The Cheapest Ways to Get to the Carribean and Mexico with Miles

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I recently had a reader ask me about the best miles to collect to get from Salt Lake City to Cozumel, Mexico. The answer illustrates the best ways to get to the Caribbean and Mexico, so I thought I’d share and expand upon it here.

Near international destinations like Cozumel can be an excellent deal on region-based award charts like those used by American, United, US Airways, and Delta. They can also be a great deal in distance-based programs like those run by British Airways and All Nippon Airways.

How to Get There

The first step is to determine the actual route one would take from Salt Lake City to Cozumel. You could go to kayak.com and search or go to wikipedia for the options. The three shortest in this case are through Houston on United, Dallas on American, and Denver on Frontier.

image from gcmap.com

There are additional ways to get to Cozumel on Delta, Sun Country, United, American, US Airways, Air Canada, and more. But those ways won’t be cheaper, and will be less fun to fly, so let’s ignore them.

The list of the cheapest ways to Cozumel sheds light on transferable points–especially Ultimate Rewards and Membership Rewards–and should help you plan your next near-international getaway.

1. 25,000 American Airlines miles from September 7 to November 14

American Airlines offers off peak discounts to Mexico and the Caribbean every year from September 7 to November 14. Each direction is 12,500 miles, for the cheapest flights to Cozumel at 25,000 miles roundtrip.

The 25,000 mile price is valid from anywhere in the continental US or Canada that American serves during the off peak time period.

American Airlines is a 1:1 transfer partner of Starwood Preferred Guest, with a 5,000 mile bonus for every 20,000 points transferred.

2. 30,000 Frontier Miles

Frontier has an incredibly cheap award chart that I’ve gushed about. The Denver-based airline charges only 15,000 miles each way, year round to Mexico.

The 30,000 mile price is valid from anywhere that Frontier serves.

Frontier is a 1:1 transfer partner of Membership Rewards.

2. 30,000 British Airways Avios

British Airways has a fantastic program for short hops on flights operated by American Airlines.

Unfortunately British Airways charges per segment, so the exact routing is crucial. Salt Lake City to Dallas to Cozumel is 15,000 Avios because each segment is 7,500 Avios. A roundtrip from Salt Lake City to Cozumel would be 30,000 Avios.

651-1151 mile flights cost 7,500 Avios. Image from gcmap.com.

If you live less than 651 miles from Dallas, it would be a 24,000 Avios roundtrip to Cozumel. If you live farther away, the cost rises to 35,000 Avios. To figure out the price from your home airport, use the “How many Avios do I need?” page.

British Airways is a 1:1 transfer partner of Membership Rewards. There are very often transfer bonuses, including the current 35% transfer bonus. British Airways is a 1:1 transfer partner of Ultimate Rewards. British Airways is a 1:1 transfer partner of Starwood Preferred Guest, with a 5,000 mile bonus for every 20,000 points transferred.

4. 35,000 American Airlines, United, Delta, or US Airways miles

All four legacy carrier charge 35,000 miles roundtrip to Cozumel from Salt Lake City or anywhere else in the continental US and Canada.

American Airlines, Delta, and US Airways are 1:1 transfer partners of Starwood Preferred Guest, with a 5,000 mile bonus for every 20,000 points transferred.

Delta is a 1:1 transfer partner of Membership Rewards.

United is a 1:1 transfer partner of Ultimate Rewards.

5. 38,000 All Nippon Airways miles

I’ve written before about how to save thousands of miles booking United flights with ANA miles. ANA employs a distance-based chart like British Airways. But unlike British Airways, ANA doesn’t charge based on the cost of each flight, but on the distance of the whole award.

SLC-IAH-CZM-IAH-SLC would be the entire ANA award on United planes.

from gcmap.com

Unfortunately the award just exceeds 4,000 miles flown, which is really bad news when we look at the award chart.

If only the award flew 65 miles fewer, the cost would be only 22,000 miles roundtrip!

For those of us who don’t live in Salt Lake City, that means that a trip to Cozumel with ANA miles can be the cheapest option.

The direct Houston to Cozumel roundtrip would be only 20,000 miles, and from cities near Houston, the cost would only be 22,000 ANA miles.

ANA is a 1:1 transfer partner of Membership Rewards. ANA is a 1:1 transfer partner of Starwood Preferred Guest, with a 5,000 mile bonus for every 20,000 points transferred.

Your Strategy

If you had SPG Starpoints, Chase Ultimate Rewards, and American Express Membership Rewards, you would have the best ability to fly to Cozumel (or Mexico and the Caribbean more generally), by giving yourself the most options for success.

I specifically suggested to the reader who emailed me that she focus on earning Membership Rewards and Ultimate Rewards, so that she could access space on the convenient United, American, and Frontier flights through the United, British Airways, Frontier, and ANA programs.

Having some of each would give her a lot of options and ensure that if there was an award seat available on any airline, she could get it. One good way to diversify would be get a Chase Sapphire Preferred (Ultimate Rewards) and a Mercedes-Benz American Express Platinum (Membership Rewards).

Sapphire Preferred with 40,000 Ultimate Rewards after spending $3,000 in the first three months

  • 40,000 Ultimate Rewards after spending $3,000 in the first three months.
  • 2 points per dollar spent on travel and dining at restaurants & 1 point per dollar on all other purchases.
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading frequent travel programs– United, British Airways, and many more–that means 1,000 Ultimate Rewards equals 1,000 partner miles/points
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Receive a 7% Annual Points Dividend on all new points earned on purchases–even on points already redeemed
  • Direct access to expert service advisors any time
  • Introductory Annual Fee on $0 the first year, $95 thereafter

Mercedes-Benz American Express Platinum with 50,000 Membership Rewards after spending $3,000 in the first three months

  • 50,000 Membership Rewards after spending $3,000 in three months
  • Membership Rewards transfer to dozens of other loyalty programs including Delta, British Airways, Frontier, and many more
  • $100 credit for Global Entry signup
  • $200 calendar-year airline-fee credit
  • Free airport lounge access (American, US Airways, Delta, Priority Pass)
  • Earns 1 Membership Reward per dollar
  • $475 annual fee, not waived in the first year
  • See Rookie Alli’s piece on maximizing any Platinum Card’s benefits. It is a must-read before applying.

Recap

Near international trips like Mexico and the Caribbean present a dizzying array of redemption choices. Options range from traditional legacy programs to distance-based international programs. Having transferable points like Starpoints, Membership Rewards, and Ultimate Rewards allow you to take advantage of all the options on awards like this.


Editorial Disclaimer: The editorial content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuers.

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17 COMMENTS

  1. There have also been some great deals this week to Cancun and Cozumel, on American Airlines (I was able to buy ORD-CUN for about $175 roundtrip, middle of winter) – unsure about fares from SLC, but could be a good option for others!

  2. The other option is using Air Tran’s reward credits. I am planning a family trip (for 4) to Punta Cana, Dominican Republic for the week of New Year’s Eve. Ticket prices are ranging around $700pp. The only airline program I have a decent number of miles in is Delta Skymiles. But I haven’t found a low miles flight for that trip yet. It’s pricing out at 70K miles pp. So I turned my attention to Air Tran. We got the Air Tran CC which will give us 32 credits, enough for 2 round trips. I also have a lot of Southwest points, so I’m converting 38,400 SW points over to Air Tran for another 32 credits, giving me the next 2 tickets I need. I’m still keeping my eyes open in case there is a better option (I hate to use up my Southwest points this way because I’m “wasting” my Companion Pass). Also, I’m thoroughly worried there won’t be award availability for my dates. It’s a waiting game right now for them to release their dates.

    The problem with places like Frontier Airlines (and the others) is that I don’t have any miles there and only 50,000 Membership Rewards – so I can only cover 1 ticket. It’s a lot of scenarios to work through to find the best for my situation.

  3. I seems that I can never get the BA Avios calculator work for any domestic routes? It would give me an error message saying BA doesn’t serve the route, as an example SFO-OGG, or SFO – PVR?

    I got Chase BA in January and Marriott Visa in Feb. Waiting for 91 days to pass for my next churn. I am interested in 1) Inc Bold (will be my first business card, and want to it to buy gift cards for upcoming graduation gifts); 2) Sapphired Preferred for 2 night at Hyatt; 3) Hyatt Visa (for a two-night free in HK in Dec.) How many Chase cards I can get in one churn?

    • SFO-OGG is 17,000 Avios each way with a connection somewhere American or Alaska flies to Hawaii. OAK-OGG is 12,500 Avios each way on Alaska if you can make the trek. SFO-PVR is withe 10k each way or 12.5k each way on the direct Alaska flight.

  4. Sharon: I applied for 3 Chase cards within six months successfully, but was shot down on the fourth last week. (Ink Bold 11/12, Sapphire 1/13, AirTran 4/13 Success – Hyatt 4/13 Denied). On the reconsideration call for the Hyatt I suggested that they could reduce my credit lines on the other cards, but they said that my history wasn’t long enough with them and they wanted to see a more established payment pattern – even though I pay my balance in full every month. I’ll wait for the Southwest business and personal cards in December as my next Chase cards. Just a random data point – hope it helps.

    • Almost the same exact thing happened to me last year. I also had great payment history but I applied for a similar amount of cards and had only a year or so of history so they told me the same thing. 9 months later and I’ve been able to add both the Southwest cards and the BA card. I would suggest waiting 6 months and then applying in your regular churn cycle again. Good luck and I’m sure you will be fine.

      • Checked AMEX site and it says “The Platinum member’s spouse and children under the age of 21 or up to two companions may enter the club as complimentary guests”. So it looks good. Thanks.

  5. 35k AeroMexico via Amex MR. Unimportant for SLC-CZM since you’d need to fly DL anyway. Might be relevant for other Mexican destinations.

  6. The mentioning of reduced AA awards to the Carribean for Sep 7 – Nov 14 was just a dead-on!!

    I fly ATL-POP 3-4 times a year, always on AA and mostly w/ Avios miles in Biz (39k Avios, $107 in fees; that’s a steal!). But I can do Econ @25,000 AA miles (and $107 in fees). Especially as I will get 2,500 mi. back thru my Citi AA card. BOOKED.

    In summary, $107 and 22.5k AA miles, Econ RT. Ticket usually sells for $700+.

  7. Dear Scott,
    I am reading your story with excitement and disappointment all at the same time. I plan to use Avios (we have 200k+ points) and our family needs 4 tickets. We plan to travel from “SFO or SJC or OAK” – CUN from Mar 29- Apr 5 2014. Sadly, there is nothing available on Avios!

    We also tried to “SFO or SJC or OAK” – DFW, and we will just pay for DFW to CUN but even that, nothing shows up for DFW on Avios.

    What am I doing wrong? Are we booking too early for 2014 ?

    Any advice is most appreciated. Thanks!

  8. One of the best things about the Carib. Is united sees it as a different region. I was able to book ATL-POP-ATL-LIM all for 35k in economy. Europe instead of LIM is only 10k more and a one way to South Asia only 15k more. Those Carib trips are real cheap when u consider the extra leg that can be added . Thanks MV.

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