If anyone were to choose a location to live based on travel hacking award seat availability, they should look long and hard at South Florida. Not that I’m suggesting anyone actually move there just for an extra travel hacking edge. But we might be thinking about it, or jealous anyway. Let’s take a look at just the Avios angle of the award deals
the lucky bastards our Floridian friends have available. You can see the rest of the sweet spots we’ve already looked at in Award Sweet Spots By Origin page under the Resources tab at the top of the page.
Like several other foreign award programs, British Airways Avios is a distance-based program. Since each segment is priced separately, it favors nonstop flights or combinations of flights that make the most of the Avios distance bands:
You can find great resources on booking flights with Avios in this post and this complete guide, both by Travel is Free. BA Avios and AMEX Membership rewards points can also be transferred to Iberia Avios to save on
fuel scam surcharges when redeeming on Iberia flights. Otherwise, BA’s interface is a lot easier to work with. Rather than focusing on the programs, let’s look at the possibilities on a series of maps, and some ways to make them work even if you don’t live in South Florida:
Distance band 1: 4,500 Avios each way
This band, up to 649 miles, includes 9 Caribbean destinations from Miami. First class seats on these routes cost 18K Avios each way.
Distance band 2: 7,500 Avios each way
This band covers segments from 650 to 1149 miles. An amazing deal to the rest of the Caribbean, and most of Central America. First class seats on these routes cost 30k Avios.
Distance band 3: 10,000 Avios each way
This band, 1150 to 1999 miles, catches the rest of the Caribbean and Central American destinations served by AA from Miami. Business class seats cost 20K or 40K each way depending on the cabin configuration.
Distance band 4: 12,500 Avios each way
This band, 2000 to 2999 miles, includes a pair of South American options: Lima on AA or LAN, Manaus on AA or TAM, or Belem on TAM. From Lima it’s another 4,500 Avios to Cusco. Business class seats on these routes cost 37.5K Avios each way.
Distance band 5: 20,000 Avios each way
This band, 3000 to 3999 miles, gets you deeper into central South America. However, several of these destinations can be reached using less points by adding a stopover in one of the zone 3 or 4 city. Business class seats on these routes cost 60K Avios each way.
Distance band 6: 25,000 Avios each way
Europe: While these Iberia and Aer Lingus routes do have surcharges, they are relatively reasonable at ~$50-$120 per person as long as you transfer your Avios from BA to Iberia before redeeming (for IB flights only). I look at those as 5000 – 12,500 Arrival points added to the Avios points required when comparing to other programs, and since availability is often much better on these routes it is worth including them. The AirBerlin routes in blue have no surcharges. Business class seats on these routes cost 75K Avios.
South America: The remainder of South America fits in this distance range. Several of these cities are served nonstop by TAM or LAN as well as AA, and Santiago and Sao Paulo also have service to Orlando.
Dishonorable mention: British Airways also has nonstop service to London from Miami, Orlando and Tampa for 25K Avios per person each way in coach. However once you multiply their
fuel scam surcharges by 3 or more passengers, you’re looking at a very expensive family award trip.
Using this sweet spots from the rest of the country
Unfortunately positioning to Miami isn’t nearly as easy as the last sweet spot we looked at from the West Coast. At least not if you live in a Southwest-centered city with no nonstop service to Miami like we do. If you do have nonstop AA service to Miami, you can add the required number of Avios from the chart at the top of the page and simply book your trip at BA.com or by calling in if only the individual segments show up.
When we used our points to get Bonnie’s cousins from Barbados to San Antonio in June 2013, we booked their flights to Miami with positioning flights from Fort Lauderdale to San Antonio and back on Southwest. The transfer takes about an hour, using a free shuttle from each airport to/from the rail station and a $5 train fare. Details and schedules are here. There are several other potential positioning options to FLL as well if you find a good fare sale that makes it worthwhile.
As another example, we currently have a hold (with AA miles) on a trip to Europe next summer which makes creative use of positioning to get home from Miami, which is the only airport with business class seats to Europe on dates that work for us. Our outbound is ok if a little crazy: SAT-PHL-MIA on US and MIA-MAD on AA. Returning, I can’t get back to San Antonio or anywhere I can position from without an overnight layover. So we have Madrid-MAD-IAH on AA, and I will book a one-way car rental from Houston-San Antonio (3 hours) as well as a positioning flight FLL-HOU-SAT on Southwest, and since both the car rental and Southwest flights will be fully refundable we can decide which we want to do when the time comes. Such are the joys of booking from a smaller airport with 4 passengers!
In case you’re not familiar with the term, this flight to get your family ‘in position’ for the flight you want is referred to as a positioning flight.
What you should know about positioning:
- You are not protected against delays as you are with a single ticket. If your first flight is delayed and causes you to miss your second flight, you will be at the mercy of the airline operating the second flight to get a new ticket or, if you’re fortunate, an agent could allow you to travel on a later flight. Especially on the outbound leg of a long-planned trip your family is looking forward to, I think it’s worth planning an overnight layover at your positioning destination. This actually works very well with most of these westbound trips as you can leave in the afternoon (after school or work) and get to the west coast in the evening, and then continue on to Hawaii or wherever in the morning.
- Southwest Airlines flights booked with points are very positioning-friendly. If you miss your flight, you get your points back! So you can book two flights from your positioning point to home: one with a ‘normal’ layover of 2 hours or so, and a later one just in case. If all goes well and you are on time for the first flight, you can go ahead and cancel the later one while waiting at the gate. If you don’t cancel the flight, the taxes you paid will be available for use on a later flight. If you do cancel, they can be refunded. Note that this cancellation only applies to refundable tickets and award Wanna Get Away tickets, NOT paid Wanna Get Away tickets.
- Book one-way tickets for all travel that involves positioning if possible. The worst case scenario is the cancellation of your first positioning flight due to weather. When you miss that next flight, your entire ticket may be cancelled. If you book only one-way tickets and this happens, at least your return trip is intact if you can find an alternate route or program for your outbound trip.
I think I caught all of Florida’s Avios international sweet spots, but please let me know if I missed some! Cover photo courtesy of History Miami.