For the upcoming 4th of July weekend, the wife and I were looking to go away. Since it is a popular travel period and it is so close to the holiday paying for flights was not an option so we turned to miles (duh). We wanted to go somewhere with a nice beach but also within a 3-4 hour flight of New York since it was just a long weekend trip. Basically, we were open to almost anywhere in the Caribbean or Mexico as that satisfied the beach requirement, was close enough to NY and would be a great redemption with Avios. One thing I sort of dreaded though was searching every island or city for award availability until I remembered a very useful tool, the American Airlines Award Map. Since we really didn’t care when we ended up (with some exceptions), this tool really saved me a ton of time in this award search and as a result, we will be heading to Antigua for the holiday weekend! Here is how I did it.
The Award Map is a very easy and simple tool to use though it does have some limitations. Being based in New York, I entered my home airport of JFK (this will also search LGA and EWR) and simply selected Mexico & Caribbean as my destination. Unfortunately, you can only search one set of dates at a time instead of a range or calendar of dates which would be great if you had a lot of flexibility. Since we wanted to go for 4 nights total and my goal was to minimize vacation days at work (July 3rd is a holiday for my company), I could only leave on 7/1, 7/2 or 7/3 with the appropriate returns matching up to be 7/5, 7/6 or 7/7.
Do you see the “Total Miles to Use” box in the upper right? DO NOT enter your total AA mileage balance there as this will return every option under the sun since the searches will include standard awards. No one wants to pay 30k AA miles one way to fly to the Caribbean so don’t do that. Instead, I knew from the AA award chart a one-way trip at the saver level to the Caribbean costs 17,500 so I multiplied that by two for two passengers. It was important I searched for only saver awards since I wanted to use British Airways Avios for this award. While I just stated American charges 17,500 miles one way, British Airways charges only 10,000 miles from NY to most of the Caribbean since it is distance based so you definitely want to book these flights with via British Airways.
Lastly, I chose to search one way since I always find it better to search one leg at a time for an award. If I searched for a roundtrip flight, I would miss flights that had availability to the Caribbean but maybe didn’t have any availability on the return. Or the only availability was in business class one way but economy in the other. In either case, I could try to use miles in another program or figure an alternative plan for the return. Basically, I want to safeguard against the map returning no results when in fact at least half of the flights I need could be available.
Unfortunately, I’m an idiot and didn’t save the screenshot when I booked these flights recently but here is what the results looks like searching now for 7/3 from JFK to the Caribbean/Mexico. Not much available on 7/3 but tons of options if you wanted to leave on 7/4.
The big limitation with the Award Map is not being able to do the inverse search – from anywhere in the Caribbean to a particular airport in the US. It will let me search anywhere in the Caribbean to anywhere in the continental US but that’s not helpful. My workaround for this is to now perform a roundtrip search after performing the initial one way search as you will know the space TO the Caribbean exists. If the map returns a result, then space on the return is available but only for that same cabin as the outbound. This still will not show if there is availability in a different cabin (e.g. business when outbound is in economy) so you would need to perform a search for the return the old fashioned away as seen in the screenshot below.
When I searched last week, the only Caribbean destination that had availability was Antigua so our choice was easy for us! If there were multiple possibilities for this trip, I would have considered islands that we haven’t been to and could use hotel points for but that wasn’t in the cards for us this time. By the way, flights to Antigua are not cheap as they were running $688 per person! Using only 20,000 Avios (and paying $98 in taxes) per person, I secured these flights and got great value out of my miles at 2.95 cents a mile (even though it is not always about getting the best value per mile).
The downside of going to Antigua (if there is one) is that there are no chain hotels I’m aware of on the island so no using hotel points for this stay. Thankfully, I have the Citi Prestige credit card and this seemed like the perfect time to book a 4 night stay with the card to get the 4th night free. Since we haven’t spent much on travel this year and our last night is free due to that card, we decided to splurge and book a luxury, all inclusive resort for the long weekend at Sandals Grande Antigua at essentially 25% off. We’ve never stayed in a Sandals or even a nice all inclusive resort but I’ve secretly always wanted to try one. The thought of not having to spend another dime once I land in Antigua (even the shuttle to the resort is included) is enticing. This is out of character for us but there seems to be a ton of people who love Sandals resorts, including some friends of ours.
In order to get the 4th night free, you must call the Citi concierge who connect you to their travel provider and one of their travel agents will find and book the hotel you requested. If you don’t have a hotel in mind, they can assist with finding and choosing a hotel for you as well. While this offer sounds gimmicky, it’s not – the agent found the lowest rate I could find online and once I booked (and paid) for the reservation, I saw the statement credit just a few days later!
So while this isn’t a totally free vacation for us, we’ll get to visit a new Caribbean island as well as get a whole new experience staying at a luxury all inclusive resort. Everything from food, drinks, transportation, water sports, scuba diving and other activities are all included so we should be able to kick back, relax and not have to think about spending money on anything while we are there. Sounds like the perfect 4th of July weekend to me!