Award Trip Breakdown: Our Antigua Flights & Review of the Big Banana (Club 1761) Lounge

We got back last week from our short 4 night stay in Antigua over the July 4th weekend and I’ll start by giving a quick recap of our flights as well as a review of the Big Banana (Club 1761) Executive lounge, a Priority Pass affiliated lounge in the Antigua V. C. Bird International Airport.

I wrote how I booked these flights earlier by using the American Airlines Award Mapper tool to help me plan a trip to the Caribbean over the holiday weekend. I booked these roundtrip flights using only 20,000 British Airways Avios per person instead of 35,000 American Airlines AAdvantage miles that American would have charged.  I won’t go into too much detail as no one wants to read about a run of the mill economy class flight to the Caribbean but in case you didn’t know, American Airlines tends to fly some of their oldest 737s and 757s on these routes. Our flight to Antigua was uneventful but was on a old 737-800 that had seen better days. We did have lounge access to the Admirals Club at JFK T8 but due to timing, we didn’t have a chance to check it out.

AAFlightfromAntigua

No jetways in Antigua

The way home has a little more to discuss as we had lounge access again, this time thanks to my Priority Pass membership that came with my Citi Prestige card. After clearing security, the seating area at Antigua V. C. Bird International Airport is quite dismal. It opens up to a relatively small seating area in the center of the terminal that has a few gift shops and a food counter. Interestingly, you are not allowed to proceed to the gates until they call boarding and they do that since the gate area isn’t like a traditional gate area – it is basically 4 doors (4 gates) right next to each other with no seating in that area at all.  In short, you don’t want to spend a lot of time in this airport as it is quite small and outdated though a new terminal should be opening soon from what our driver told us on the way to the airport.

Anyway, we felt lucky to escape to the lounge which was a quick walk upstairs. I don’t have a picture of this but when you got to the top of the stairs, it was a ghost town. Just a bunch of empty chairs and a vending machine that was chained up. There was literally no signs of life upon entering this floor. However, off to the left & tucked away in the corner was the lounge entrance which could easily be missed.

We walked into the lounge and I was immediately hit with some sort of odor – I don’t know whether it was related to the humanity, stale air or what but it wasn’t the most pleasant. We decided to stick it out as sitting downstairs in the crowded terminal wasn’t appealing either. Upon entering I presented my Priority Pass card and we were promptly admitted with the host leading us to a couch area and asking us for any drinks which I thought was a nice touch.

Lounge3

View from the entrance

Seating Area

Seating Area

We had about 45 minutes to kill before boarding so I took a look at the food and beverage offerings. The bar (alcoholic drinks were complementary) had your standard selection of booze in addition to water and soft drinks available. The food however, left a lot to be desired. It basically consisted of fruit, cheese, crackers and some finger sandwiches but I got this impression this lounge wasn’t the cleanest and that kind of scared me away from the food. It wasn’t that the lounge was dirty per se but more I wasn’t sure proper hygienic precautions were taken with the handling of the food. It very well could be fine (and probably was) but I chose to stay away.

Lounge2

The lounge had Wifi and was reasonably quick so that helped pass the 45 minutes quite quickly until it was time to board. Remember how I said you wait in the middle of the terminal until they let you into the gate area to board? Well this became interestingly when my name was called butchered over the intercom.

You see I was using a mobile boarding pass which wasn’t an issue for security or immigration officials but was an issue for the agent guarding the gate area entrance. I explained I was called to the gate and she asked for my boarding pass. When I presented my phone, she was in disbelief that this my boarding pass and kept saying boarding pass at me. After standing there for a minute going back and forth, someone else came over and upon seeing my mobile pass, printed me out a paper boarding pass and I was admitted to the gate area.

SSSS

So why was I called over to the gate area? See that SSSS on my boarding pass? That meant I was selected for a secondary security screening selection in which they went through my carry-on, swabbed my hands and bags for explosives and gave me a quick pat-down. Protip: It helps to pay attention to them as I was instead staring outside at the planes and was promptly yelled at to pay attention or else. It was a not so nice end to my time in Antigua.

Our flight home was also uneventful though I was grateful for Global Entry as the immigration line was quite long when we entered the terminal. With no bags to pick up, we spend through the customs and we were on our way to the Air Train to head home.

Summary:

From the NY area, at least until JetBlue begins their non-stop service in November, you can’t beat the ease of the American Airlines non-stop flights to Antigua. With prices generally over $500 on this route, this is an excellent route to redeem Avios on and award space has been pretty available in the little bit I’ve monitored it. The lounge in Antigua is nothing to write home about but I guess it beats the terminal due to the free Wifi. Hopefully the unpleasant odor that was in the lounge was a one time incident and future experiences will be better.

Stay tuned for the final post of this Award Trip Breakdown in which I review the Sandals Grande Antigua and tell you everything you need to know about it.

PSA: The Best Offer for the Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select Card is Not Online

The long standing offer on the Citibank AAdvantage Platinum Select cards has been 50,000 miles after $3,000 in spend in 3 months. Sometimes I’ve seen the card offered with two day passes to any Admiral’s club which is a nice touch – either offer is great in my opinion.  In fact, I’d argue it is better than the corresponding 50,000 mile offers currently on the Delta Gold SkyMiles card but what do I know as some prominent blogger who rhymes with the Da Joints Pie has that 50,000 Delta Gold SkyMiles offer as the #1 CURRENT CREDIT CARD OFFER AMONG ALL OFFERS. Are you (bad word) kidding me?!?! That signup offer might get you a roundtrip ticket to Kansas City…keyword being might. What a load of… Sorry end rant, let’s get back on topic.

Back to the PSA at hand, let’s discuss the current state of offers on the Citi AAdvantage card. If you go to AAdvantage page or even the Citibank.com homepages, you will only see a 30,000 mile offer for this card. We can do better than that. Per Flyertalk, there are a whole bunch of links that still show a 50,000 mile offer. Here is one such link if you’d like but we can do better than that (or there wouldn’t be a point to this PSA if the best offer was online).

A nice reader of mine passed along a picture of this offer she was given during her most recent American Airlines flight.

CitiAAPlatinumSelect CitiAAPlatinumSelect1

Do you spot the difference? This offer includes two one-time passes to the Admiral’s club. A one day pass purchased from AA cost $50 so in theory this is an extra $100 of value in this offer. Not into $100 worth of pretzels and stale veggies? You could always sell these two passes on eBay and net around $50 which isn’t too bad. So at most, I’d argue this offer that can be found about 35,000 feet in the sky is  worth ~$50 more than the best one I can find online.

Is this a ground breaking development? Of course not and I’m sure most of you will say screw it and just apply online if you want the card as its extremely unlikely you’ll jump on a flight just for this offer. That said, I bet there is someone reading this who is flying AA soon who might be thinking about picking up this offer. And to that person, this PSA made you an extra $50 so you’re welcome. 

*Yes, I try to have some fun with these PSA posts while trying to convey a serious point hence the different writing style from my normal posts. I hope you had a little chuckle reading these. Will this PSA be as helpful as some of my others? Probably not but its good to keep everyone abreast of things other bloggers don’t mention or don’t know about. Also, I’d say I’d feel bad about poking fun at The Points Guy….but I don’t.

(HT to Maureen for the info/pictures)

Award Trip Breakdown: Using the AA Award Calendar to Plan My July 4th Getaway

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.

Award Map Interface

Award Map Interface

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.

Not much for 7/3

Not many options for 7/3

Many more options on 7/4

Many more options 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.

Choose your day to return from Antigua

Choose your day to return from Antigua

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.

SandalsAntigua

Sandals Grande Antigua

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!

CitiPrestigeRebate

Luxury Resorts in Sandals are not cheap

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!

1,000 Free American Airlines Miles for Answering a Few Quick Questions

American Airlines is giving away 1,000 free miles for answering a few questions about the AAdvantage program. It is an easy test of sorts to see how much you know about the American Airlines AAdvantage program but there are helpful videos to watch before you get the question for each of the different topics. Additionally, you can register for a grand prize of two first class tickets to anywhere American flies.

AA1000Miles

Link to Watch Videos & Earn 1,000 Free Miles

You don’t have to watch the videos (feel free to skip to the end to get the questions) as I’m nice enough to include the answers below.

Exploring My Account – All of the above

Inside Elite Benefits –  Iron

Principles of Redeeming Miles – Flights

Earning Miles with Credit Cards – 25% off

Earning with Partners – Dining Out

Seeing the World: Flying & Earning – 6,700

After completing all the questions, I got a notice saying miles will be posted in 6 to 8 weeks. Considering this took me all of 2 minutes, I highly recommend everyone register and answer the questions to get 1,000 free AA miles.