Tips on Using Your Frequent Flyer Miles to Plan a Warm Getaway

Jan 7, 2014

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With record-breaking lows sweeping the entire continental US and predictions that today just might be the coldest day on record in the country (and my own Costa Rican tan already fading!), it seemed like a good time to put together a list of great tropical destinations you can get to using points and miles – as early as this week if you need to get warm now and you can get a flight out!

Who couldn't use a little beach time this week?
Who couldn’t use a little beach time this week?

Hawaii: Hawaii is the great American tropical destination for good reason. The people are friendly, no passports are needed, the flights are plentiful, and no matter which island you choose, there are tons of points hotels to stay out. Even better – there is tons of open award availability to the islands later this month. I just took a quick look from the West Coast and found plenty of options from the Bay Area (including Oakland and San Jose) to Maui in late January and February at the low level for both economy and business class.

There's plenty of American award availability to Hawaii this winter.
There’s plenty of American award availability to Hawaii this winter.

And flyers can leverage airline partners for even more options as shown in this sample itinerary where you would fly out on Hawaiian Airlines, American’s airline partner, and back on Alaska – both non-alliance partners of the airline.

Screen shot 2014-01-06 at 3.41.25 PMWhat’s more, you can leverage American’s Oneworld partner, British Airways, and use just 25,000 Avios roundtrip instead of 35,000 American miles since BA’s award chart is distance-based and requires fewer miles on this route than American would. BA is also a transfer partner of Amex Membership Rewards if you’ve got a premium card like the Premier Rewards Gold or Platinum cards, as well as of Chase Ultimate Rewards if you’ve got either the Sapphire Preferred, Ink Bold or Ink Plus, so you have plenty of options to top up your account.

For more information on Hawaii, check out my Destination of the Week posts on Oahu, Maui, Kauai and the Big Island.

Go scuba diving or snorkeling in one of the coastal cenotes, or underwater caves, like Ponderosa.
Go scuba diving in one of Cancun’s famous cenotes this winter!

Cancun: This Mexican playground is a quick flight from both the east and west coasts and there is a plethora of airline options to get here as well as hotel choices once you arrive. Check out my Destination of the Week on this resort city and in the meantime, start checking award availability on American, which flies here from Dallas, Chicago, Miami and New York JFK; Delta to Atlanta, Boston, Cincinnati, Columbus, Detroit, Hartford, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, Memphis, Milwaukee, Minneapolis St. Paul, Detroit, Nashville, Orlando, Raleigh/Durham, Salt Lake City, Tampa and Washington Dulles; United from Chicago, Houston, Newark; US Airways to Philadelphia and Charlotte; Virgin America from Los Angeles and San Francisco. And there is plenty of award availability showing – especially on American and United, throughout January and February, so you can beat the spring breakers down there!

Warm CUNFor example, I found tons of awards on American from Chicago in both coach and business class next week, as you can see from my ExpertFlyer search results above.

Think about a jaunt to Tahiti - it's easier than you think!
Think about a jaunt to Tahiti – it’s easier than you think!

Tahiti: Tahiti might seem like a far-off wonderland, but it’s actually just an 8-hour flight from the west coast and while there aren’t dozens of options to fly here, there are a few very good ones that you can take advantage of without redeeming all those hard-earned miles. Air Tahiti Nui is a partner of both American and Delta, and you would need the following amounts of miles to get there.

With American:
Economy: 75,000 miles
Business: 125,000 miles
First: 150,000 miles

With Delta:
Economy: 100,000 miles at Saver (140,000-190,000 for Medium-High)
Business: 150,000 miles at Saver (240,000-370,000 for Medium-High)

Air France also flies to Papeete from Los Angeles, so you can redeem Flying Blue miles (an Amex transfer partner) as well as Delta SkyMiles (an Amex transfer partner), Alaska miles or even Korean Air miles (a Chase Ultimate Rewards partner) for this redemption. You can also search award availability on either Air France or Air Tahiti Nui using ExpertFlyer, and my own quick search revealed a lot of award availability in the coming days and weeks.

Warm PPT

Check out my post on Using Miles to Get to Tahiti.

Costa Rica: I just had a (mostly) fantastic time in Costa Rica. I stayed at both the Hilton Papagayo (not so much) and the newly opened Andaz Peninsula Papagayo (much better – review to come very shortly!), and it’s surprisingly easy to get down there. There are a lot of flights to San Jose in the center of the country, but I flew farther north to Liberia, the airport closest to the gorgeous Papagayo Peninsula where much of the tourism here is centered and which is serviced by several US carriers (though several actually stop in San Jose) including American from DFW and Miami; Delta from Atlanta, MSP, LAX and JFK; United to Chicago, Newark and Houston; and US Airways to Charlotte.

Delta flies to Liberia Airport in Costa Rica non-stop from 4 US cities.
Delta flies to Liberia Airport in Costa Rica non-stop from 4 US cities.

There is actually plenty of availability that I could find including the following outbound on United from Newark via San Jose if you wanted to head down there for the long Martin Luther King holiday.

Screen shot 2014-01-06 at 5.47.52 PMAnd Delta’s also showing plenty of Saver Award availability in the next few weeks, such as this itinerary from Atlanta to Liberia.

Screen shot 2014-01-06 at 5.51.40 PM

It’s also Off Peak to Central America on American Airlines from January 16-June 14, so you can score a roundtrip economy ticket for as low as 30,000 miles.

Aruba: This gorgeous southern Caribbean island is known for consistently sunny and warm weather and it is an easy getaway from the east coast since it is just under a 3-hour flight from Miami where American flies, and under 5 hours from New York, where Delta and JetBlue both operate non-stops from JFK and United from Newark while US Airways flies from Charlotte – where there is low-level availability on plenty of days this month including as early as Thursday this week:

Screen shot 2014-01-06 at 6.02.35 PMKey West: If you don’t want to pack your passport, Key West is one of my family’s favorite warm-weather domestic destinations with a lot of great points hotel options and plenty of interesting things to see and do like the southernmost tip of the Continental US, Hemingway’s house, and a ton of great bars and restaurants.

Untitled3The little airport is just 2 miles from the main town, and there are tons of flight options here. United Express offers flights from Tampa, Fort Lauderdale and Ft. Myers (all of which are operated by Silver Airways), while US Airways provides flights from both Charlotte and Washington-Reagan airports. Delta serves Key West from their Atlanta hub, while American Eagle uses their Miami hub for the short flight down to the Keys. Southwest and AirTran have regular service from Orlando, Tampa, and New Orleans, so if you’re in the southeast part of the country and looking for a quick getaway, this quirky little key is a great option.

Those are just some of my picks – and they all have very decent award availability in the coming weeks when these sub-zero temperatures are bound to start getting to everyone, so if you’re dreaming of somewhere sunny, there are some great options to put your miles to use!

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