with us have stayed in Mexico over 20 times in the Cancun and Playa Del Carmen area we have driven for literally hundreds of miles in a rental car to see ruins, visit towns excetera and have never had a problem anywhere, is it luck? I don’t know but I’ll tell you this, I would feel much less safe in many towns in the US at night

1 year ago

*sigh* thoughts like this article really bug me. I’ve been to Mexico three times (just got back a week ago) and never had an issue. I understand that everyone wants to be safe, but look at our own country too. Here in the US, you can get killed at a hospital, a church, a movie theater, etc. Paris and London have also experienced terrorist attacks. I even experienced some racism in Spain. If you’re looking for reasons not to visit a place, you will find them. Generalizing an entire country because of incidents that can occur pretty much anywhere is judgemental and doesn’t help promote the wanderlust mentality that makes this website awesome.

1 year ago

Avoid Cancun and Mexico? We avoid Cancun only for the reason of all.includive resorts and party central mainly. I as a female have driven around the Yucatán many times and will continue to do so. Mexico as a country in fact any country go have a great time, stroll the beach’s, climb the mountains, eat the food… careful the liquor consumption. Even in my home tourist town in USA I’m careful. Avoid Mexico… I’ll continue to visit and encourage others to!

1 year ago

Please stay away from Mexico. That way I can get a shady beach chair by the pool. Been all over Mexico and you have no idea what your talking about.

1 year ago

Some interesting points. Certainly all tourists should take precautions.

Why would you suggest Jamaica or the Dominican Republic over Quintana Roo? My understanding is that the homicide rate in each of those two countries is much higher.

Scott Lieberman
Reply to  Daniel
1 year ago

I haven’t dug into the stats of those places but I also haven’t read that the issues there are impacting tourist towns.

Myself and another person on our team personally know folks who had a horror story happen in Mexico.

I guess go wherever you feel comfortable. The alcohol thing that impacted hotels and restaurants was the last straw for me.

Mexico is a wonderful place and I love Cancun and the surrounding beach towns. So I hope they can fix the situation quickly.