Skip to content

Sweet Spot Sunday: Fly to Central America for 12,500 American miles or less

June 05, 2022
9 min read
tropical beach
This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

Central America is a popular region for American tourists. No matter which country you pick, from Belize to Panama, you can experience vibrant and dynamic cultures with some of the world’s best food, nightlife and historical sites.

Better yet, Central America is close to home. You can reach most Central American countries in just a couple of hours from most major U.S. cities on a nonstop flight. The Dallas-based American Airlines has a large Central American route map, with most flights departing from its hubs in Dallas and Miami.

Its AAdvantage program offers a great deal on these flights, with economy awards starting at 10,000 miles one-way. In this edition of Sweet Spot Sunday, I’ll take a closer look at this sweet spot and show you how to book it with your AAdvantage miles.

For more TPG points tips and news delivered each morning to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.

Why it’s special

Fly to Belize for 12,500 miles or less during off-peak dates. (Photo by Felipe Garcia R/Shutterstock.com)

You’ll pay just 12,500 miles for a one-way ticket from the U.S. to Central America on off-peak dates. This is a great award price and far less than what many other airlines charge. For example, United MileagePlus charges a minimum of 17,500 miles on most award tickets to Central America. Delta SkyMiles' dynamic award pricing can incredibly expensive:

(Screenshot from delta.com)

American’s off-peak dates aren’t too limiting either. You’ll find the 12,500-mile price on flights from April 21-May 20 and Sept. 9-Nov. 18 with Main Cabin award space. This gives you two big windows for booking cheap award tickets to Central America, and award space is plentiful on most routes.

(Screenshot from aa.com)

You can also bring the price down even more by booking Web Special awards. These are promotional fares that often price lower than Main Cabin award tickets. For example, I found this award ticket from New York City to Belize City via Dallas for just 10,000 miles one-way in Main Cabin.

(Screenshot from aa.com)

Taxes and fees vary by region, but you’ll rarely spend more than $50 each way. Flights to Costa Rica tend to be on the pricier side due to high tourism and departure taxes. On the other hand, flights to Panama have less than $10 in taxes one-way.

Related: Costa Rica is open to US travelers — and you don’t need a COVID test to get in

Sign up for our daily newsletter

How to book this award

You can book almost all American award tickets on aa.com — including tickets to Central America. (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

You can book off-peak American award tickets to Central America on American’s website. Here’s a step-by-step look at the booking process.

Step 1: Log in to your American account

First things first: Head to the American Airlines website and log in to your account. Click the “Log in” button at the upper right-hand corner of the screen and enter your credentials.

(Screenshot from aa.com)

Step 2: Enter your desired itinerary

Enter your desired itinerary at the center of the homepage and select the “Redeem miles” box. Then, click the blue “Search” button to view your flight options.

(Screenshot from aa.com)

Step 3: Look through available flights

All available flights will appear at the center of the screen. Click the arrow next to the “Main Cabin” label to sort by lowest points price on the date you searched. You can also see the lowest price for the week you searched at the top of the screen.

(Screenshot from aa.com)

If your travel is flexible, click the “Calendar” button at the top of the screen. This will show you the lowest points price per day for the entire month. You can filter by number of stops and class of service using the buttons above the calendar. Click on the date you’d like to book to view available flight options.

(Screenshot from aa.com)

When you find a flight you like, click on its points price to start the booking process. You will be asked if you’d like to book a Web Special or Main Cabin award if both are available. The only difference between the two awards is that you cannot change Web Special tickets, but you can cancel them and have your miles refunded at no cost.

(Screenshot from aa.com)

Step 4: Confirm your flights and pay taxes

Now, follow the on-screen prompts to book your ticket and pay associated taxes. Make sure to pay with a credit card that earns bonus points on travel to get the highest return.

(Screenshot from aa.com)

For example, the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card earns 2 points per dollar on travel and 3 points per dollar on dining and includes various travel protections. Plus, you’ll earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening. That’s worth at least $1,200 based on TPG’s valuations.

Related: Maximizing redemptions with American Airlines AAdvantage

How to earn points for this award

Stock up on American miles quickly with a cobranded credit card. (Photo by Eric Helgas for The Points Guy)

The fastest way to earn American miles is by opening an American cobranded credit card and earning the sign-up bonus. The airline has partnerships with Barclays and Citi to offer a variety of different credit cards. Each has a unique set of benefits and a different sign-up bonus and annual fee. Do your own research to see which is best for your wallet.

  • Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard®: Earn 50,000 miles after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening. Earn 2 miles per dollar on eligible American Airlines purchases. Earn 1 mile per dollar spent on other purchases. ($450 annual fee).
  • Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard®: Earn 50,000 bonus miles after spending $2,500 on purchases in the first three months of account opening. Earn 2 AAdvantage miles per dollar on eligible American Airlines purchases and at gas stations and restaurants, and 1 mile per dollar elsewhere ($99 annual fee, waived for the first 12 months).
  • CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® Mastercard®: Earn 65,000 bonus miles after spending $4,000 on purchases within the first four months of account opening. Earn 2 AAdvantage miles per dollar on eligible American Airlines purchases, cable and satellite providers, select telecommunications merchants, car rentals and at gas stations, and 1 mile per dollr elsewhere ($99 annual fee, waived for the first 12 months).
  • American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp℠ Card: Earn 10,000 bonus miles and a $50 statement credit after spending $500 on purchases within the first three months of account opening. Earn 2 AAdvantage miles per dollar on grocery store and eligible American Airlines purchases and 1 mile per dollar elsewhere (no annual fee).

The information for the CitiBusiness AAdvantage Platinum card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Unfortunately, you can’t transfer major transferable points currencies like American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards or Citi ThankYou points to American. However, you can transfer points from Bilt Rewards and Marriott Bonvoy to American. Marriott points transfer to American at a 3:1 ratio, with a 5,000-mile bonus for every 60,000 Marriott points transferred. This means 60,000 Marriott points are worth 25,000 American miles.

Related: When does it make sense to transfer Marriott points to airlines?

Bottom line

There are many great ways to redeem your American miles — and booking off-peak flights to Central America may be one of the best. You can leverage American’s huge Central American route network to see amazing destinations like Belize, Costa Rica and Panama. Bookmark this guide and refer to it the next time you’re looking for a vacation to warmer weather.

Featured image by (Photo by Onne van der Wal via Getty Images)
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.

Top offers from our partners

How we chose these cards

Our points-obsessed staff uses a plethora of credit cards on a daily basis. If anyone on our team wouldn’t recommend it to a friend or a family member, we wouldn’t recommend it on The Points Guy either. Our opinions are our own, and have not been reviewed, approved, or endorsed by our advertising partners.
See all best card offers

TPG featured card

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
Apply for American Express® Gold Card
at American Express's secure site

Rewards

3 - 4X points
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

60,000 bonus points
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.

Annual Fee

$250

Recommended Credit

670-850
Excellent/Good
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.

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
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