Now and again I like to feature questions from readers. So, without further ado:
“I am trying to plan another family summer vacation, and have accumulated 50,000 Avios points and 54,000 American Airline miles. I will need to find flights for 2 adults and 2 children (ages 10 and 13 next year). Would I even be able to find award flights (non-stop) using the above points or with their partners?
I’m not expecting a complete ride for all 4 of us, just a few one-way tickets would even be fine…but I also don’t want to spend all day in the airport waiting for connections. What would you do? I think the flights only extend out to mid-June 2017 when I searched today.”
This reader was not looking to sign up for any new cards, but simply wanted to maximize her existing stash of miles and points. She also told me that they were thinking about flying at the end of July or possibly beginning of August.
First things first. AAdvantage releases award flight tickets 331 days in advance. So, if you plan on flying to Hawaii at the end of July, you’ll have to wait till beginning of September in order to be able to book the tickets. I suggest you set a reminder so you can start checking as soon as the schedule is open. Getting four saver (lowest level) award seats to Hawaii is tough.
The best way to utilize the miles
Fortunately, this reader does have some flexibility, so it’s a big plus. She also happens to live in Los Angeles, a major American Airlines hub. Here is the best way to maximize her miles and points:
- Book 4 one-way tickets from LAX to Maui (or vice versa) via British Airways Avios program. The cost is 12,500 Avios. It will only work on non-stop flights that happen to have sAAver availability via AAdvantage program itself (prices out at 22,500 miles one-way during regular season). They should be easily bookable online on ba.com
- Book 2 one-way tickets via AAdvantage. Unfortunately, the cost is 22,500 miles one-way for flights from Mainland to Hawaii in the summer.
- She can buy the other two one-way tickets on the same flight or look for ways to top off her AA account in order to get enough for a third ticket. Buying miles would be hardly worth it unless there is a sale. If you use Ultimate Rewards points and happen to have Chase Sapphire Preferred or Chase Ink Plus, you can get 1.25 cents towards airfare. The same goes for Citi Thank You Premier card. If you have Citi Prestige, you’ll get 1.6 cents per point toward AA-operated flights, 1.33 cents on all other airlines.
I didn’t like the idea of paying 22,500 AA miles one-way and purchasing additional tickets, so I decided to follow up with this reader and ask her if she happens to have any flexible points. She replied that between hers’ and her husband’s accounts they have 40K SPG points. Bingo! You can transfer SPG points between accounts as long as they share the same address.
British Airways or Virgin America?
That’s the beauty of flexible points, especially SPG currency. They may sit around for years and do nothing, but then one day they are as good as gold. The most logical solution would be to transfer 40K SPG points to British Airways Avios program in order to book 4 one-way tickets to/from Maui. That’s because you get a 5K miles bonus per each 20K SPG transfer.
However, transfers from SPG to Avios are not instant. It took 5 days for mine to go through. Someone can easily grab the award tickets in that period of time. Like I said, Hawaii is a very popular destination and Avios program is one of the best and cheapest ways to get there. Note that if you have Chase Ultimate Rewards points or Amex Membership Rewards, those transfers are instant.
Personally, I would look into Virgin America program if I only had SPG points. I wrote a post on how you can leverage this option for Hawaiian-operated flights. Hawaiian Airlines happens to fly non-stop from Los Angeles to Maui, and one-way redemption runs at 12,000 Virgin America Elevate points.
Transfer takes only 24 hours to go through, so chances are, you should be able to lock in your redemption without any issues. You’ll still get 5K points bonus on each 20,000 SPG points. I’ve also read that Hawaiian planes are a bit nicer than the ones American uses for this particular route.
Of course, there is also an option of redeeming Elevate points on Virgin America-operated flights. After all, they also fly non-stop to Maui from LAX. The program is revenue-based, so award flights can be quite expensive if fares are high. I checked next year’s award options, and this is what came up:
Obviously, prices change constantly according to supply/demand, so it’s very possible that you’ll be able to book it for much less if you keep an eye on fares. But in all likelihood, Hawaiian option will be a better overall deal as long as there is saver award availability via that program.
If you like to play it safe
Let’s say you haven’t found any saver availability on Hawaiian Airlines and award rates on Virgin America are astronomically high. But there is saver-level availability via AAdvantage in both directions. The only logical thing to do is to transfer to Avios program and book those flights for only 12,500 miles each way, right? Maybe, maybe not.
As I’ve mentioned earlier, transfers to Avios take 5 days or possibly longer. There is no way to put your award seats on hold. However, you can put your AAdvantage seats on hold as long as you are willing to pay 22,500 miles for the same exact flight. American offers a free 5-day hold even if you don’t have the required number of miles, and transfers from SPG usually take 2-3 days to go through. Emphasis on “usually.”
Is it better to just grab the seats via AAdvantage and be done with it? Only you can decide. Personally, I hate overpaying for anything, so I would probably take a chance on Avios transfer, especially if there happened to be availability on several days. If, however, my dates were firm, I would consider it. I would probably dump the entire 40K SPG points in order to take advantage of the transfer bonus.
In miles and points hobby, it’s hard to know what’s the best course of action for any given scenario. Sometimes you just have to take a leap of faith. Oh, and have a Plan B for your miles, always. See this post on some other ways you can get to Hawaii via miles and points.
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