Wednesday, 12 June 2013

AMERICAN HOLIDAY USING AVIOS / MEMBERSHIP REWARDS

So, anyone who has been following my blog, will remember that my original holiday, which was the impetus for this blog, did not actually happen, due to ill health. I did do a theoretical pricing of the holiday in the blog, showing that a holiday costing £28,500 could be had for under £4000. To recap that pricing out, you can see the posting here .

Thankfully things have improved substantially, to the point I can think about holidaying again. The original itinerary would be a little too ambitious for me just at the moment, so I've looked at something a bit more doable.



Miami Beach
My initial thoughts were to do a straightforward couple of weeks in Miami in November.  I started looking around February for these award flights on BA.com. At that time the only award flights were out 15th November, back 28th. The dates seemed fine to me. Remember, I'm in Northern Ireland, and therefore would need to get to Heathrow. Thankfully, since BA bought BMI a year of so ago, BA flies Belfast City (BHD) to LHR. Not only that, but when doing a redemption booking, BA will provide you with the connection FOC.  I priced these flights up, and the return flight would cost 150K Avios in 1st, plus £540-ish in taxes.

The BA BOGOF (kinda)



I have a BA "companion voucher" often referred to as a 2-4-1, which was earned via a British Airways Premium Plus American Express credit card. If you spend £10,000 over a 12 month period on this credit card, they give you one of these companion vouchers, and it remains valid for 24 months. It basically allows you to take another person with you on your flight, without having to hand over any more Avios. You do however have to pay the same amount of taxes. The rules are pretty straightforward. You have to fly on BA planes (no codeshares), your journey has to begin in the UK, and the American express cardholder must be part of the travelling party.

The companion voucher is definitely a very valuable asset to have (unless you are a solo traveller). There is an annual fee of £150 for the credit card, but that pales into insignificance if you consider that in my case I am getting a 1st class Miami return flight for £540. This card has a signup bonus of 25,000 avios if you spent £3000 within the first 3 months of having the card. In addition you get 1.5 Avios for each pound you spend on the card. So basically, if you spend the £10,000 required to get the companion voucher, you will get 25,000 signup bonus plus 15,000 avios for the spend plus the companion voucher.  If you are interested in getting the card, you can go via a referral from me, which will get you a 26,000 signup bonus instead of 25,000. I get some bonus avios as well for referring you, and I'd be grateful to receive them. My referral link is HERE

So, with my companion voucher, it was costing the 2 of us a total of £1080, plus 150K avios. Because this is was a straightforward return flight, it was entirely bookable on the BA.com website.

GOING DOWN MEXICO WAY

About a week after doing the booking, we decided that 2 weeks in Miami might be a bit too long. On the other hand, I didn't want to turn this into some epic holiday. Looking at the map, and knowing a thing or two about the flying routes of BAs one world Partner, AA, Cancun jumped out at me.

Cancun, only 2 hours from Miami, on AA

American Airlines flies the route direct from Miami, and it's less than a 2 hour flight. Also, BA fly direct back to London from Miami (albeit to Gatwick and not Heathrow). You can book AA flights on BA.com using Avios. BA only has access to the lowest cost AA redemption flights, called "mileSAAver" on the AA website. A look on AA.com however showed me that there were no mileSAAver redemptions available in the middle of my holiday time, which means BA.com wouldn't have any flights for me. The week before and the week after were full of options. Then it hit me. My holiday was right in the middle of the American Thanksgiving weekend. There was little chance of flights opening up. As well as changing my return BA flight to start in Cancun, I'd have to move the whole journey so as to be able to get inventory on the AA flight. So I phoned BA with my new outward and return flights. The BA agent was able to sort out my change no problem. It did cost around £50 per person to do the change, and ironically the taxes out of Cancun were more expensive than the taxes out of Miami. All told the change cost me £250. Note that the Cancun-Gatwick flight is on a plane that does not have 1st class seating, so I booked business class on that. That got me a 25K refund on my Avios which was handy.

As soon as that booking was done, I got back on the BA.com website and booked the one-way MIA-CUN flights. AA fly a 2-class plane on this route, so best I can get is business class. You can get amazing value using Avios on AA (except on transatlantic flights), and this flight is no exception. Per person, this flight worked out at 9000 Avios plus £17.20 each.

The flights gave us 8 nights in Miami and 6 nights in Cancun. The not so good bit is that the return flight gets us into Gatwick, but our flight to Belfast is out of Heathrow, so we'll have to make our own way. It's still all on one ticket, so if the flight into gatwick gets delay so much as to make us miss our Heathrow flight, BA will still look after us.


HOTELS ON THE CHEAP

Next thing to look at was hotels. I had 8 days in Miami. Some time ago, I had the Starwoods American Express card. I got a bonus on this of 20,000 points. I have quite a stash of American Express membership reward points, and these can be transferred to Starwoods points. There are two high-end Starwoods properties in Miami Beach. the "W" and the St Regis (which is about 5 miles North in the up market Bal Harbour area, but gets very good reviews). They both charge a rather high 30,000 points per night for a reward stay. I have gold status at Starwoods, and as such they offer 5 rewards nights for the price of 4. That's still 120,000 starwoods points I would need. Already having 20,000, I'd need to get another 100,000 by transfer 200K American express points to starwoods. This gets me my 5 nights in the St Regis. Now that's a significant spend of hard earned American Express membership reward points, however given that the cheapest room here goes for over £485 a night, it works out at over £2400 of value.

POOLSIDE AT THE ST REGIS BAL HARBOUR

EVERY ROOM HAS ITS OWN BALCONY

That leaves 3 nights left in Miami. I think we'd like to get back into the middle of the action for those 3 nights, and my favour spot right on ocean drive is the Z Ocean Crowne Plaza. This all-suite hotel constantly gets top comments, and having stayed there before I agree. Its well placed, and if you get a room to the rear, you don't hear any noise at all from Collins Avenue. the hotel is only a min or 2 from the beach, and although not on the beach itself, they do have their own section of the beach and full beach service for towels and loungers etc. This hotel is part of the IHG group of hotels,  I happen to have a free night voucher sitting on my account and so I used that to book a night. I also have quite a collection IHG loyalty points (called priority club points) built up over the last couple of years when there were loads of promotions, and I also transferred some points from American express right before they lost IHG as a transfer partner. So 1 night on a free night voucher, and the other 2 nights using 45,000 points per night. I have good status at IHG, being platinum ambassador, so that might well get me an upgrade and some nice perks at this property.

REAR OF Z-OCEAN IS RIGHT ON OCEAN DRIVE


EVERY ROOM IS A SUITE AT THIS HOTEL
Last is the 6 nights in Cancun. As mentioned above, I have good status with IHG properties. The top end within the IHG group are Intercontinental Hotels. The one in Cancun isn't a real stunner, but reports are that it has good service, great views, the best part of the beach in Cancun, and top end rooms should be very comfortable.
INTERCONTINENTAL CANCUN

KING DELUXE SUITE

I have done 3 different types of bookings at this hotel.  Firstly, IHG has a great guarantee called the best price guarantee. If you fine the exact same room cheaper, they will give you the first night of the booking for free, and match the rate for the rest of the nights. So, for a single night booking, you get the night for free. I have taken advantage of this guarantee perhaps a dozen times in the last 12 months. I managed to find a better price on a competing website for 1 of the top end suites, $233 room. IHG have confirmed this is a free night. As an ambassador member, I get a voucher that lets me booking 2 weekend nights, and only pay for 1 of them. So I've a suite @ $180 a night, and will get 2 night for the price of 1. The last 3 nights are booked on reward nights,, which cost 25,000 priority club points per night. The room you get on a reward booking is a basic room. I'll do a bit of bartering when I arrive, given my other bookings, and my ambassador status, and hope I'll get a suite for all 6 nights.

The following tables shows the overall value of the holiday, and what it is actually costing me.


Of particular benefit to me, is that all the award bookings are totally cancellable and refundable. If the worst comes to the worst, I can cancel, and all I'll be out is the £250 I wasted changing the flights at the start, and a small cancellation fee.

I hope this post shows you just how much value you can get out of Avios and Membership rewards if you work at it and maximise your points balances. Keep an eye on the blog, as I'll continue to update it every time I find new ways of getting points on the cheap.

Remember goingonrewards is the only way to go.


2 comments:

  1. thanks, It's good to see someone managing to use rewards etc from Belfast!

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  2. Thanks for the comment. Keep watching, an article in the future will focus on the various reward options starting from Ireland north and south. There aren't loads, but there are a few surprises. For example, Iberia fly directly from Dublin to Madrid. You can book this using reward flight saver, 30k Avios return plus£40. Need to book before 11th July, when RFS on Iberia is finishing.

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