PHOTO: Good awards points deals are afoot when flying to classic Caribbean getaways. (photo courtesy of Thinkstock)
Everybody loves a tropical getaway somewhere warm, but it’s even better when you fly free.
Fortunately, many airline loyalty programs make it possible to escape to the Caribbean—and all for the price of government-mandated taxes and fees.
To get the most “bang for your buck,” know which programs are best for Caribbean travel ahead of time:
British Airways Avios can be used to fly from the U.S. to the Caribbean, if you can find availability. But since this program is distance-based, the number of miles you need to spend will vary depending on your destination and home airport.
A one-way flight from Miami to Nassau, San Juan (Puerto Rico), Turks and Caicos, or any flight under 1,151 miles costs just 7,500 Avios. The cost is 10,000 Avios for any flight up to 2,000 miles. On top of that, you’ll need to pay government-mandated taxes and fees, which are normally in the $100 per-person range.
One downside is that British Airways' availability isn’t always that great. To get a flight you can live with, you usually need to book at least six months ahead and be flexible with your dates.
Flying Blue (Air France)
Flying Blue (a Chase, Citi and Membership Rewards transfer partner) is another smart option for award flights to the Caribbean. You’ll normally pay 15,000 Flying Blue miles, plus taxes and fees one-way from the U.S. to the Caribbean. For flights from the U.S. to Mexico, you’ll pay12,500 miles each way, plus taxes and fees.
Flying Blue usually has good award availability, although it always depends on your home airport and how many flights are available. To get the best range of options, plan on booking ahead.
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Southwest Airlines makes getting to many islands in the Caribbean a breeze. And because it’s a Chase transfer partner, it’s fairly easy to stock up miles through Chase Ultimate Rewards or a co-branded Southwest credit card.
While the Southwest Rapid Rewards program is mostly fare-based, you can usually find round-trip flights to the Caribbean for less than 12,500 points one-way. You can’t fly to every island, however. While Southwest keeps adding destinations each year, your current options include Aruba, Puerto Rico, Nassau, Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Cayman Islands (starting in June) and a few other spots.
The best part is that Southwest Rapid Rewards doesn't use blackout dates or capacity controls: If you find a seat on a flight and you have the miles to book, it’s yours.
READ MORE Southwest Airlines Rolls Out New Route to Caribbean (Plus Others)
American Airlines offers another path: If you can find Mile SAAver off-peak awards, you can fly from the U.S. to the Caribbean for 12,500 miles, plus taxes and fees. That makes for a 25,000-mile round-trip, which is always a good deal.
Outside of off-peak travel times, a Miles SAAver award is just 15,000 miles one-way or 30,000 miles round-trip. Prices are also the same for travel to Mexico.
While the numbers look good on paper, it’s important to note that award availability on American ranges from okay to downright awful. If you plan to rack up AAdvantage miles for a trip to the Caribbean, it helps to be slightly flexible with your destinations and dates.