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Sweet Spot Sunday: How to fly to the Caribbean, Mexico or Central America for the price of a domestic award

May 09, 2021
9 min read
Ocho Rios, Jamaica
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Despite being shorter than some domestic flights, flights to the Caribbean, Mexico and Central America can be expensive. In addition to the extra taxes and fees, airlines charge higher award rates for these routes.

Luckily, there's a workaround.

Today we’ll discuss how you can book cheap flights to the Caribbean, Mexico and Central America by maximizing American Airlines' off-peak pricing. If you follow the steps below, you'll be able to book awards to these regions for the same price as domestic flights.

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Why it’s special

American Airlines offers a few different discount programs that can help reduce the price of your award flights. One of those is MileSAAver off-peak awards. During select travel periods, you can save up to 25% off the standard economy award prices between certain regions.

While you won’t find off-peak rates for flights within the contiguous U.S., or to Canada or Alaska, they are available for most other regions, including the Caribbean, Mexico and Central America. Saver awards to these regions typically cost 15,000 AAdvantage miles each way in economy, but are available for just 12,500 miles on off-peak dates. That's a respectable 17% savings and is the same amount of miles typically required to fly within the U.S.

Related: 9 Caribbean destinations you can fly to in a lie-flat seat

(Screenshot courtesy of American Airlines)

The discount is applied automatically so you'll be able to book these awards even if you don't have enough miles to book them at the standard rates.

There are some terrific destinations you can book at these discounted rates, including San Jose, Costa Rica (SJO), Panama City (PTY), Aruba (AUA), Barbados (BGI), Bermuda (BDA), Mexico City (MEX) and Cancun (CUN).

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Related: How to save up to 7,500 miles on American Airlines award flights this summer

Puntarenas, Costa Rica. (Photo by Matteo Colombo/Getty Images)

How to book this award

Booking an off-peak award is no different than any other AAdvantage redemption. However, you must familiarize yourself with the off-peak dates so that you know when to book for.

The current off-peak dates for the Caribbean, Mexico and Central America are April 21 to May 20 and Sept. 9 to Nov. 18. While not the case here, note that the off-peak dates can sometimes vary whether you’re leaving the U.S. for that region or returning. Also, keep in mind that the fall dates are during peak hurricane season for some of the destinations, so you'll want to pay the taxes and fees with a credit card that comes with travel protections.

Once you've picked your dates, simply search as you normally would on AA's site. Enter your route, select your dates and check off the “Redeem miles” box.

If there's saver availability, you'll automatically see the lower rates — no promo code needed. Just remember that the discount is only available for economy class, not business or first.

Related: How to redeem miles with the American Airlines AAdvantage program

(Screenshot courtesy of American Airlines)

If there's no saver availability, I recommend you use the calendar search tool to check alternate dates. Alternatively, you can subscribe to ExpertFlyer (owned by TPG’s parent company, Red Ventures) and set alerts to be notified when award space opens up.

Unfortunately, MileSAAver off-peak awards do require you to fly American Airlines. So, you won’t be able to get these rates if you connect through a partner airline like Alaska.

Related: The best credit cards for paying taxes and fees on award tickets

(Screenshot courtesy of American Airlines)

After you’ve selected a flight, you’ll need to log in to your AAdvantage account to complete the booking. Some of the best cards for paying taxes and fees on award tickets include The Platinum Card® from American Express and Chase Sapphire Reserve. Not only do they earn bonus points on airfare, but they come with perks like trip delay reimbursement and trip cancellation and interruption protection, which — as discussed earlier — is especially important if you're traveling during hurricane season.

Also, keep in mind that since these are considered saver awards, they don't have the same limitations as Web Specials. You have the flexibility to change these awards without running the risk that your new flight might cost more than your original booking.

Related: Maximizing redemptions with American Airlines AAdvantage

How to earn miles for this award

If you're not a frequent American Airlines flyer, you're probably wondering how you can earn enough miles for this award. At first thought, this might seem challenging since American isn't a transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards, Capital One, Chase Ultimate Rewards or Citi ThankYou. However, there are plenty of other ways to earn AAdvantage miles.

Transferring Marriott Bonvoy points

There's one major transferable currency that partners with American Airlines and that's Marriott Bonvoy. You can transfer Marriott points to American Airlines AAdvantage at a 3:1 transfer ratio. While that's not the best ratio, Marriott will give you a 5,000-mile bonus for every 60,000 points you transfer. So, you'd need to transfer 60,000 Marriott points to book your round-trip off-peak award that costs 25,000 miles (you'd be getting 20,000 miles from the transfer plus a 5,000-mile bonus).

You can earn all the points you need for this redemption (and even have some points left over) by applying for one of the following Marriott Bonvoy credit cards:

Related: Here’s why you need both a personal and business Marriott Bonvoy credit card

Earning with American Airlines cards

A potentially simpler way of racking up AAdvantage miles would be by picking up and spending on an American cobranded credit card. Most of the cards are offering sign-up bonuses large enough to cover a round-trip award and even have miles left over, including the following:

The information for the Citi AAdvantage Business Platinum Select, AAdvantage Aviator Red and the AAdvantage Aviator Business cards has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

In addition to giving your AAdvantage account a nice boost, these cards can help you get valuable “elite-lite” perks, such as free checked bags, priority boarding and lounge access.

Related: The best uses of 70,000 American Airlines AAdvantage miles

Other methods for earning American miles

You don't necessarily have to get a new credit card to earn the miles you need. While typically at suboptimal rates, you could also transfer World of Hyatt points, IHG Rewards points and Choice Privileges points to American Airlines miles. Alternatively, you could shop online through the AAdvantage eShopping mall or dine through AAdvantage Dining. You could also buy American Airlines miles, but this could sometimes be more costly than buying the flight outright.

For more options, be sure to read our complete guide to how to earn miles in the American Airlines AAdvantage program.

Bottom line

American Airlines is one of the last U.S. carriers to still offer award charts with set rates. Off-peak pricing is a great opportunity to save on these rates. That said, it's still important to compare these awards with Web Specials as they may sometimes be cheaper.

For rates and fees of the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Amex, please click here.

For rates and fees of the Marriott Bonvoy Business Card, click here.

Featured image by Getty Images/EyeEm
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
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There's a lot to love about the Amex Gold card. It's been a fan favorite during the pandemic because of its fantastic rewards rate on restaurants (that includes takeout and delivery in the U.S.!) and U.S. supermarkets. If you're hitting the skies soon, you'll also earn bonus points on travel. Paired with up to $120 in Uber Cash (for U.S. Uber rides or Uber Eats orders) and up to $120 in annual dining statement credits at eligible partners, there's no reason that the foodie shouldn't add this card to their wallet. Enrollment required.

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Cons

  • Weak on travel outside of flights and everyday spending bonus categories
  • Not as useful for those living outside the U.S.
  • Some may have trouble using Uber/food credits
  • Few travel perks and protections
  • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.
  • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S., and earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
  • Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
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  • Choose the color that suits your style. Gold or Rose Gold.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • Annual Fee is $250.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Apply for American Express® Gold Card
at American Express's secure site
Terms & restrictions apply. See rates & fees
Best for the well-traveled foodie
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S.
4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
3XEarn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.

    60,000 bonus points
  • Annual Fee

    $250
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
    Excellent/Good

Why We Chose It

There's a lot to love about the Amex Gold card. It's been a fan favorite during the pandemic because of its fantastic rewards rate on restaurants (that includes takeout and delivery in the U.S.!) and U.S. supermarkets. If you're hitting the skies soon, you'll also earn bonus points on travel. Paired with up to $120 in Uber Cash (for U.S. Uber rides or Uber Eats orders) and up to $120 in annual dining statement credits at eligible partners, there's no reason that the foodie shouldn't add this card to their wallet. Enrollment required.

Pros

  • 4x on dining at restaurants and U.S. supermarkets (on the first $25,000 in purchases per calendar year; then 1x)
  • 3x on flights booked directly with the airline or with Amex Travel
  • Welcome bonus of 60,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first six months

Cons

  • Weak on travel outside of flights and everyday spending bonus categories
  • Not as useful for those living outside the U.S.
  • Some may have trouble using Uber/food credits
  • Few travel perks and protections
  • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.
  • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S., and earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
  • Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • $120 Uber Cash on Gold: Add your Gold Card to your Uber account and each month automatically get $10 in Uber Cash for Uber Eats orders or Uber rides in the U.S., totaling up to $120 per year.
  • $120 Dining Credit: Satisfy your cravings and earn up to $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with the American Express® Gold Card at Grubhub, The Cheesecake Factory, Goldbelly, Wine.com, Milk Bar and select Shake Shack locations. Enrollment required.
  • Choose the color that suits your style. Gold or Rose Gold.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • Annual Fee is $250.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees