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?
Click here to view various credit cards and available sign-up bonuses
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.
Interesting. With Avios, it’s all about the hubs. The fact that connecting flights start adding up means you gotta get direct flights which limits you to hubs. I can do the drive from cincinnati to chicago in my sleep at this point but it would be nice to have an option with less of a penalty for flying from a bit closer. May have to play around with thus a bit.
But, man, you gotta be real special to mess with my 60k+ SPG point balance. Thosethibga are hard to get. Just thinking about that stash makes me all warm and fuzzy. And protective. It’s like a child.
@ Cheapblackdad You may want to look into Cincinnati-Miami, Miami-Cancun route. Whether it’s worth it, that one is up to you. Of course, you are still 9,000 SPG points short for 4 award seats, and as you correctly pointed out, those points are SO hard to get. Plus, transfers are not instant. I love my SPG points too, so probably would stick with using Avios or Rapid Rewards. They are way easier to get, no comparison. But it’s nice to have different options. That’s why I love this hobby.
@Cheapblackdad Got an idea for you. For 21,000 miles you can visit both Cancun and Grand Cayman islands, since the mileage is under 4,000 miles total.
From To Initial
CVG (39°02’56″N 84°40’04″W) MIA (25°47’43″N 80°17’24″W) 163.1° (S) 168.8° (S) 948 mi
MIA (25°47’43″N 80°17’24″W) CUN (21°02’12″N 86°52’37″W) 233.3° (SW) 239.6° (SW) 531 mi
CUN (21°02’12″N 86°52’37″W) MIA (25°47’43″N 80°17’24″W) 50.7° (NE) 52.2° (NE) 531 mi
MIA (25°47’43″N 80°17’24″W) GCM (19°17’34″N 81°21’28″W) 188.9° (S) 195.2° (S) 453 mi
GCM (19°17’34″N 81°21’28″W) MIA (25°47’43″N 80°17’24″W) 8.5° (N) 13.1° (N) 453 mi
MIA (25°47’43″N 80°17’24″W) CVG (39°02’56″N 84°40’04″W) 345.5° (N) 351.8° (N) 948 mi
Total: 3864 mi
You can also do Nassau, Bahamas if that’s your preference. I don’t know how this would book in reality, but theoretically, it’s possible. Enough of an incentive to part with your precious SPG points?
Way to get creative! =) I have about 90K SPG points at the moment…holding on to those babies for something special.
@Holly 90K SPG points is a nice haul. Way to go! You may want to play around with this program and see what you can come up with. Reportedly, one-ways are allowed. So maybe you can construct something spectacular using AA or US Air flights. Of course, SPG points are like gold, literally.
I only hope that other travel bloggers give you credit if they start writing about this
@BB it doesn’t really matter, to be honest. 🙂 I’m really glad you found it beneficial. I write posts for my readers, not other bloggers. Plus, I’m sure someone has written about it at some point. It’s very hard to discover a new trick these days. Thank you for your kind words.
Wow!! Thank-you for sharing.
Using JAL (which I have not heard of being used in the travel blogs) to book trips within CONUS. Nice find!
But, that’s not thinking “outside the box” as you wrote;
…I’d say it’s more thinking inside the GCMap.com milage circles!!
BB, thanks! Glad you enjoyed it. It took me a long time to put it together. It’s funny, I looked into this program and couldn’t find anyone else doing the same type of analysis. I even did a Google search and only saw it mentioned as a good option for certain business class redemptions.
It’s possible someone else wrote a similar post, but I didn’t see it. Most likely this program doesn’t get a lot of attention because of Avios scheme. But as you can see, it can occasionally be superior to BA option for flights within Americas.
The joke about thinking inside the mileage circle is pretty funny! 🙂