Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Using British Airways to Fly Between Dallas and Mexico?

Note: For people already versed in this travel hacking hobby, this is not going to be breaking news for you. But for me, a person relatively new in the miles and points hobby, I find this travel hack fascinating and exciting.

As you probably know, my family loves a Disney Cruise Line vacation. We love that the price is almost all-inclusive and that our kids are well cared for in the clubs while my husband and I can have some time together as a couple. We've been wondering for years if we could replicate this experience at a resort on land.

To make a long story short, all of my research has convinced me we should try a resort in Mexico. So I started figuring out how to fly my family to Mexico for the least amount of miles possible.

It turns out, the most efficient way to spend miles to get from Dallas to Mexico (including Puerto Vallarta, Los Cabos and Cancun) is by using British Airways Avios. That's right, British Airways. And how is this possible?

Puerto Vallarta. Photo from CheapCaribbean.com

The British Airways award chart is currently different from many other airlines in that it is based on the distance between the cities you fly (as opposed to one flat price for flying within the U.S. or to a certain region). For example, flights under under 650 miles currently cost only 4500 British Airways Avios (although in February this will increase to 7500 miles) and flights up to 1149 miles cost 7500 British Airways Avios.

British Airways is partners with American Airlines and Alaska Airlines, so flights on those airlines can be redeemed with British Airways Avios. We are lucky to be living in an American Airlines hub city with many direct flights to other cities.

Based on the distance, we were able to book return flights on American Airlines from Puerto Vallarta to Dallas, a direct 2 1/2 hour flight, for 7500 British Airways Avios each. The same exact flight on the same AA airplane costs 12,500 AA miles in the off-season and 15,000 miles in regular season. It may not seem like much of a savings, but since we have 5 people traveling, the point savings makes a big difference.

Puerto Vallarta--photo from sunsetrealty.mx

Tricks to getting these great low redemptions on flights within the U.S.:
*  Award flights on American and Alaska must be "MileSAAver" awards, not the "Anytime" level awards. It's best to be flexible on your travel dates to find these awards.
*  AA and Alaska flights must be direct in order to get the lowest points cost because British Airways charges points for each segment.

To find the flights between Dallas and Puerto Vallarta that only cost 7500 miles, I searched on American Airline's webpage for the lowest MileSAAver awards. I had a range of about a week to be somewhat flexible for our trip dates. Once I found MileSAAver award flights for 5 people, I had to click on each itinerary to make sure it was a direct flight. Some of the MileSAAver awards from Dallas connected through Los Angeles, so the points on that connecting flight would be more expensive than just booking through American Airlines.

Million Mile Secrets has a blog post series dedicated to booking flights on British Airways here.

Wandering Aramean blog also has a great calculator and a map you can use to see how many British Airways Avios a trip would take. The map takes a little while to load after you enter your home base city, but the results are easy to see.

We accumulated British Airways Avios by getting an American Express Premier Rewards Gold card. Last year, my husband was offered 50,000 Amex Membership Reward points for spending $1000 on the card within 3 months. The card has an annual fee of $195 that is waived for the first year, so we will cancel it before we have to pay the fee. This card also comes with a $100 airline fee credit per calendar year, which we were able to use for a $100 Southwest gift card in 2015 and another $100 Southwest gift card in 2016. We transferred the Amex points over to British Airways Avios (which at the time was a 1:1 ratio).

You can also accumulate British Airways Avios through other Amex cards that earn Membership Reward points (like the Amex platinum card) and through a Chase British Airways credit card that periodically has a 50,000-point bonus. See this post for all the possible ways to earn British Airways Avios.

As for our trip, so far we have only been able to book flights for our return trip from Puerto Vallarta. Now that we have that leg booked, we are a little bit less flexible on the date we can fly out, and so far there are no award seats on American. My backup plan is to book our flights from Dallas to Puerto Vallarta using Southwest miles. It won't be a direct 2 1/2 hour flight since we will have a stopover in Houston, but because I have my Southwest companion pass until the end of 2016 my daughter will fly for free.

So, who is ready to start using British Airways Avios??? Have you already been using this trick for flights on AA and Alaska Airlines?

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