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Where you should (and shouldn't) use points and miles for spring break travel

Feb. 15, 2022
11 min read
London UK Street
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As the omicron wave of coronavirus is on the decline, spring break travel is entering the minds of Americans looking for a long-awaited escape to somewhere new.

In 2022, spring break — which ranges between March and April depending on your school — is expected to be one of the busiest travel periods since the start of the pandemic. And with that, we're seeing expensive flights too.

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If you’re looking to save cash by redeeming frequent flyer miles or credit card points for flights, you may be surprised at how many miles it costs to fly to some of the most popular spring break hot spots such as Cancun, Mexico, and Miami. Since many loyalty programs have switched to a dynamic pricing model, the number of points and miles required for redemption often correlates to the price of cash fares.

During busy travel periods, such as spring break, this translates into low-value redemptions to certain destinations, considering you could book the same trip with far fewer points for travel another time of year.

However, depending on where you want to travel, it's possible to use your points and miles to get a great deal on your spring break trip. You might just need to be a little more flexible than when booking flights at other times in the year.

Use points for spring break travel to these destinations

(Photo by Scott E Barbour/Getty Images)

Have you considered trading the typical spring break beach vacation for a European adventure? Or how about hitting the slopes in the Colorado Rockies? Let’s look at a few examples to show why spring break might be one of the best times of the year to use your points and miles for such trips.

Book a business-class flight to Europe

If you’ve ever fancied flying JetBlue’s luxurious Mint business-class cabin, there are plenty of award travel seats available in March.

Rather than using JetBlue’s TrueBlue points for these flights, which usually cost at least 80,000 points each way, it’s best to book JetBlue’s Mint seats using Emirates Skywards for just 64,000 miles each way.

(Screenshot courtesy of emirates.com)

Taxes and fees add up to around $347 round-trip thanks to some hefty United Kingdom departure taxes, but it still works out to a decent value overall compared to business-class redemptions on British Airways. As a reminder, the British flag carrier adds fuel surcharges which, when combined with taxes and fees, equal up to $1,786 round-trip per person on business-class award tickets.

Plus, you can easily acquire Emirates Skywards miles since it is a transfer partner with all major transferable points programs.

Related: Sweet Spot Sunday: Save on JetBlue Mint awards by booking with Emirates miles

See more with multicity trips

(Photo by Alexander Spatari/Getty Images)

One strategy to avoid the U.K.’s high departure taxes is to book your return ticket from another European city. This not only allows you to pay slightly lower taxes, but it’s also an opportunity to see another city on the same trip.

For instance, you could book a one-way flight from New York to London in JetBlue’s Mint cabin for 64,000 Emirates Skywards miles plus just $10.10 in taxes/fees.

(Screenshot courtesy of emirates.com)

Then, hop over to Amsterdam on a cheap economy flight and fly back from Amsterdam to New York in KLM business class for only 43,125 Flying Blue miles plus $295.87 in taxes and fees.

(Screenshot courtesy of flyingblue.com)

Flying Blue does have carrier-imposed surcharges, which means you won’t save a whole lot on overall taxes and fees in this example, but the current Flying Blue Promo Rewards make up for it. Long-haul flights to and from select cities including New York, Miami, Chicago and Denver receive a 25% discount on mileage redemptions if you book by Feb. 28. Flying Blue is also a transfer partner with all major credit card points programs, making it easy to acquire Flying Blue miles for redemption.

If you want to get even more creative, it’s possible to string together a multicity European trip on one itinerary for only 88,000 ANA Mileage Club miles in business class.

I was able to find availability for this European adventure from San Francisco (SFO) to Athens, Greece (ATH); Venice, Italy (VCE); and Rome (FCO) for a two-week trip over spring break dates in late March to early April, flying mostly Air Canada business class (except for the final leg in economy). It’s just 88,000 ANA miles plus $156 in taxes and fees.

(Screenshot courtesy of ana.co.jp)

It would be necessary to make your own way from Venice to Rome on this trip, but that’s easy enough to do with a cheap domestic flight or by train.

Note that ANA does pass along fuel surcharges on carriers that charge them so you’ll want to avoid flights operated by Lufthansa, Swiss, Austrian and Turkish Airlines when redeeming ANA miles for flights to Europe. If you’re only finding availability on these carriers, it may be best to book with another Star Alliance loyalty program that doesn’t pass along fuel surcharges such as Air Canada’s Aeroplan, Avianca LifeMiles or United MileagePlus.

Don’t have any ANA miles? If you have American Express Membership Rewards, you’ll be able to transfer points to ANA at a 1:1 ratio. Marriott Bonvoy points transfer to ANA at a 3:1 ratio, with a 5,000-mile bonus for every 60,000 Bonvoy points transferred.

Colorado

If you’re looking to stay closer to home, a spring break trip to Colorado can also be a great way to use points and miles.

There are some incredibly cheap Delta SkyMiles deals between Seattle (SEA) and Denver (DEN). If you’re flexible enough to travel on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, it’s as low as 2,000 miles each way for March and April travel dates in basic economy.

(Screenshot courtesy of delta.com)

And if you don’t want to deal with basic economy restrictions, it’s only 1,500 more miles each way for the cheapest Main Cabin tickets. Weekend travel requires more miles, but nearly every date is a pretty decent deal. Taxes and fees for domestic flights are just $5.60 each way.

(Screenshot courtesy of delta.com)

From Minneapolis (MSP), you can book nonstop Southwest flights to Denver for 13,030 Rapid Rewards points round-trip over spring break. Best of all, this includes two free checked bags, so you won’t have to pay any extra to bring your ski equipment along.

(Screenshot courtesy of southwest.com)

Avoid using points for peak travel dates to these destinations

On the other hand, if you have your heart set on visiting the popular beach resorts for spring break, you may want to think twice about using points and miles for your flights.

Mexico beaches

Cancun is busy any time of the year — but spring break is another level.

And the cost of an award ticket for peak spring break travel shows that demand is high. Nonstop flights from New York-JFK to Cancun (CUN) on American Airlines can cost up to 65,000 AAdvantage miles one-way, in economy, over peak spring break travel dates.

(Screenshot courtesy of aa.com)

Remember that, as in my example above, you could fly JetBlue’s Mint business class — with lie-flat seats — nonstop from New York to London for just 64,000 Emirates Skywards miles.

To put it in perspective, the same flight to Cancun can be booked for just 11,000 British Airways Avios when saver-level award seats are available, such as just a little over a week later on March 22.

(Screenshot courtesy of britishairways.com)

And you could fly Delta for just 6,000 SkyMiles on this date or other midweek dates in late March.

(Screenshot courtesy of delta.com)

So, what should you do if you don’t have flexible dates and want to travel to Cancun for spring break? I suggest paying for a cash ticket and being flexible on routings and airlines to get the best deal.

For instance, you can fly Avianca via Bogota, Colombia (BOG), overnight for a decent deal. Likewise, if you’re willing to fly Spirit, you’ll save hundreds compared to what JetBlue and American are charging for nonstop flights on some of the busiest spring break travel dates, March 12 to 19.

(Screenshot courtesy of google.com/flights)

Florida

Similar trends exist for many domestic flights. If you’re looking to visit Disney World for spring break, and can only travel on peak travel dates, I wouldn’t plan on using points or miles for your flights.

United is charging between 45,000 and 65,000 miles for one-way economy flights from Houston (IAH) to Orlando (MCO) on the busiest spring break travel day, March 12.

(Screenshot courtesy of united.com)

With similar pricing on return flights the following week, you could end up redeeming 130,000 miles for a round-trip domestic flight in economy that is just over two hours in duration. I can think of much better ways to use those miles — such as round-trip flights to Europe in business class.

Flexible travel dates can save big during spring break

To highlight the absurdity, the flexible calendar search reveals that you can book the same United flights from Houston to Orlando for just 5,200 miles one-way if you wait three days and fly on March 15. And you can even fly on the following two Sundays for the same rate.

(Screenshot courtesy of united.com)

Return flights can be booked for 6,400 and 7,800 miles, which means round-trip flights are as low as 11,600 miles simply by shifting travel dates slightly. That’s over 90% less than what it costs for peak spring break travel dates and times.

(Screenshot courtesy of united.com)

Bottom line

If remote learning is a possibility or you’re able to miss a few days of school, you may want to adjust your travel dates for spring break travel in order to avoid the busiest travel days and save thousands of miles.

Otherwise, look for alternative destinations or consider paying for cash tickets on discount airlines if you don’t want to shell out a fortune for spring break.

Featured image by (Photo by Alexander Spatari/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.

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  • For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
  • Earn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
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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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3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
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  • Intro Offer
    For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening

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  • Annual Fee

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  • 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.

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Why We Chose It

The Citi Premier’s 3 points per dollar spent across a wide range of popular categories is one of the more lucrative offerings in the world of points and miles. The Citi Premier comes with a $95 annual fee and is currently offering a solid sign up bonus of 80,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first three months. It also has some valuable transfer partners to make the most of your rewards. Add in access to Citi Entertainment plus a $100 hotel credit for any single-stay hotel booking that exceeds $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through the Citi travel website, there are few reasons why the Citi Premier should not be in every traveler’s wallet.

Pros

  • Earns 3x points on restaurants, supermarkets, gas stations, air travel and hotels.
  • $100 annual hotel savings benefit (on single hotel stay bookings of $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through thankyou.com)
  • Points transfer to 16 airline programs, from JetBlue to Virgin Atlantic.
  • World Elite Mastercard benefits, extended warranty, damage and theft protection.

Cons

  • $95 annual fee
  • Lacks travel protections that other travel rewards cards come with
  • For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
  • Earn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Annual Hotel Savings Benefit
  • 80,000 Points are redeemable for $800 in gift cards when redeemed at thankyou.com
  • No expiration and no limit to the amount of points you can earn with this card
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases