The Best Points & Miles Options for Flights to the Caribbean
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Welcome to Caribbean Comeback, in which TPG shines a post-hurricane, pre-season spotlight on the region. Stay tuned for more stories throughout the week, and be sure to share tips in the comments if you’re planning an upcoming trip.
The storms swept through, but plenty of Caribbean destinations and islands are as beautiful and accommodating as ever. And for those looking to book flights with points and miles, the options abound thanks to several frequent flyer programs with favorable award charts.
If you’re dreaming of a Caribbean vacation, these are the points and miles you should consider using to book award flights. But before diving into this list, note that you shouldn’t necessarily assume you’re better off booking an award flight to your island destination than paying for a ticket out of pocket. Flights to the Caribbean are often very affordable — we’ve seen sub-$200 deals on carriers such as Norwegian Air. Currently, round-trip fares from New York to the Bahamas are available for $374 on various airlines from December through early 2018. While that’s not dirt-cheap, it could be worth saving your points and miles for travel to more expensive locations, where cash fares would set you back thousands rather than hundreds.
American Airlines AAdvantage
Earn miles with: Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard, Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard, the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express (get a 5,000-mile bonus for every 20,000 Starpoints you transfer)
American charges 12,500 AAdvantage miles one-way for flights from the US to the Caribbean at the MileSAAver level. Unfortunately, though, it can be difficult to find MileSAAVer availability. For travel from American’s hub in Miami (MIA) to Grand Cayman (GCM) in November and December, the lowest rate is 15,000 miles one-way — and on some dates, it skyrockets to 80,000 miles. So, if you have American miles, it’s worth doing some searches to see if you can find a saver-level award on your desired dates, but just know that you may need to move on to one of the programs discussed below to book an award at an ideal price.
British Airways Executive Club
Earn miles with: British Airways Visa Signature Card; any Chase Ultimate Rewards-earning card, such as the Chase Sapphire Reserve or Ink Business Preferred Credit Card; the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express
British Airways uses a distance-based award chart, meaning the number of miles your itinerary will cost depends on the length of the flight you intend to take. For flights in the US, redemptions start at 7,500 for routes less than 1,151 miles in length. This makes the program an especially great option for Florida-based travelers, since routes like Miami (MIA) to Nassau (NAS) in the Bahamas fall under 1,151 miles each way and therefore set you back just 15,000 Avios round-trip for off-peak travel in the main cabin. However, keep in mind that while using Avios can be a cheaper way to book flights to the Caribbean on American (a British Airways partner), you’re still at the mercy of AA to have seat availability.
Ultimate Rewards transfer to British Airways at a 1:1 ratio, so with the 50,000-point sign-up bonus on the Chase Sapphire Reserve or the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, you could book three round-trip awards on British Airways’ Oneworld alliance partner American Airlines.
Flights from farther away cost more. Routes in the 1,151- to 2,000-mile range, such as Charlotte to Curaçao, will set you back 10,000 Avios each way, and those in the 2,001- to 3,000-mile range, such as Los Angeles to Montego Bay, Jamaica, will set you back 12,500 Avios each way. As TPG Senior Points & Miles Editor Nick Ewen pointed out in his post about maximizing Ultimate Rewards points for Caribbean travel, if you’re based near an American Airlines hub such as Charlotte, Dallas-Ft. Worth or Miami, you’ll be able to reach plenty of Caribbean destinations for 20,000 Avios round-trip.
Earn miles with: As Flying Blue’s a partner with all four major transferrable-currency programs, you have plenty of credit card options for earning miles. These include: any Amex Membership Rewards-earning cards, like the Platinum Card® from American Express; any Chase Ultimate-rewards earning cards, like the Chase Sapphire Reserve; any Citi ThankYou points-earning cards, like the Citi Premier Card; and the Starwood Preferred Guest Amex or the Starwood Preferred Guest Business Credit Card from American Express.
The loyalty program of Air France and KLM is another great pick for award travel to the Caribbean, both because you can earn miles quickly thanks to plenty of transfer partners and because you can book round-trip flights from the US to the Caribbean on partner carrier Delta for just 30,000 miles, provided you can find availability. Even better, Flying Blue categorizes Aruba, Bonair and Curaçao under the North America region (rather than in the Central America/Caribbean region), meaning flights to these three islands are even cheaper at 25,000 miles round-trip. Just keep in mind that the program will change its earning and redeeming structures in April, 2018 — it’s not yet clear whether this will affect award rates on partners like Delta for travel to the Caribbean and beyond.
Southwest Rapid Rewards
Earn miles with: Ultimate Rewards-earning cards, like the Chase Sapphire Preferred; the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card; the Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card
Low-cost carrier Southwest offers more service to the Caribbean than you might think, with flights to Cancun, the Dominican Republic, Grand Cayman, Montego Bay, Nassau and more. Rapid Rewards is a revenue-based program, meaning the number of points you need for an award flight is tied to the cash fare for a given flight. While that means your points have a fixed value, availability on Southwest tends to be better than on legacy carriers when cash fares are high. Plus, if airfare goes down, you can utilize Southwest’s no change fee policy to rebook an award at the lower level.
If you have the Companion Pass, Southwest’s amazing travel perk which lets you bring someone along on flights with you for free minus taxes and fees, remember that you can use this on award flights as well as on paid itineraries. So if you find a cheap Southwest award to the Caribbean destination of your choosing, you could bring a friend with you and stretch your value even further.
As you can see, there are plenty of award flight possibilities to reach islands like the Dominican Republic, the Cayman Islands, Jamaica and more. No matter which credit card points you earn, you should have at least one option for booking travel through airline transfer partners. However, before you start researching redemption options for your flights to and from the Caribbean, it could be worth searching cash fares to see if any deals are available. That way, you could save your transferrable points for an award stay at an amazing (and expensive) island resort.
Featured image by lightphoto via Getty Images.