Assembling a cheap award to paradise

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The old $49 per year IHG credit card is no longer available to new applicants.  Worse, it no longer offers an uncapped free night each year.  Today, just like the IHG Premier card, it offers a free night at any property costing up to 40,000 points.  Across three different family accounts, though, I had 3 remaining uncapped free night certificates.  These legacy certificates can be used at any IHG hotel worldwide based upon availability. Our certificates were dangerously close to expiring, so I had little choice but to book the nicest IHG property I could find, and which I could get to relatively easily.

I decided to use our certificates at the Kimpton Seafire resort in Grand Cayman.  Pictured above is our King ocean view room on the 8th floor.  It’s glorious.  That’s all I’m going to say about the Kimpton for now.  I’ll write more in a future post.  This post is about how my wife and I got here.

Do you remember my post about how to book an impossible business class award trip to New Zealand?  This trip was like a mini version of that, but (mostly) in coach.  The New Zealand post showed how it’s possible to find awards to a mid-point in order to string together inexpensive award flights to make one complete trip.  I did the same for this trip.

Delta offers seasonal nonstop service from Detroit to Grand Cayman, but only on Saturdays.  And it wasn’t scheduled to begin until one of our certificates expired anyway.  So, the best we could do was to fly a one-stop route to Grand Cayman.

Via Google Flights, I found one-stop routes on Delta, United, AA, and even Air Canada.  Prices on any route that worked with our schedule were very high: over $700 per person if I recall correctly.  It’s possible that AA was a bit cheaper, but I only fly AA when I have no other choice.  Sorry AA, but my experiences flying you the last few years were rarely good.

Award availability was really bad too.  None of the 1-stop options were available at saver level award prices.  I think that Delta wanted something like 70,000 miles per person round trip, and prices on the other carriers weren’t much better.

So, rather than fork over big bucks or huge numbers of miles to book our flights, I looked for a cheap mid-way point.  Was there a place we could get to cheaply that would also offer cheap flights to Grand Cayman?

Via FlightConnections.com, I identified all of the non-stop routes that service Grand Cayman (GCM).  Fort Lauderdale (FLL) was one of the options.  I looked at this one first because I know from experience that cheap flights are often available between Detroit and Fort Lauderdale.  And indeed, that was the case.  Reasonable prices and awards were available for Delta’s nonstop flights.  If memory serves, we could have booked basic economy for 12,000 miles per person round-trip from Detroit to Fort Lauderdale, but we booked regular economy instead for 19,000 miles per person.  That’s a big premium, but I wanted to be able to use our Diamond elite status to qualify for upgrades, so I paid it.  For the record, we were upgraded only to Comfort+ on the way down, but to first class for the return.

Flights between Fort Lauderdale and Grand Cayman were super cheap.  Both JetBlue and Southwest fly the route nonstop.  For the outbound flight we booked JetBlue for only 3,100 points plus $5.60 per person!  I believe that the cash-only price was over $80, so this was an amazing use of JetBlue points.  Southwest had better timing for the return flight which we booked for only 3,120 Southwest points per person plus $84.58 in fees (extra fees are charged when departing GCM).

Let’s now put together all of our flight costs.  These are per-person (so I really paid twice as much altogether):

  • Delta round-trip from Detroit to Fort Lauderdale: 19,000 miles + $11.20
  • JetBlue from Fort Lauderdale to Grand Cayman: 3,100 points + $5.60
  • Southwest from Grand Cayman to Fort Lauderdale: 3,120 points + $84.58 in fees
  • Total round trip price per person: 25,220 miles + $101.38

Flying from Detroit to Grand Cayman for only 25K miles + $100 per person is an excellent deal.  By stringing together separate awards, we were able to get this pricing despite the fact that we had almost no flexibility at all in our travel schedule.  We had to visit Grand Cayman before our free night certificates expired and these were the only days we had available.

OK, enough blogging.  I’m going back to the beach.  See you later.

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