When I first entered this miles and points travel hobby, I frequently heard that it’s easier to earn miles than it is to spend miles. That was true 4-5 years ago, when people could apply for 3-4 cards in one day and the banks had few restrictions. The miles and points came pouring in!
Now, in today’s climate with bank approval restrictions, it’s harder to earn miles. But, is it easier to spend them?
Maybe. AA has become more generous with award space. Unfortunately, many of those award flights are connecting flights instead of nonstop flights. However, I found five nonstop award flights from Dallas to Sydney for our upcoming summer trip with no issues.
Alas, I didn’t have as easy a time booking flights for a trip we’re taking early next year. Dealing with system glitches and lack of award availability made me want to pull my hair out, bang my head on a wall and poke my eye out. You get the idea.
Spoiler alert: I did book flights that will work for our trip. But the average Joe might have given up.
The Goal: Book Spring Break 2020 Flights with Miles and Points
A few months ago, I narrowed our spring break destination down to Andaz Papagayo in Costa Rica and Hyatt Ziva Cap Cana in the Dominican Republic. After I wrote the post, Hyatt announced an increase in the points price of Andaz Papagayo from 15k to 20k per night. I reserved two rooms at the old price for five nights with 150,000 World of Hyatt points. Even though I was still on the fence about which destination to choose, reserving the Andaz would lock me in at the old rate, and I could always cancel the reservation up to 7 days prior.
After much hemming and hawing, we decided to stay with Andaz Papagayo in Costa Rica for a few reasons. My husband has been wanting to visit Costa Rica for a while now, and he rarely has opinions on where we travel. The Andaz seems more secluded, relaxed and less hustle-bustle than Hyatt Ziva Cap Cana. And lastly, we were getting a great value from our points. I just looked at what our cash cost would be for 2 rooms for our specific 5 nights, and it’s running over $7200. At that price, my family would likely never choose the Andaz Papagayo. So, going on points is the way to go.
To book our flights, I had 75,000 AA miles split over two accounts, 35,000 British Airways Avios and ~20,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points. I also had a few Citi ThankYou points and some points on my Capital One Venture Rewards card.
Flights from DFW to Liberia, Costa Rica cost 15k AA miles each way or 10k BA Avios (if a direct flight). Considering that round-trip flights form DFW cost $700-$800 year-round, those award prices are a downright bargain.
Our travel dates are not really flexible, since there is no more award availability for rooms with two beds during our spring break week. Getting award flights for fixed dates is always a challenge.
When flights became available for our dates on AA.com, I found MileSAAver space on connecting flights for four people. Even though I was one seat short for my family of five, I wanted those seats. I was willing to pay cash (or Capital One points) for the 5th seat.
After I put 2 of the seats on hold with my husband’s AA account, the other two seats disappeared. What? I could see that each leg was still available separately on MileSAAver awards. I decided to put both segments on hold and call AA to piece the award ticket together for the 15k miles.
After waiting 3 hours (yes!) on AA customer service, the agent told me that he could not combine my two legs. I asked to speak to a supervisor, who also told me she could not combine them. She advised that I cancel the separate legs and see if the total award became available. I did, and of course the award availability didn’t come through.
The next day, I found flights that would arrive one day past our hotel arrival date. It wasn’t ideal, since our time at Andaz would have to be reduced to 4 nights instead of 5. But, I could live with it.
When I tried to put those seats on hold, I kept getting an error message that the flights were no longer available. AGGHH! I decided to walk away and try again the next day. Thankfully, the next day I could put all 5 tickets on hold.
I love having the ability on AA to put award flights on hold for 5 days. This gave me time to see if I could find flights all the way to DFW on AA for the way home.
For return flights, we are more flexible with our dates. We check out of Andaz Papagayo on a Thursday. We could fly home that day, or add onto our trip with another hotel or house rental and fly home on Saturday or Sunday.
I found MileSAAver flights for five all the way to DFW (connecting in Miami overnight) for Thursday. While trying to put them on hold, I ran into the same error messages. I waited another day, and I was able to grab the flights.
I now had round-trip connecting flights on hold, but I only had enough AA miles for one way. I would have to drop one and switch out for award flights using BA Avios.
I looked at award availability for the Miami to Liberia route. It was wide open every day, and only cost 7500 British Airways Avios. I decided to book that flight on the Saturday we needed so that we would have all five nights at Andaz Papagayo. We could always secure flights from DFW to Miami the night before with cash or other points closer to our trip.
Of course, the BA website was also giving me an error message. I had to call BA customer service to book the flights. But, the agent was very pleasant and got our flights booked with a 10-minute phone call.
Despite the system glitches and lack of nonstop flights, I pieced together most of what we need for our Costa Rica trip:
Miami to Liberia: 7500 Avios (37,500 total)
Liberia to DFW (via Miami): 15,000 AA miles (75,000 total)
The total taxes per person are ~$75. Not free, but much better than paying $700+ per ticket.
I’m not worried about getting flights from DFW to Miami to kick off our trip. If I find nonstop MileSAAVER award availability, I will take advantage of the Chase 30% bonus on transfers to BA Avios.
Since our return flights are award flights on AA, we can change the date or time of the flights for no fee as long as our origin and destination remain the same. I will keep looking to see if we can move our flights back a few days to extend our trip into the weekend. Also, if a nonstop flight becomes available, we will gladly switch to that. As of now, all award availability for that week has completely disappeared.
Using miles for the flights you need isn’t always a walk in the park. It may require phone calls, patience, flexibility and moving parts. If you blink, the award availability might disappear. But, for my family, the savings are worth it.
Are you working on booking spring break 2020 flights? Any luck?
Nancy lives near Dallas, Texas, with her husband and three kids. Her favorite vacations include the beach, cruising and everything Disney.