Sweet Spot Sunday: Fly to Central America for 12,500 American miles or less
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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 (DFW) and Miami (MIA).
Its AAdvantage program offers a great deal on these flights, with economy awards starting at 10,000 miles one-way. On 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.
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Why it’s special
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 make tickets over twice as expensive as an American award.
American’s off-peak dates aren’t too limiting either. You’ll find the 12,500-mile price on flights between 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.
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 Dallas (DFW) to San Jose, Costa Rica (SJO), via Miami (MIA) for just 10,000 miles in October.
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.
How to book this award
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
For example, the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card earns 2 points per dollar on all travel and dining expenses and includes various travel protections. Plus, you’ll earn 100,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That’s worth at least $2,000 based on TPG’s valuations.
How to earn points for this award
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 bonus miles after spending $5,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening. Earn 2x AAdvantage miles on eligible American Airlines purchases and 1x miles elsewhere ($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 2x AAdvantage miles on eligible American Airlines purchases and at gas stations and restaurants, and 1x miles elsewhere ($99 annual fee, waived for the first 12 months).
- CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® Mastercard®: Earn 65,000 bonus miles after spending $4,000 in purchases within the first four months of account opening. Earn 2x AAdvantage miles on eligible American Airlines purchases, cable and satellite providers, select telecommunications merchants, car rentals and at gas stations, and 1x miles 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 2x AAdvantage miles on grocery store and eligible American Airlines purchases and 1x miles elsewhere (no annual fee).
The information for the Citi AAdvantage Platinum card and 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. 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.
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.
Feature photo of Panama City by Gualberto Becerra/Shutterstock.com.
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