How Amex is saving me money on a trip to Bermuda this fall
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While much of the world has kept its borders closed to Americans during the coronavirus pandemic, many islands in the North Atlantic and the Caribbean have opted to allow visitors (albeit, with a negative COVID test). One country, in particular, has been on my travel bucket list for years: Bermuda.
As of July 1, the British Overseas Territory of Bermuda is now open to all tourists with virtually zero restrictions. The only requirements are that you obtain a negative PCR COVID-19 test within 72 hours of departure, have health insurance, wear a mask at the airport, complete a passenger screening and take another COVID test upon arrival.
Since the announcement, I started planning a September trip to Bermuda. This gives me enough time to assess the coronavirus situation but is close enough where I have a bit of travel to look forward to as summer comes to a close.
Tickets to Bermuda can be expensive, though, so I wanted to find the cheapest way to both fly and stay there. At the same time, it’s my first international trip of the year, so I want to “do it right” and stay in a nicer hotel without breaking the bank.
Here, I’ll give you a look at how I booked my trip, discussing the hotels and flights I booked and how I scored a discount on both.
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Booking flights to Bermuda
Every good trip to a faraway island starts with an airplane, so I started my trip planning by researching which airlines are still flying to Bermuda during the pandemic. In a normal travel year, American, Delta, JetBlue and United each fly to Bermuda from a handful of hubs. This year is a bit different.
In September, I see JetBlue flights to Bermuda (BDA) departing from New York-JFK, which is my home airport. In addition, Delta is operating flights from Atlanta (ATL) and JetBlue from Boston (BOS). Air Canada and WestJet also operate flights from their Toronto (YYZ) hubs.
Though I’m currently chasing Delta elite status, I decided to book with JetBlue for the direct flight. I’m a newly gifted Mosaic member and have always enjoyed the JetBlue.
Basic economy flights were $354 during the dates I checked, which isn’t too bad considering how few airlines are operating this route. That said, I’m trying to save money during the pandemic, so I opted to book with points.
There are a few different options for booking JetBlue flights with points, including redeeming JetBlue TrueBlue miles. The airline prices its award tickets based on the cash cost of a ticket, with most redemptions getting 1.3 cents per point in value.
The dates I checked had flights for 20,200 points and $131.33 in taxes and fees. This award ticket priced in Blue class, which is the airline’s term for standard economy. A Blue ticket costs $403.83 out of pocket, meaning this award ticket offered 1.34 cents per point in value – slightly higher than TPG’s valuation of TrueBlue points.
This isn’t an awful redemption rate for TrueBlue points, but there was a problem: I only have 3,000 TrueBlue points in my account. I could transfer in from American Express Membership Rewards or Chase Ultimate Rewards, but I generally save that option for when I can get at least 2 cents per point in value through a transfer partner.
The other option I had for booking with miles was Emirates Skywards, but this actually proved to be more expensive than TrueBlue. The same round-trip ticket was 30,000 Skywards miles and $135.83 in taxes and fees.
Chase Ultimate Rewards Travel
I could also book with my Chase Ultimate Rewards points through the Chase Ultimate Rewards Travel Portal. My Chase Sapphire Preferred Card lets me redeem points for flights at 1.25 cents apiece, and I’d still earn TrueBlue points in the process.
I’m hoping to book my flight in Blue class (standard economy), so the $403.83 ticket would cost 32,306 miles.
Amex Membership Rewards
There was one more deal out there, though: the 35% points rebate with my Business Platinum Card® from American Express (when booking a first or business class ticket or any class with your selected airline through Amex Travel; up to 1 million points per calendar year). This would effectively give me 1.54 cents per point in value and cost just 26,248 Membership Rewards points. I’d still earn TrueBlue miles on my flight and pay $0 out of pocket, so I decided to go with this option.
This isn’t the best Membership Rewards redemption, but it still allowed me to redeem a relatively low amount of points for a flight. Plus, it saved me cash at the same time, which is something especially important to me during the pandemic.
Booking hotels was harder than I thought
For some reason, I always imagined Bermuda as a points heaven. After all, it’s close enough to the U.S. for Americans to want to use their credit card points and since it’s a U.K. territory, I figured our friends across the pond would want to use their points too. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case.
In fact, there aren’t any Marriott, Hilton, Hyatt or IHG hotels on the island. The only points option I could find was the Fairmont Southhampton, which I could book with Accor Live Limitless points. However, I don’t actually have any of these points on hand (nor do I have any Capital One miles to transfer over).
Related: Best Accor hotels to book with points
So with that in mind, I set out to find the best deal on a paid hotel. My default is usually to go with Hotels.com, as I can earn Hotels.com Rewards nights. But I decided to assess all of my options this time around. In the past, I’d heard good things about American Express Fine Hotels and Resorts (FHR), mostly in regards to rates and included benefits, so I started there.
Using American Express Fine Hotels and Resorts to find a deal
For some background, American Express FHR is a hotel program included with The Platinum Card® from American Express and The Business Platinum Card® from American Express. It offers benefits and discounts to cardholders at select hotels around the world.
I searched for hotels in Bermuda on the American Express FHR website and found three different options, including the Fairmont. However, I ended up booking the Hamilton Princess & Beach Club, located right in the heart of Hamilton — here’s why.
American Express quoted a price of $399 per night for a four-night stay in a single room – the same price as Hotels.com. However, American Express offered a fourth-night free on my stay, effectively dropping the price to $299 per night.
Plus, booking through FHR includes other perks like free breakfast, a $100 resort credit, room upgrades and more. So while the rough total of $1,200 for four nights was a bit outside of my usual budget, I could justify it since the room was nice, the fourth night was included and my flights were already covered with points.
It’s also worth mentioning that the “Luxury Room” was the same price as the “Deluxe Room”, so I booked the more luxurious option. Since FHR benefits include a room upgrade, I’m hoping for an upgrade to a Junior Suite, but not counting on it since upgrades are space available.
Better yet, I earned 5x points per dollar spent by paying with my Platinum Card. This earned me roughly 6,000 Membership Rewards points, worth roughly $120 per TPG’s most recent valuations.
The moral of the story here is that even if there are no points hotels around, you may still be able to find a good deal using your credit card benefits. Always look through American Express FHR, World Elite Mastercard Luxury Hotels and Resorts and Visa Luxury Collection hotels if you have eligible credit cards. These can bring both discounts and added benefits to the table if you play your cards right.
Related: Best things to do in Bermuda with kids: explore the island like a local
Visiting Bermuda is never cheap — in fact, it’s often considered one of the more expensive places to visit in North America. That said, it’s my first international trip of the year and one of the only places that will let Americans visit during the pandemic, so I wanted to do it right.
In the process of booking this trip, I was able to cover my flights using American Express Membership Rewards points and saved money with the American Express Fine Hotels and Resorts program. This has once again proven to me that not only are credit card rewards powerful, but the benefits included with them can bring real cash savings too.
Feature photo by Just dance/Shutterstock