Let’s say I told you that I live in central Florida (I actually do) and plan to go to St. Lucia in the spring or summer, with dates being flexible. What are the best miles to get me there? About 99% of travel hackers would tell me it’s Avios, British Airways program.
After all, you can fly from Miami to St. Lucia for 20,000 miles roundtrip on American Airlines (its partner) and pay no fuel surcharges. The same exact flight will run 35,000 miles through AAdvantage program in the spring or summer. Southwest does not yet fly to St. Lucia, so this is the best route to take. Or is it?
Actually, for my family, the best option would be JAL Mileage Bank, a program of Japan Airlines. Sounds crazy, but true. It belongs to One World alliance, so its miles are redeemable on American Airlines or US Airways flights. Take a look at its partner award chart. Notice how flights less than 4,000 miles (total combined distance of all segments) cost just 21,000 miles. But wait, that’s more than the cost of an award through Avios program! True, but only if we flew from Miami, which is almost 4 hours away from my home.
If I were to add an additional segment from Tampa (1.5 hours drive), it would be extra 4,500 Avios one-way. So, a roundtrip ticket to St. Lucia would run 29,000 Avios. Instead, the award through JAL program would be 21,000 miles for an exact same itinerary. Map provided courtesy of gcmap.com
As you can see, the total distance from Tampa to St. Lucia is 1,709 miles one-way, so roundtrip would be less than 4,000 miles (cutoff limit) to get the price of 21,000 miles for our award.
That would save us a long drive to Miami, having to pay for parking our car and so on. You could add a non-stop flight to Miami from the highlighted area and still be under the allotted mileage requirement. Map provided courtesy of gcmap.com
According to Travelisfree, JAL program allows up to 7 stopovers. Not that you would need that many, but it’s yet another way to maximize this award. You can calculate a total mileage of your flights by going to GCMAP.com and putting in your specific airport codes’ combination.
First, you would need to go to AA.com and make sure those award flights are available. Reportedly, one-ways are allowed, so that’s another potential way to leverage JAL program. Booking has to be done over the phone. Of course, there is a catch. JAL miles only transfer from SPG program (takes 1-2 weeks), and Starpoints are very hard to earn. You can get a 25,000 points bonus if you sign up for American Express SPG card (personal or business version) and spend $5,000 in 6 months. It’s only available to first-time applicants. The card pays me commission, but I recommend you wait till summer to get it. In all likelihood, Amex will raise the sign-up bonus to 30,000 points.
I know some of you have a decent stash of SPG points, which is why I’ve decided to write this post. I’ve seen my reader Cheapblackdad mention that he likes to redeem Avios for flights from Chicago to Cancun. If the route goes through Miami, it costs a total of 24,000 Avios roundtrip per ticket : 7,500 Avios from Chicago to Miami, plus 4,500 Avios from Miami to Cancun.
If instead, he were to go through JAL program, it would be 21,000 miles per person. That may not seem like a big difference, but if you multiply it times 4, that’s 12,000 miles in potential savings. I should add that American does have a non-stop flight from Chicago to Cancun, but it may not be available on miles for the times you need.
You would save even more if you flew from a city further away. Below I have highlighted a range of 2,000 miles (enough for a one-way flight) with the help of gcmap.com As you can see, it includes most of lower 48 States. Map provided courtesy of gcmap.com
Let me show you how far you can get from Dallas, one of American hubs. As you can see, you can visit most of Caribbean islands, Mexico and Central America all for the price of 21,000 miles roundtrip.
You can potentially add on a short flight from your home city, connect through Dallas, and still be under the cutoff limit of 4,000 miles in total distance. The same principle applies to US Airways hubs, like Charlotte (NC) and Philadelphia. Map provided courtesy of gcmap.com
When you transfer 20,000 SPG points to an airline program, you get a bonus of 5,000 miles. So, for 4 roundtrip tickets you would need a total of 69,000 Starpoints. Sure, it’s a huge amount, but potential value is definitely there. You can combine points with your spouse free of charge.
If you live near an airport primarily served by American Airlines or US Airways, and have a big stash of SPG points, you should take a look at JAL program. It offers quite a few “sweet spots” if you plan to visit Caribbean, Mexico or Central America, or want to maximize a stopover rule.
Of course, first, you should compare the price to what an Avios award would cost for your itinerary. Also, don’t forget that many routes to Caribbean are now served by Southwest. You also absolutely need to have flexibility, as transfers are NOT instant.
Will majority of my readers take advantage of this option? Probably not. But that’s what travel hacking is all about: Digging deeper and thinking outside the box. To me, it’s half the fun.
Readers, is this option new to you? Do you plan to take advantage of it?
Leana is the founder of Miles For Family. She enjoys beach vacations and visiting her family in Europe. Originally from Belarus, Leana resides in central Florida with her husband and two children.