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Using points and miles for significantly subsidized travel is wonderful. Combining your points with advanced routing techniques and often-forgotten program combinations can take your vacation itinerary to the next level. I was recently planning a winter getaway for my family when a few strategies came out of my suppressed memory. This allowed me to create a two-week, two-island itinerary in the Caribbean connected with a previously forgotten fifth-freedom route for just $386.50 out of pocket.
Itinerary (So Far)
With two small children, I’m always looking to create an easy award itinerary with nonstop flights and as few hotel changes as possible, all while maximizing my redemption values. I’ve had Nassau (NAS) on my mind recently with Hyatt (finally) opening the Grand Hyatt Baha Mar. It’s a Category 5 Hyatt property requiring 20,000 points per night. Last week Hyatt.com was showing only 15,000 points required for a free night, so I jumped at the chance to save 5,000 points per night and booked three nights for 45,000 points. Hyatt has since honored the mistake on the website, confirming my reservation! I’m now trying to apply a Globalist suite upgrade for the stay, hopefully giving me significant value on my free Hyatt nights.
I then remembered that, as a FoundersCard holder, I receive Caesars Total Rewards Diamond status, which conveniently qualifies me for four free nights in the Beach Tower at Atlantis. With Atlantis located just down the street from Baha Mar, it seemed Nassau would be a stop on our itinerary. I called Atlantis, gave my Total Rewards number and confirmed that the four nights after my Grand Hyatt stay were available for booking. With Atlantis confirmed, I now had seven free nights in Nassau booked. Don’t forget: At Atlantis, Total Rewards Diamond members also receive four free cocktails a day, $100 in free slot play, access to Aquaventure and a Casino Experience Pass during your free stay.
With Nassau booked, I turned my attention to finding a Category 9 Marriott property to redeem my seven-night award certificate. I earned this in January when transferring 270,000 Marriott Rewards points (later 120,000 more to upgrade to a Category 9 certificate) to Southwest in order to earn the Companion Pass.
I needed a nonstop flight from somewhere in the Caribbean to Nassau, so I turned to the Nassau airport Wikipedia page and the destinations and airlines section. Wikipedia is my first stop to see what airlines and routes are flown for any airport. I was reminded British Airways flies a fifth-freedom route from Grand Cayman (GCM) to Nassau. The Grand Cayman Marriott Beach Resort has a solid reputation, making a GCM-NAS two-week itinerary a seemingly amazing fit for my family.
I headed straight to BritishAirways.com to look at award availability and taxes on the fifth-freedom route, of course with the fear BA would charge some obscene amount of taxes and fees or not have three seats (plus a lap infant) available. I was more than pleased when a search for four on the flight this fall had plenty of availability and rather small carrier-imposed surcharges.
Another great feature of BA’s Executive Club program is the ability to book lap infants for 10% of the Avios required for adults. For a total of 12,400 Avios and $91.50, my family was quickly on the hour-and-a-half flight. BA was asking $1,378 total for the four of us on the flight, giving me an obscene redemption rate of 10.4 cents per point.
A call to Marriott confirmed that the seven nights prior to the once-weekly GCM-NAS flight were available for booking, and with a further five minutes on the phone, our two weeks of free hotel nights and inter-Caribbean flight were booked. I’m leaving active-duty Navy service this fall, so no longer being constrained by leave days means I’m still looking to expand our two weeks in the Caribbean. If we leave it as two weeks, flights to GCM and from NAS are not too difficult to book with points, especially with Southwest now serving GCM from FLL. I can use the Companion Pass and only pay points for my wife and I taxes and fees for my son and daughter.
British Airways also flies the following fifth-freedom routes in the Caribbean if you’d like to piece together your own unique Caribbean itinerary:
- Antigua – Saint Kitts
- Antigua – Tobago
- Saint Lucia – Grenada
- Saint Lucia – Port of Spain
On top of the $386.50 I paid for the hotels and British Airways route, I’m currently still on the hook for typically silly resort fees in Grand Cayman and Atlantis. Thankfully, as a Hyatt Globalist, I get the Baha Mar resort fees waived, and we’ll receive breakfast at the property. I have a few strategies I often invoke to try and get the resort fees waived, but if I do end up having to pay them I am still very pleased with the itinerary I created.
Food, entertainment, airport transfers and minimal taxes and fees on my award flights to GCM and from NAS will also have to be paid. I’m currently using 2% and greater cash-back cards and the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard to offset those expenses. Here’s a breakdown of the cost for our two weeks:
|Grand Cayman Marriott Beach Resort||7 nights||390,000 Marriott Points (included 120,000 Southwest Rapid Rewards)|
|Grand Hyatt Baha Mar||3 nights||45,000 Hyatt points|
|Atlantis||4 nights||$295 FoundersCard Membership*|
|GCM-NAS||Fifth-freedom flight||12,400 Avios and $91.50|
*$295 membership rate no longer available, $395 offers routinely pop up.
I’m thrilled with the value presented by the different points and strategies used for this itinerary. There are a few variables left which could affect the experience on this trip, notably the Grand Hyatt being a new property with kinks to work out (though it has a few months) and the resort fees that Marriott and Atlantis tag onto award nights. Atlantis has also not been receiving the highest praises from recent visitors, but I’ll complete some research before my trip to see what steps I can take to offset known negatives about the property.
Next time you’re planning an itinerary, head to the Wikipedia page for the airport you are visiting and make sure you aren’t missing any little-known routes which could open the door to a fantastic trip.
Which BA fifth freedom route do you now want to fly?
Featured image courtesy of the Grand Cayman Marriott Beach Resort.
The American Express Platinum card has some of the best perks out there: cardholders enjoy the best domestic lounge access (Delta SkyClubs, Centurion Lounges, and Priority Pass), a $200 annual airline fee credit as well as up to $200 in Uber credits, and mid-tier elite status at SPG, Marriott, and Hilton. Combined with the 60,000 point welcome offer -- worth $1,140 based on TPG's valuations -- this card is a no-brainer for frequent travelers. Here are 5 reasons you should consider this card, as well as how you can figure out if the $550 annual fee makes sense for you.
- Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you use your new Card to make $5,000 in purchases in your first 3 months.
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- 5X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel.
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- Receive complimentary benefits with an average total value of $550 with Fine Hotels & Resorts. Learn More.
- $200 Airline Fee Credit, up to $200 per calendar year in baggage fees and more at one qualifying airline.
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- $550 annual fee.
- Terms Apply.
- See Rates & Fees