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I hate winter. There, I said it. I’ve lived in the Northeast my entire life and I’ve been putting up with cold, dark winters because I haven’t known any better. However, I’m starting to think that living in a warmer climate during the winter months is something I will need to do at some point in my life. I do love snow, but I’d much rather enjoy a week or two of nice powder at a ski resort than deal with months of dirty, slushy city snow. And as a New Yorker, snow is can actually be an occupational hazard – you know what I mean if you’ve ever stepped into a street corner ice swamp: an ankle-deep dark pool of city sludge, ice, and snow.
While I can’t just move my life to sunny Southern California right now, I can use my arsenal of points to go somewhere warm, and you can too. Here are a couple ideas:
Air Canada Aeroplan has some gem redemptions, but for getting somewhere temperate, I love how they define “Asia Zone 1″ on their award chart as China, Hong Kong, Japan, North Korea, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, and Vietnam. Most airlines charge extra for Southeast Asia, but not Aeroplan. So if you don’t have any Aeroplan points, simply transfer your American Express Membership Rewards points, which post instantly. Then book yourself a mini-round the world trip to Southeast asia for only 100,000 miles in business or 120,000 in First class. Need Amex points? Get a new Amex Platinum card which comes with a 50,000 point bonus and the ability to advance yourself up to 60,000 points for free (you must technically be an Amex customer for 6 months, but some people have reported being able to advance themselves 60K points right away). The sunlit beaches of Phuket are just a couple mouse clicks away!
American has offpeak awards, which are great ways to stretch your miles. Use only 30,000 miles and head to Central America/Northern South America. Read: Costa Rica, Mexico, Columbia, Peru – all places with fantastic climates this time of year. I just pulled up aa.com for JFK-SJO (San Jose, Costa Rica) and there are discount seats leaving as early as February 7th. Note: American allows one way awards in case you never want to come back! If you need to boost your American account, try opening a 100,000 or 75,000 bonus Citi card.
British Airways actually has some great redemption values to South America and one of the most amazing things about their award flights is that they allow unlimited stopovers! For North America to South America (including deep south like Rio and Buenos Aires) you only need 40,000 miles roundtrip for coach or 80,000 for business class (and LAN business class is pretty nice). So take that South American tour you’ve always wanted to do … Because for the price of one roundtrip ticket you can hit Lima, Santiago, Easter Island, and back. If you need some BA miles, sign-up for their 50,000 bonus point Chase Visa card. And for Canadians with certain RBC cards, you can transfer to British Airways at a 1:1 ratio.
Continental has a pretty strong search engine, but it only searches for coach and business class so you won’t ever see availability for First class awards (like I outline below with United). However, their engine is pretty savvy and if you don’t mind connecting, they can usually make something work for the “low” amount of miles. I did a search for Newark to Cancun and tons of low level dates popped up. And if you need more Continental miles, sign-up for the Chase Continental Mastercard which has a 50,000 point bonus.
Delta makes it much harder to use “low” level awards, but I did notice they have decent award availability from Atlanta to San Juan, Puerto Rico – you just have to be a little flexible. Need more Delta miles? You can currently transfer your Amex at either 30% and/or 50% bonuses or sign up for a new Amex for as much as 50,000 signup miles with no fee for the first year.
United has a pretty becoming first class product to South America, which I got to experience in December. If you want to head to the land of skimpy bikinis and cachacha, United has “low” saver level first class awards to Rio de Janeiro from Chicago leaving as early as February 11. Remember, you can use any Star Alliance carrier to book these tickets (US Airways, Continental, Aeroplan, etc). If you need a bunch more United points go get 30,000 points for opening up a MileagePlus visa .