Best ways to get to the Caribbean / Central America using miles

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While we currently stay at home awaiting a time when it is safe and possible to travel again, it can make sense (and be a welcome distraction) to plan for or at least daydream about the places we hope to travel when this pandemic is behind us. With that in mind, Greg published a list of great Hyatt resort options within the US yesterday (figuring that many of us will be looking to take a road trip rather than a flight for our first post-quarantine escape). If you’re looking further yet down the road to a time when we’re flying, you may still be keeping nearer destinations in mind. While we’ve previously published the Best ways to get to Africa using miles, the Best ways to get to Europe using miles, and the Best ways to get to Australia / New Zealand / South Pacific using miles, we hadn’t published a similar guide on the best ways to get to the Caribbean & Central America using miles. This post will include the best mileage deals to the region using various credit card transfer partners. If we’ve missed your favorite redemption option, let us know in the comments as we will keep this guide updated as award charts change.

Transferrable Currencies

If you want to use airline miles, it’s great to have transferable points.  Transferable point programs let you transfer your points to any of a number of airline programs.  This is great because it gives you the freedom to book many different flights through many different methods, some of which are strikingly cheaper than others.  If you’re not familiar with transferable points programs, please check out our guides:

Amex Membership Rewards Complete Guide Capital One “Rewards miles” Complete Guide Chase Ultimate Rewards Complete Guide
Citi ThankYou Rewards Complete Guide Marriott Bonvoy Complete Guide

Dynamic Award Pricing

Note that the major US Carriers flying to Mexico / the Caribbean / Central Amerca are all using dynamic award pricing these days. That means there is no longer a “standard” price for an award flight on United using United miles or on American using American miles, etc. You’ll therefore want to check their sites directly for award pricing as they may sometimes be your best option.

We included Delta below specifically because of their frequent advertised flash sales, Southwest because flights to this region represent some of the best values on Rapid Rewards points given the tax structure, and JetBlue because they fly Mint service (the best business class in the region) to some Caribbean destinations. It’s still worth noting that American and United are likely to have competitive award pricing in the near future given an economic environment that has cash prices driven quite low worldwide (and the general correlation between cash prices and miles required within their programs).

Best ways to the Caribbean and Central America using miles

The deals below are sorted alphabetically. Remember that the lowest price isn’t the entire picture: be sure to consider which airlines levy fuel surcharges (though in this region I don’t believe you’ll encounter any) and the ease of amassing the miles for your chosen award. See each description for where to search, how to book, and which partners you can use to transfer. It is always best to confirm availability before transferring miles to be sure that the award you seek can be booked with the miles you intend.

Avianca LifeMiles

  • The short story: Avianca LifeMiles offers one-ways on United to the “rest of North America” (i.e. not the US) for 12,500 miles each way in economy class.
  • Miles required: 12,500 miles each way in economy class
  • How to find awards: Search for available space at LifeMiles.com (you’ll need to create a free Avianca LifeMiles frequent flyer account)
  • How to book awards: Book online at LifeMiles.com. Can also book via email. Phone bookings are known to be a hassle but also possible.
  • Key warnings: Availability at LifeMiles.com does not always match what you’ll find at United.com. Phone agents generally do not see better availability than what is shown at LifeMiles.com. Always check the LifeMiles site before transferring points.
  • Transfer from: Amex, Citi, Capital One, Marriott

British Airways

  • The short story: British Airways offers a distance-based award chart, so flights from the southern part of the US to the Caribbean and Latin America can be a solid value.
  • Miles required: Varies based on distance. From 7.5K one-way in economy class.
  • How to find awards: Search for available space at britishairways.com for AA or aa.com for Alaska flights.
  • How to book awards: Book American flights online at britishaiways.com or Alaska flights over the phone at 1 800 452 1201.
  • Key warnings: British Airways charges for each segment separately, so multi-segment trips can get expensive quickly. Furthermore, the British Airways site sometimes shows phantom award space for AA (see: Phantom menace: an award search time suck). You may want to double-check Qantas.com for availability before transferring to British Aiways Executive Club for American flights.
  • Transfer from: Amex, Chase, Marriott

Delta

  • The short story: Delta has weekly flash sales where it is sometimes possible to get solid value. Some itineraries to the Caribbean offer surprising value.
  • Miles required: Varies, but enter your starting airport at the Travel is Free Delta mileage calculator and just check the "international" box to find destinations that may present a good deal.
  • How to find awards: Search for available space at Delta.com.
  • How to book awards: Book online at Delta.com.
  • Key warnings: Delta pricing can be very unpredictable and vary wildly.
  • Transfer from: Amex

Emirates for travel on JetBlue

  • The short story: Emirates Skywards offers cheap short-haul one-ways on JetBlue. The best deals to the Caribbean are originating in Florida or San Juan.
  • Miles required: From 7,500 miles each way in economy class
  • How to find awards: Search for available "U" space via ExpertFlyer or call Emirates at 1-800-777-3999.
  • How to book awards: Over the phone with Emirates at 1-800-777-3999.
  • Key warnings: It will likely only be the cheapest revenue fares that are available as awards. JetBlue may therefore be charging even fewer TrueBlue points for the same awards. Further, Emirates charges for each segment separately. See this chart for direct/nonstop pricing by route.
  • Transfer from: Amex, Citi, Chase, Capital One, Marriott

Iberia

  • The short story: Iberia Plus offers a distance-based award chart that can be useful for short itineraries on American Airlines (even those with connections) with no close-in booking fee. See: From 11K RT on American: A sweet spot for North American flight redemptions.
  • Miles required: From 11K miles round trip plus $11.20 for economy-class itineraries. The best deals are itineraries of 2,000 miles flown or fewer since they cost 17,000 miles round trip at most when American has availability.
  • How to find awards: Search for available space at iberia.com.
  • How to book awards: Book online at iberia.com.
  • Key warnings: Most Iberia partner bookings, including those on American Airlines, are completely nonrefundable and can not be changed. Only book AA flights with Iberia if plans are certain.
  • Transfer from: Amex, Chase

JetBlue TrueBlue

  • The short story: JetBlue TrueBlue points are typically only worth about 1.5c towards the cost of a flight, but when prices are low that can mean that a transfer to JetBlue might make sense. Further, JetBlue flies its excellent Mint product to Liberia, Aruba, Grenada, St. Lucia, Barbados, and St. Maarten from either New York or Boston which is likely the best business class in the region.
  • Miles required: Varies by route.
  • How to find awards: Search for available space at JetBlue.com
  • How to book awards: Book online at JetBlue.com
  • Transfer from: AmexCitiChaseCapital OneMarriott

Korean for travel on Delta

  • The short story: Koreak SkyPass charges just 25K miles round trip for flights within North America, which includes the US to/from Mexico and the US Virgin Islands.
  • Miles required: 25K miles round trip to North America in economy class or 45K in business (35K / 75K RT to Central America)
  • How to find awards: Search for available space using Korean Air’s site.
  • How to book awards: Book online at KoreanAir.com
  • Key warnings: Since Korean is no longer a Chase transfer partner, this option is most likely less appealing for US-based travelers unless they have an excess of Marriott points.
  • Transfer from: Marriott

Qantas

  • The short story: Qantas offers better pricing than traditional American Airlines award prices on itineraries with a distance of 1200 miles or fewer each way and has no close-in booking fee. This could be especially good for short international flights like Miami to Grand Cayman or other points in the Southern US to the Caribbean.
  • Miles required: 8,000 miles each way for itineraries covering a distance up to 600 miles or 12,000 miles each way for itineraries covering a distance up to 1200 miles. (See: Strengths of Qantas for AA redemptions).
  • How to find awards: Search for available space at Qantas.com (you’ll need to create a free Qantas Frequent Flyer account)
  • How to book awards: Book online at Qantas.com.
  • Key warnings: Avios, either through British Airways or Iberia, might be a better value if you have direct flights if you have access to points which transfer to Avios. However, for flights with connections, Qantas can be a better deal.
  • Transfer from: Amex, Citi, Capital One, Marriott

Southwest

  • The short story: Southwest points are typically only worth about 1.5c towards the cost of a flight, but certain taxes aren’t charged on award tickets which can make for a redemption value as high as 1.9 cents per point to some Latin American destinations.
  • Miles required: Varies by route.
  • How to find awards: Search for available space at Southwest.com
  • How to book awards: Book online at Southwest.com
  • Key warnings: Keep in mind that if you pay for Early Bird Check In and then later cancel or change your flight, you will lose the benefit without a refund.
  • Transfer from: Chase

Turkish

  • The short story: Turkish Miles & Smiles offers excellent award pricing for Star Alliance flights within North America (i.e. on United, Copa or Air Canada).
  • Miles required: From 10,000 miles each way in economy or 15,000 miles each way in business class. Note that domestic flights are 7500 / 12500 miles each way in economy / business, which should include the continental US to/from Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands.
  • How to find awards: Search United.com and look for "Saver Awards". You can also try searching via the Turkish Airlines website, but it does not always show full availability.
  • How to book awards: You can try booking on the Miles & Smiles website, though not all flights are available online. Previously phone bookings have worked and may again be possible. If all else fails, try booking via email. See our guide for booking United flights with Turkish for more detail.
  • Key warnings: Turkish agents occasionally can't see availability even though it is marked as "Saver". You may just have to try again with a different agent.
  • Transfer from: Citi

How to get the miles

The following chart shows the available transferable points programs for each of the above airline frequent flyer programs:

Rewards ProgramAmex Transfer RatioChase Transfer RatioCiti Transfer RatioMarriott Transfer RatioCapital One Transfer Ratio
Avianca LifeMiles1 to 11 to 1
(instant)
60K to 25K1000 to 750
Avios1 to 11 to 160K to 25K6000 to 3000*
Delta SkyMiles1 to 1 plus excise tax60K to 25K
Emirates Skywards1 to 11 to 1
(instant)
1 to 160K to 25K1000 to 500
Qantas Frequent Flyer1 to 11 to 1
(~2 days)
60K to 25K1000 to 750
Southwest Rapid Rewards1 to 160K to 25K
Turkish Airlines Miles & Smiles1 to 1
(~2 days)
60K to 25K
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