Sometimes it’s a lot of work to put together a trip, and sometimes it’s hardly any work at all. Our last family trip to Managua took a fair amount of work but one we just returned from was so easy a newly converted Million Mile Secrets reader could have booked it.
As one of the world’s foremost experts on American Airlines award availability on the CLT-MGA route, I can attest that American had been stingy with its award space all year. It’s always tough to book over Christmas and New Year’s, which made our last trip more tricky to nail down, but once upon a time, even in 2016, it was wide open after mid-January. But this year? Not so much. Having a family of six doesn’t make things easier, but even taking that into account the AA revenue management goon squad has made things difficult for freeloaders like us. But in early November I noticed seven seats available with a favorable schedule. Booked! We were headed down south once again.
And the hotels? Whereas last time that took a bit of work, it was no problem this time. IHG had just put out their new Pointbreaks list and even though a lot of good hotels had already vanished from the list, there was a nice Holiday Inn available in Managua for only 5,000 points per night. Not only that, but they allowed more than one room per night to be booked at the 5,000-point rate! The last few times I saw a Pointsbreak hotel worth booking, there was a limit of one room per night. So after literally years of waiting, I finally used my IHG stash (and then some–I had to buy a few points as well).
The one hitch in my plan was that the trip down was an overnight routing through Miami. It was a long layover (arrive 8 pm, leave early afternoon the next day) and the Hyatt Place is right next door to the airport, so the overnight aspect itself was not a big deal–in fact, it was a plus since we have some relatives in the area we visited with. What was a big deal was the fact that the layover was so long we couldn’t check our bags all the way through to Managua; we had to pick everything up in Miami, take it to the hotel, take it back the next morning, and re-check the bags. And when you’ve got a wife, four kids, a mother-in-law, seven checked bags, and five carry-ons… it’s a non-trivial undertaking. Not a deal-breaker, but something to be aware of in case you find yourself considering a similar booking with a large group.
But that said, the trip went smoothly. Our kids are ages 4-10 now and traveling to Nicaragua was much easier this time around than it was just two years ago. Hope for the future! And I will point out that clearing customs and immigration in Miami at an off-peak time (specifically, Friday night in late January) is much more pleasant that doing it the first Saturday after New Year’s.
How easy was it to book this trip? I found the fares and booked the tickets and hotels over the course of a single evening and that was that. No elite travel hacker skillz required. If only they were all so easy…