Being The Points Guy: How to Book a Trip to Colombia Using Points and Miles
Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here.
Brian Kelly just premiered his own vlog series, “Being The Points Guy,” in which he's giving viewers a behind-the-scenes look into his travels around the world and teaching how anyone can travel just like him by maximizing their points and miles.
Kicking off the series, Brian jets off to Colombia in business class and stays at Medellín's newest points hotel. Although once named the Most Dangerous City in the World, plagued by drugs and guerrilla warfare, Medellín has become a modern, safe, cultural haven, that definitely deserves to be on everyone's travel radar.
Today, we're going to take a closer look at how Brian booked his trip and explore all the ways you, too, can use your hard-earned points and miles for a redemption like this.
Flying American Airlines to Colombia
American Airlines, Avianca, COPA, JetBlue, Spirit and United provide US-based travelers the most practical flight options to Colombia. Among those, American and Avianca offer the best award possibilities, so those are the airlines Brian decided to fly — American for the outbound and Avianca for the return.
Regardless where you're beginning your trip, if you want fly to Medellín (MDE) with American, you're going to need to have a layover in Miami (MIA). Ordinarily, you'd book the entire trip on one ticket, but since Brian wanted to extend his pit stop in Miami to spend some time with TPG's Chief Barketing Officer, Miles, he booked a one-way ticket from New York (JFK) to Miami and a separate one-way ticket to Medellín.
The most obvious way of booking American Airlines awards is to use AAdvantage miles, though you can also book through Alaska’s Mileage Plan and even British Airways Avios. Regardless which program you decide to go with, you'll be able to search for and book awards online, as opposed to having go the old-fashioned route and picking up the phone.
American and Alaska both charge a flat 25,000 miles (worth $350 and $450, respectively, based on TPG's valuations) for saver-level domestic first class flights over 500 miles and 30,000 miles (worth $420 and $540) for business class flights to this region of South America. If you’re short on AAdvantage or Alaska miles, you can transfer Marriott Bonvoy points at a ratio of 3:1 with 5,000-mile bonus for transferring 60,000 points. Alternatively, you can stockpile miles by applying for the either of the airlines' cobranded credit cards. The Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard®, for instance, is currently offering a welcome bonus of 50,000 bonus miles after spending $2,500 on purchases in the first three months of account opening. That bonus alone is enough to book your round-trip business class ticket to Colombia. The information for the Citi 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.
If you'd rather redeem American Express Membership Rewards or Chase Ultimate Rewards points, earned with cards like The Platinum Card® from American Express or the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, you can transfer them to British Airways and book through that program. British Airways uses a uses a distance-based chart for its Avios loyalty program, so there are times where it will make more sense to book this way than through American directly. For instance, business class awards on flights less than 1,151 miles — such as between JFK and MIA — cost just 15,000 Avios one-way. Slightly longer flights between 1,152-2,000 miles — such as between MIA and MDE — cost just 20,000 miles.
(Note that British Airways is increasing the number of miles required for partner awards on May 30.)
Staying at the Marriott Medellín
Despite being Colombia’s second-largest city, Medellín doesn't offer a lot of options when it comes to points hotels. IHG fields an InterContinental and a Holiday Inn Express, Hilton has a Hampton by Hilton, and there’s a Marriott and Four Points by Sheraton under the Marriott Bonvoy umbrella. Being the newest and one of the best-located, Brian picked the Marriott Medellín.
The Marriott Medellín is a Category 4 property in the Marriott Bonvoy program, meaning that standard award nights cost 25,000 points per night. Plus, you could potentially squeeze even more value from your points by leveraging Marriott Bonvoy's fifth night free benefit.
Marriott Bonvoy offers several cobranded credit card options that will help boost your account balance. For example, the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card welcome bonus is 100,000 Bonus Points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.
Flying Avianca Home
As previously mentioned, Brian chose to fly home with Colombia's flag carrier, Avianca. Although Avianca offers nonstop flights between Medellín and New York-JFK, Brian opted for a layover in Bogotá (BOG) so he could experience Avianca's A330 with angled-lie flat business class seats for the final leg of his trip.
The best way to book Avianca awards is through its own LifeMiles loyalty program. Although there’s no award chart for flights on Avianca metal, prices are fairly reasonable if you find saver availability (Brian's award cost 36,500 miles), there are no fuel surcharges and no close-in booking fees. Plus, it's very easy to earn a large stash of LifeMiles as the program is a transfer partner of Amex Membership Rewards (1:1 ratio), Capital One (2:1.5 ratio), Citi ThankYou Rewards (1:1 ratio) and Marriott Bonvoy (3:1). It's also not uncommon for LifeMiles to run promotions in which you can buy miles for less than 1.45 cents apiece.
Being a Star Alliance member, you can also book Avianca awards through partner programs like United Airlines MileagePlus (a transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards and Marriott Bonvoy) and Air Canada's Aeroplan (a transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards, Capital One and Marriott Bonvoy). United charges 35,000 miles each way for this award, meanwhile Aeroplan charges 37,500 miles.
So there you have it. Just like that, you’ve booked yourself a TPG-approved vacation to Colombia without breaking the bank. Despite the somewhat limited routing and hotel options, you have a lot of flexibility in the loyalty currencies you could use, especially by leveraging transferable point programs.
If you haven’t yet, be sure to subscribe to Brian’s YouTube channel and hit the notification bell, so you don’t miss a post — new videos are going up every Tuesday and Thursday. Coming up in the series, Brian will fly American Airlines Flagship First to Brazil and attend one of the biggest parties in the world.