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American Airlines AAdvantage Miles
The off-peak pricing to the Caribbean using American miles might be the best option for the general U.S. traveler. At only 12,500 miles per person each way in economy, a trip to the beaches of Eleuthera is the same price as a domestic round-trip. Which is totally awesome.
During peak times, the price only increases 2,500 miles to 15,000 AAdvantage miles each way. Cash prices to the Caribbean, especially from regional or west coast airports, can get pretty high, which makes American AAdvantage miles an attractive and high-value option. Here is a potential trip from a regional airport in California to Aruba:
Here is the cost of a similar trip in Google flights, paid with cash:
Subtracting the rather troubling airport taxes and fees on the award ticket from the cash cost, you’re looking at a value of $577 for your 25,000 American AAdvantage miles, or 2.3 cents per mile, a solid value for economy.
Availability is generally also pretty good if you’re looking to travel during off-peak times. I did a number of searches to Caribbean airports, and there is availability for 12,500 AAdvantage miles to a good number of destinations from some East Coast and Midwest cities over much of September and May. Even the west coast airports get some love, although your routing may not be all that ideal (i.e. 2 or 3 stops). If you’re looking to fly peak times, you’ll be a bit more hard pressed to find saver availability.
British Airways Avios
If you’re located in an American Airlines hub with nonstop options to the Caribbean (think Miami, Charlotte, and Dallas), you can fly for only 7,500 to 10,000 Avios each way in economy. As British Airways doesn’t use their lowest tier awards to or from the U.S., you can’t score any deals for 4,500 Avios. This also makes any trip with more than one segment fairly uneconomical, as you’ll be paying a minimum of 15,000 Avios for a one-stop ticket on AA.
You can use the Avios map calculator over at Wandering Aramean to see destinations from a given airport, nicely color-coded by price in Avios. If that is too much trouble,here is a map of all the routes from Miami to Caribbean (and Central American) airports on American Airlines that you can book using just 7,500 British Airways Avios.
These can be had for just 10,000 Avios one-way. I’ve included some routes from other AA hubs as well.
There are also a few fifth freedom Caribbean routes that you can book using just 4,500 Avios on British Airways itself. Some of these may be useful for seeing more than one Caribbean island in the same trip!
In a nutshell, Avios are the way to go from the AA hubs in the Southeast and Texas. But this isn’t especially useful for most people, unless you can catch a cheap positioning flight to one of those places. Due to their partnership with all the major bank transferable points currencies, Avios are quite easy to accrue.
Delta Award Sales
While Delta’s general rates to the Caribbean are fairly unattractive, they do offer some SkyMiles award sales that are worth checking from time to time. I’ve known a few people who’ve scored deals to a couple different Caribbean islands using SkyMiles sales, even from as far as the San Francisco Bay Area.
While the current deals (note, they will change after time of writing) don’t include any Caribbean deals, the recent options included New York – JFK to Aruba for a mere 22,000 SkyMiles round-trip. You could have also gotten to Nassau for only 18,000 SkyMiles round-trip. Watch out for the fees on the latter destination, though!
In general, you won’t find good SkyMiles deals from west coast airports to the Caribbean, as I’ve seen primarily New York City, Atlanta, and other hubs advertised. However, there are sometimes unadvertised “deals” that don’t make it into the list, so it can’t hurt to check from your airport. It is annoying, though, that Delta doesn’t publish an award chart, so who knows what the real cost of anything is supposed to be. The Travel is Free Delta Skymiles calculator is probably the best tool for checking the normal (non-sale) Skymiles price.
The Flying Blue frequent flyer program has been an enigma since changes in 2018. Prices are nonsensical sometimes, either ludicrous numbers of miles, or they do not match any award chart I ever remember. The whole “prices start at” verbiage is troubling. They used to offer some unique opportunities by their definition of Hawaii and the Caribbean being in the same region, but now that you can’t take advantage of a stopover, this is a whole lot less useful.
You will also be presented with rather…unique…routing options, such as the U.S. to South America via Paris (SEE: 5 quirky award routing options for your next trip). Oh, wait. The Caribbean experiences this, too. I definitely want to fly SFO to Aruba via Amsterdam.
That 14,500-mile one-way price is the same via Amsterdam as it is via Atlanta on Delta. If you can find the space via Flying Blue, prices are typically better in terms of the number of miles you need (when compared to Delta SkyMiles). I found a few decent awards for 29,000 miles round-trip. So if you want to fly Delta, take a look at Flying Blue. Unless there is a SkyMiles sale.
FlyingBlue did struggle to pull up awards to a number of Caribbean airports. I’m not sure if this is truly because there weren’t any awards on Delta metal over these dates that are available to them, or if the search engine has issues. And because there is no Delta award chart to know what saver availability is there, it’s hard to know which it is. You could always call FlyingBlue and see if their results are different, but that can be a source of pain and frustration as well. But it surely cannot be as bad as calling the LifeMiles agents [SEE: My epic battle with LifeMiles and how I was finally (sort of) victorious].
Set Star Alliance on the back-burner
Out of all the Star Alliance options, none really stands out above the rest. Whether you’re using United miles, Avianca LifeMiles, or Singapore KrisFlyer, they all cost the same 35,000 miles for a round-trip. All it really comes down to here is what you have available. United MileagePlus is a transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards, while Avianca LifeMiles is a transfer partner of Citi ThankYou and American Express Membership Rewards. Singapore is a transfer partner of all three currencies.
I thought ANA miles would be a good option for getting to the Caribbean, but they actually consider the Caribbean as part of Latin and South America, instead of North America. Odd. This inflates the price to 55,000 miles for a economy round-trip, which is a non-starter. However, once you get to Central America or the Caribbean, using ANA for economy flights to the rest of South America becomes a very attractive option.
I guess that is the food for thought in this post. Use Avios or American miles to get to the Caribbean cheaply, and then use ANA miles to fly to southern South America. You can even include a stopover!
Southwest, for a few select destinations
America’s most popular airline, at least by passenger volume, has a limited number of international destinations, and a handful of these are in the Caribbean. They fly to the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Grand Cayman, Aruba, Turks and Caicos, and the Bahamas. Here is a decent award from Washington D.C. to Punta Cana:
The popularity of these flights keeps cash prices (and therefore award prices) high from what I can tell. The other issue you face is that some departure points won’t even price out, as Southwest doesn’t sell those tickets. Want to fly from Spokane to Punta Cana? You’re out of luck. We ran into this issue planning our flights home from our adoption trip, as there were only four days in November where you could fly SJO-HOU-OAK on a single ticket (SEE: A new look at award flight options for our adoption trip).
Don’t forget those nasty fees!
Best airline miles for visiting Caribbean destinations
In a nutshell, I find the availability and value to favor awards on American Airlines booked with either their own AAdvantage miles or British Airways Avios. If you can make AAdvantage miles work during off peak times, they are pretty much the best airline miles for visiting Caribbean destinations. Flying Blue may work if you’re looking to book Delta flights, or look to the airline’s own award sales. Beyond that, you’re looking at some fairly standard, even high, prices using Star Alliance carriers.