Points, Miles & Life

Travel adventures on this earthly pilgrimage

Category: Award Travel (page 1 of 6)

3 Best Loyalty Programs for Short-Haul Awards in the Western U.S.

Sometimes you want to spend your hard-earned miles to travel far across the globe, flying in first or business class. Other times you just want to get to the next state over for a friend’s wedding, and you may not know what your best options are.

Living where I do in Humboldt County, California gives me a unique perspective on the value of certain miles. When you live near a large airport, spending miles to fly a short, competitive hop, such as Los Angeles to San Francisco, typically doesn’t make sense. But when your rural airport wants a minimum of $350 to fly *anywhere*, it makes you dig deep and evaluate all other options.

And there definitely are some good ones. Here are three of the best miles for flying short-haul in the west:

Alaska MileagePlan

Alaska miles continue to be one of the most attractive mileage currencies out there. They are unfortunately not a transfer partner of any bank program, so it can be a bit tough to accumulate a lot of them. But they are absolutely worth accruing.

The beauty of MileagePlan awards is that they start at only 5,000 miles one-way for the shortest hops. This means that an Alaska Visa card with an elevated sign-up bonus can potentially provide a family of four with free round-trip tickets for the short hop between San Diego and Santa Rosa. Or San Jose and Seattle. You’ll just pay $5.60 each way per person to cover the TSA fee.

If you want to take things a step further, consider using your miles for *two* short-haul segments. Sometimes this won’t even increase the price! In the second example, you could actually fly San Jose to Portland, stop for a couple days, then make the hop from Portland to Seattle, still only paying 5,000 miles! This takes advantage of the fact that Alaska is one of the few programs to offer a stopover on a one-way award. My son and I actually did this recently, flying Oakland-Seattle-Boise on a one-way award, but stopping in Seattle for three nights. Still only 5,000 miles, as Alaska prices this itinerary based on start and end points.

You unfortunately can’t trick the system and fly San Francisco-Los Angeles-Oakland on the same award. What I’ve found is that if there is a nonstop available with a given award price, you can fly a stopover itinerary (that would often be more expensive) for the same award price.

The 5,000-mile price is good for any hop of 700 miles or less. This jumps to 7,500 miles for hops between 701 and 1,400 miles. For flights between 1,401 and 2,100 miles, you’ll pay 10,000 miles. Almost everything in the U.S. west should cost no more than 7,500 miles.

Avianca LifeMiles

I have the worst love/hate relationship with Avianca LifeMiles. On one hand, they have some of the worst customer service and policies I have ever encountered. On the other hand, they have a lucrative award chart and no fuel surcharges on any awards, making them an attractive option for those looking to save as much cash as possible.

Uniquely, the LifeMiles award chart breaks the U.S. up into multiple zones. Awards within each zone cost a mere 7,500 miles one-way. Since they are a Star Alliance member, you can use LifeMiles to book awards on . The web search is decent at pulling up options with up to one connection, but it seems to die if you want to connect more than once. However, this still gives you a *ton* of potential options, especially if your closest airport is Arcata (although you might want to think twice about flying out of here).

Interested in visiting Jackson, Wyoming in either the summer or winter, both peak season? That’ll be roughly $800 cash. Or you can use 15,000 LifeMiles and $35 in fees to fly round-trip, a very sweet deal. Admittedly, United offers this route as a short-haul award as well, only costing 20,000 miles round-trip, so if you want to avoid the potential headache of LifeMiles, it might be worth spending a few more miles. But LifeMiles are honestly easier to accrue, as they are a transfer partner of both American Express Membership Rewards and Citi ThankYou.

Other great award options include Arcata to Tucson, which my older kids and I flew last April (SEE: 2 Tips for Planning a Last Minute Trip), San Luis Obispo to Spokane, Fresno to Santa Fe, and Santa Rosa to Colorado Springs. Lifemiles are gold for any regional-to-regional hops passing through United hubs of San Francisco, Los Angeles, or Denver. The U.S. west zone includes California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Wyoming. Oddly, and unfortunately, it does not include Montana.

American AAdvantage

American’s program is attractive for a couple reasons. First, they offer discounted short-haul awards for nonstop tickets of 500 miles or less. I’ve not booked any of these, but they are a pretty good deal at 7,500 miles one-way, if the cash price is fairly high. But unless you live in an AA hub with a number of options available, they won’t be especially useful.

Second, American offers their reduced mileage awards (SEE: Complete Guide to American Airlines Reduced Mileage Awards). These aren’t just for flights in one region, but actually apply across the country. However, you can *also* apply them to short-haul awards, if you can find a qualifying ticket. The price reduction isn’t as good, at 1,000 miles per direction, but 6,500 is still better than 7,500. For other flights (which will be most of them), the price is reduced from the standard 12,500 one-way to only 8,750 miles per direction.

Reduced mileage awards are only good to certain airports, and the list changes every couple months. However, if you live near one of the airports on the list, every flight out of that airport that you book during qualifying months on the reduced mileage award calendar will qualify for the reduced price. As an example, Santa Rosa has been on the list more often than not.

American now also has web specials, which are a variety of awards that are priced more cheaply than their standard award chart.

But why not just use flexible points?

If you live in a major hub, using your flexible points will almost certainly be the way to go. For example, an Alaska award that is $150 cash versus 10,000 Alaska miles round-trip is also just 10,000 Ultimate Rewards points, if redeeming with a Chase Sapphire Reserve. I’d almost certainly use the UR points, as the flight will earn miles, since it is treated as a paid ticket.

I’d do a cost analysis each time you book to make sure you’re getting a the best deal for your points. If a round-trip flight is less than $250, I would generally opt for using flexible points. For flights between $250-300, things can go either way, depending on the currency I’m looking to use. I’d save my actual miles for tickets that are typically $300+ (if short-haul pricing of 15,000 miles or less round-trip is an option), but preferably I’d be using them for flight that cost $500 or more.

General rule of thumb: I should be getting 2 cents per mile out of any of these currencies for miles to be the way to go. If I’m at or near 1.5 cents per mile, I’ll use Ultimate Rewards.

Conclusion

There are more award currencies that offer decent options for short-haul awards, including British Airways Avios if you live in an AA or Alaska hub. But these are the three that I find most useful in general.

Vino Bello Resort Napa Review

Over New Year’s 2019 I took our older two kids on a 3-night getaway to Napa. Amazingly, I was able to find a property in the Wyndham portfolio that did *not* have the dates over New Year’s blacked out and that looked like it would make for an excellent stay. We weren’t disappointed. Here is my Vino Bello Resort Napa Review:

I used a total of 45,000 Wyndham Rewards points for our stay. Most of these were earned from promotions during 2018, and 15,000 were from the annual bonus I receive each year when I renew my card at a cost of $69. We received over $600 in value, though, so I am not complaining! Wyndham’s award “chart” is a flat rate, as all hotels cost 15,000 points per night per bedroom. I’d booked a one bedroom suite with a king bed and a sofa bed.

Arriving at the Vino Bello Resort Napa

The drive down from where we live to Napa is just under 4 hours. Rather than head through Santa Rosa, I prefer to take Highway 128 and drive through the bulk of the Napa Valley. It’s just so scenic. We left the same way, too.

Dinner was at the same place we ate the year before when I took them on a quick one-night trip to the Best Western in Calistoga (SEECelebrating New Years 2018). It was our one splurge, since the Vino Bello Resort Napa has a kitchen and I cooked most of the rest of our meals. We had maybe another 40 minutes of driving until we finally arrived at the hotel.

Man, was the parking lot full when we showed up. I found a spot, not knowing it was conveniently in front of our building. The lobby of the Vino Bello Resort Napa is lovely. We were greeted warmly by the doorman who chatted it up with me until it was finally our turn at the desk.

Check-in was a bit interesting, as I was quoted a cash rate for our stay. I’m not sure how the system integrates with Wyndham’s but it apparently isn’t seamless. It took the lady most of a minute to confirm that we were indeed on a n award rate. Adding to the complication is that they actually have two resorts in one: the Vino Bello and the Meritage.

We were given a welcome packet after checking in from the concierge, who also tried to get me to sign up for a 90-minute timeshare presentation. If only my wife was along, I totally would have made us suffer through it. Unfortunately, your spouse must be present. We would have all received free breakfast that morning, plus 25,000 Wyndham points. Would have made up for most of our stay!

One Bedroom Suite at the Vino Bello Resort Napa

Our suite was in the Cabernet building, which is closest to the lobby and restaurant, and overlooking the pool. We were on the second floor. You have to go through no fewer than 4 doors to get there, all of which require your key card, which is a bit annoying. But I guess it makes it more secure? I really didn’t understand the point. This tiny “lobby” area was between the first and second doors.

Each door from the hall opens into a small entry room with two doors leading into two separate suites. I guess this would be super convenient if you booked two rooms, as they aren’t truly adjoining, but it would provide a secure way to still pass between them.

A one bedroom suite at the Vino Bello Resort Napa is excellent. The suite is spacious and would easily accommodate our family of five if we brought sufficient bedding one or two kids. You first enter into the kitchen. There is a nice high counter at the end.

Across from that is the large dining table. The bench against the wall is super soft and the kids sunk into the cushion until there chins were barely above the table.

Beyond that is the living room area with a sofa and two armchairs. The sofa also contains the extra queen bed.

The kids immediately eyed the fireplace. I grew up with a wood stove, so this is a sorry excuse for a fire, in my opinion. But they really enjoyed it. My daughter fell asleep with it on each night, and it did keep that corner cozy.

On the high counter was a welcome bottle of wine, part of what is included in the resort fee. Funny how you don’t get one per night, even though you pay the fee per night (unless you’re on an award stay). Spolier: the wine isn’t very good anyway.

The bedroom is connected to both the living room and the bathroom.

There is one king bed, and a second TV, as well as a full closet.

The spa tub is also inside the bedroom and not the bathroom. I’m not really a fan of this. I’d rather it be part of the bathroom as well.

The bathroom itself is very large with two sinks and an oversize shower.

I was in heaven each morning. I love a nice shower. This one wasn’t quite up to the awesome rain shower in our room in Beijing back in November (SEE: Renaissance Beijing Wangfujiung Review), nor did it top the most amazing shower I’ve ever used (SEE: Park Hyatt Milan: A Review). But it was still great. Until I realized one of the kids had dropped the bottle of shampoo the night before and I was suddenly unable to wash my hair and slipping all over the tile in the morning. The things they don’t tell you…

The one bedroom suite also has a deck, or lanai. I’m still not used to that word. Lanai is an island in Hawaii, not an outdoor deck thing. In December, it was exactly the nicest place to hang out. But I’m sure it is amazing in summer.

The best part of the one bedroom suite is the kitchen. Maybe you aren’t the sort of folks who like to cook on vacation, but depending on the situation, we really don’t mind. It’s way cheaper and quite easy when we have a more relaxed schedule, such as on this trip. The kitchen had pretty much everything you’d need for 4-6 people, including plates, cutlery and cookware. There is even a dishwasher and a couple soap packs.

You can ask for necessities from housekeeping and the front desk, but if you want the room actually cleaned, this comes at as a surcharge. I’m pretty sure this is standard to Wyndham’s condo properties. We managed just fine for three days without housekeeping, and it saved us $75.

On the whole, our one bedroom suite at the Vino Bello Resort Napa was excellent. I highly recommend this as a place to burn your Wyndham points as a family.

Facilities and activities

The Vino Bello Resort Napa offers a number of things to do on-property, as well as access to everything Napa has to offer. It may not be the full extent of what many expect from a resort, even though that is part of the name. There is a decent sized pool between the Chardonnay and Cabernet buildings, and we spent and evening and morning here enjoying it.

vino bello resort napa

The kids always try to get me to spend as much time as possible in the water. The pool at the Vino Bello Resort Napa is heated, but with the air temperatures as low as they are in December and January, it still isn’t all that comfortable. The kids didn’t care, but I would last only about 15 minutes before I wanted to soak in the hot tub for the remainder of the time.

On the opposite side of the restaurant and lobby is the Bordeaux building. It also has resort rooms, but also contains the crush lounge, which is where we headed the afternoon of New Year’s Eve. The lounge has a bar, but it is also family friendly (they serve food as well, so it is technically a restaurant). Kids are welcome.

One of the best features of the Crush Lounge at the Vino Bello Resort Napa is that it has a half dozen bowling lanes. Bowling isn’t especially cheap, but it was still reasonable enough that wanted to rent a land for an hour. We got two games in. Prices are per person per hour, $15 for adults and $10 for kids on weekdays. Prices go up $5 per person per hour on weekends.

The concierge is a helpful source of anything else you might want to know about the resort and the Napa area.

The Napa area

I know, most people probably don’t take their kids to Napa. The typical itinerary is probably all-day wine tasting at the many vineyards in the valley. There are a couple that are family friendly, and the concierge pointed these out. Taking them to the Castello di Amorosa, a winery in the style of a Tuscan castle, was an option, but I decided against it, mainly due to the cost. We had what we needed at the resort anyway.

But that doesn’t mean we didn’t do any sightseeing. The first day we headed to church at Calvary Chapel Petaluma and then spent the afternoon in Sonoma at Train Town and then the mission.

Train Town is good with kids for a couple hours. The train ride itself is fun for kids of pretty much all ages. The other rides are more fair-style, and aren’t all that thrilling for older kids. But we bought a single pack of tickets for these and had fun on a few.

The morning of our second day we drove over to Fairfield and toured the Jelly Belly Factory. It had been well over a decade since I’d visited, and I hardly remembered anything. Our one bummer: they gave everyone New Year’s Eve off as well as New Year’s Day, so we didn’t get to see any action on the factory floor. But the video monitors spaced out every 100 feet or so still let us have a glimpse into their candy making process.

There is plenty more to do in the Napa area, and I am not a Napa expert, so I’ll have to leave you to do your own research!

Conclusion

Our stay at the Vino Bello Resort Napa was excellent overall. The one bedroom condo is spacious and perfect for a family, I’d happily stay here again. We still have Wyndham points to burn, so another visit might be possible this year.

The one thing I should note is that the Vino Bello Resort tried to charge us a resort fee at check out. This is against the Wyndham Rewards free night policy. I had to pull up the terms on my phone and present it to the agent at the front desk, who then took it to his manager. They did relent, but it was a bit disappointing. There is a separate write-up on this whole experiences (SEE: Waive that resort fee! Holding a hotel to its program policies).

How to consistently fly for $270 or less round-trip out of Arcata

Flying out of our local regional airport can be a pain due to delays and cancellations. But it can also be extremely convenient, if things go smoothly. The only problem is…flights can be outrageously expensive.

Which makes using miles to fly in or out of Arcata a winning proposition almost every time since it represents a great value for your miles. If you’re interested in scoring a couple free flights, there are a couple great credit cards you can pick up that will earn you two round-trips out of our local airport.

But if you already have those card and/or are looking for another way to bring the cost of flights down, the Avianca LifeMiles program presents an interesting option. I’m going to be candid and state that this strategy is probably more of an intermediate level

Leveraging Avianca LifeMiles short-haul awards

Avianca LifeMiles has one of the best award charts for short-haul domestic awards within the United States. As a member of the Star Alliance, you can redeem your LifeMiles for flights on United Airlines. The LifeMiles chart breaks the U.S. into three regions, and flights within each region are only 7,500 miles one-way. You can even include connections (although the LifeMiles site seems to choke on itineraries that include more than 1 connection).

The “United States 3 zone” includes the following states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Wyoming. Oddly, Montana is in “United States 2”. But you can still fly to almost all the western states from Arcata for only 15,000 miles round-trip, an excellent deal (SEE: 3 reasons I am SUPER excited for the new LifeMiles shorthaul awards).

This is where the cost of miles can sometimes outweigh the cost of flights. Say you are interested in flying from Arcata to Jackson, Wyoming, an often expensive destination. Two round-trip tickets will probably run you $1,100 at the cheapest. Using LifeMiles for an award on this itinerary presents excellent value.

But what if you don’t have any LifeMiles?

How buying miles is actually cheaper than buying a ticket

It is extremely rare that I will ever advocate buying miles. In general, don’t do it. There are other ways to accrue them. But if you fly from Arcata frequently, this is one instance where buying miles could make some sense.

One of the most recent LifeMiles sales offered miles with “up to a 125% bonus”. The bonus for 1,000-50,000 miles purchased was 100%, so we’ll roll with that number. Let’s assume you want two round-trip tickets within the western U.S., which will cost you 15,000 miles each. Purchasing 15,000 miles will give you an extra 15,000 miles, enough for both tickets. Every 1,000 miles costs $33, so the total price will come to $495 for the miles you need.

Each ticket will also be subject to a $25 award ticketing fee (dumb, but it is what it is), and taxes of $5.60 each way, which is the TSA fee. Doing the math, each ticket will therefor cost $283.70. This is 50% or less of what many tickets to Jackson, Wyoming cost. Definitely worth buying miles in this case, if you would otherwise be looking to pay cash.

Even better, LifeMiles are fantastic for awards close-in, when prices are both high and United is charging you the obscene “close-in booking” fee of $75 for general members. The return on a LifeMiles purchase is even better in these cases. An added benefit is that United award availability is often better close-in.

So although I don’t typically advocate buying miles, this is one case I would consider it if I would otherwise need to pay cash for a ticket. You just need to ensure that there is sufficient award space to book the ticket you need.

Budget for flights with a monthly subscription

If buying a bunch of miles at once isn’t for you, LifeMiles offers a very unique option: a monthly miles subscription. It’s truly one-of-a-kind. I’ve never heard of another airline loyalty program that offers this feature.

In most cases, a subscription like this is silly. You pay a monthly fee, and they add miles to your account at a rate that isn’t really worth it in most cases. However, if you’re looking to fly a few round-trips per year out of Arcata and want a way to budget appropriately for them, this might just be something that interests you. It will also let you break out your flight “purchase” into manageable pieces through the year.

Avianca LifeMiles offers several subscription options, but two in particular stand out to me:

The “Plan 1,000” is a manageable cost and offers you one round-trip for $19.49 per month, with 1,000 extra miles to carry over per year. The “Plan 2,000” give you two round-trips per year, plus 2,000 carryover miles, for just under twice the cost. Visit Club LifeMiles for more info

Two other ways to accrue LifeMiles

There are a couple other ways to accrue LifeMiles. You have a few different credit card options. The Citi ThankYou Premier is currently offering a sign-up bonus of 50,000 ThankYou points, which can be transferred to LifeMilesat a 1:1 ratio. That’s how I topped off my own LifeMiles account most recently.

There are also two Avianca LifeMiles co-branded credit cards offered through Banco Popular. Haven’t heard of them? I hadn’t either. But the sign-up bonus was amazing when I got the card (SEE: My highest credit limit ever came with…what new card?). And the news just broke last week: the 60,000-point offer is back (read about it here)!

My words of caution

I’ve personally had no issues redeeming LifeMiles for a couple trips. It’s been totally painless through the LifeMiles website, and ticketing has happened quickly through United. It even easy to add the flight to your United account to select seats, check in via the app, etc. But there are numerous stories of people who have had nightmarish experiences with Avianca LifeMiles.

LifeMiles also doesn’t present you with all the options that the United website does, which means that a United award itinerary you’ve found might not be bookable with LifeMiles . I would *always* check for the itinerary through the LifeMiles site directly to ensure that your flight is an option presented. Since award seat availability varies, there is always the potential you could end up with miles that don’t work for your specific trip. If you’re locked into specific dates, I would be hesitant to go this route.

LifeMiles also doesn’t like awards with more than one connection. With connections in San Francisco, Los Angeles and (starting next year) Denver from ACV, you still have a great number of one-stop destinations available. There is also a workaround to this which I will cover at a later juncture, as it is a bit complicated.

All that said, if you have some flexibility of destination and dates, LifeMiles should work just fine. Be proactive about searching for award availability. It changes daily, especially when you get less than 3 weeks out. I find United sometimes releases a significant number of seats. As mentioned above, LifeMiles are a better option for a last-minute getaway since you’ll avoid the United close-in award fee, but you’ll still have to pay the $25 LifeMiles award fee.

Conclusion

If you’re willing to jumps through these hoops, you’re looking at much cheaper flights out of Arcata, up to half off of many itineraries in the western U.S. There are almost zero times I would suggest buying miles. This is one of the very, very few exceptions for which I’d even consider it, and even then, weigh the decision carefully. Still, the ability to fly round-trip out of Arcata for only $270 could be entirely worth it.

Questions or worries about this method? Hit me up anytime through my Contact Me page.

Avianca aircraft image courtesy of JTOcchialini via Flickr under CC BY SA 2.0 license

Get up to 12 free nights from this hotel card offer!

You probably clicked on this due to the eye-popping headline. I know. It’s clickbait-y. But now let me convince you why you might actually want to consider the current offer for the new Chase World of Hyatt Visa card. You can get up to 12 free nights from this offer.

Why Hyatt is a great hotel program

While I’m not a huge fan of the refreshed World of Hyatt program in terms of elite status and benefits, if your goal is inexpensive free nights, it is one of the best.

Hyatt shines due to their reasonable award prices for lower tier hotels. Category 1 properties cost a mere 5,000 points per night. Most of these in the U.S. go for at least $100 per night, including taxes. And there are a good number of Category 1 properties across the U.S. You won’t fine them in urban areas, but they are common enough.

Category 2 and Category 3 properties aren’t all that far behind at 8,000 and 12,000 points per night, respectively. Even with just those three categories and Hyatt’s fairly small footprint, you still have much of the U.S. covered. Check out this complete map of Hyatt hotels.

The lower tier properties are almost always Hyatt Place and Hyatt House brands. But don’t think that means they aren’t good. Both brands are great! Hyatt House is one of the best hotel brands at which I’ve ever stayed (SEE: Hyatt House Portland Review).

So…all that said, the World of Hyatt Visa could have you well on your way to quite a few free nights.

I put friends up at this Hyatt Place hotel for only 5,000 points!

Chase World of Hyatt Visa card offer

Chase issues the co-branded World of Hyatt credit card which has recently undergone a bit of a refresh. The current sign up offer is for a total of 60,000 Hyatt points, which is equivalent to 12 free nights at a Category 1 hotel!!

The minimum spend is fairly large, however. You earn 40,000 bonus points after $3,000 in spending within the first three months. An additional 20,000 points are awarded after spending a cumulative $6,000 within the first 6 months.

The card earns 4 points per dollar at Hyatt hotels, 2 points per dollar at fitness clubs and gym memberships, and 1 point per dollar everywhere else. The card carries a $95 annual fee that is not waived. But who can argue that paying $95 for 12 nights of hotel isn’t a good deal.

The card also gives you a free night every anniversary, as well as an additional free night annually if you spend $15,000 on the card within your cardmember year. The card gives you 5 nights of elite status credit as well, plus 2 more elite nights for every $5,000 in spend.

If you are interested in applying, I would appreciate it if you would use my personal referral link (I may receive points if you apply through my link).

Conclusion

As always, I’ll end my spiel by saying that you should always be wise with your card usage and pay off your balances monthly (SEE: 5 Commandments of Travel Credit Cards). I personally consider the World of Hyatt Visa to be a solid product, and one of the best hotel card offers available currently. However, do your own research and consider whether this product is something of value to you. Don’t just apply for a card because some guy on the internet says you should!

If you have any questions, you’re more than welcome to leave a comment or drop me a note on my contact page.

Complete guide to American Airlines reduced mileage awards

One of the lesser-known perks of holding an American Airlines co-branded credit card is the ability to book American Airlines reduced mileage awards. These will allow you to save up to 7,500 miles per round-trip depending on the card you hold and the length of the trip.

Save miles with AA reduced mileage awards

There are groups of cards that give you different levels of savings with the reduced mileage awards. Typically, the free or cheap co-branded cards offer less savings. There are also two tiers of awards. Because American Airlines already requires only 7,500 award miles for trips under 500 miles one-way, the savings aren’t as good on these routes.

Many credit cards offer a savings of up to 7,500 miles per round trip for itineraries over 500 miles and 2,000 miles per round-trip for itineraries of less than 500 miles. Here is the list of credit cards that offer these savings:

  • Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ MasterCard®
  • Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® MasterCard®
  • CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® MasterCard®
  • CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Select MasterCard®
  • AAdvantage® Aviator® Silver World Elite MasterCard®
  • AAdvantage® Aviator® Red MasterCard®
  • AAdvantage® Aviator® Business MasterCard®

This reduces the cost of a typical round-trip saver award from 25,000 miles to only 17,500 miles, and makes using your miles for domestic economy tickets far more lucrative. The cool thing is, some of the same cards that offer access to the American Airlines reduced mileage awards also offer 10% of your miles back when you redeem them, so you’re looking at a net cost of 15,750 per round-trip.

Here are the credit cards that give you access to a 5,000-mile discount for awards over 500 miles and 1,000-mile discount on round-trips itineraries of less than 500 miles:

  • Citi® / AAdvantage® Gold MasterCard®
  • AAdvantage® Aviator® Blue MasterCard®

Holding one of these cards will let you book a ticket to one of the listed destinations for only 20,000 miles per round-trip. A hop of 500 miles or less will only cost you 14,000 miles round-trip.

The cool thing is, you don’t have to book a round-trip award. If you book a one-way, the savings are simply half of the round-trip savings.

There are some other cards included in both of the lists that offer access to the American Airlines reduced mileage awards, but I’m not sure they are offered anymore. I don’t recognize them. I believe all the ones listed are the products that are currently available.

How to find a qualifying award

American Airlines offers a good number of destinations every month on their reduced mileage award chart. There are some major airports that never make the list. But they typically offer several dozen destinations every month. The chart is updated every other month, and you’ll only ever find the current month and the three upcoming months included. Don’t expect to be able to lock these in way ahead of time.

Head over to the American Airlines reduced mileage award page to view the list of destinations offered. The first paragraphs explain the discounts and process, after which you’ll find the table of current reduced mileage destinations. Note the months in the header at the top and then scroll through the list (or use the web page search) to find your destination. The green checks indicate that a destination is available for the reduced mileage price for that month.

American Airlines Reduced Mileage Awards

For example, if I’m interested in flying to Akron, Ohio, I can book a reduced mileage award for any of the months shown above. I can also fly out of any nearby airport served by American Airlines, which for us would be Santa Rosa, Sacramento, San Francisco, or Oakland. It doesn’t matter if your origin airport isn’t on the chart; all that matters is the destination. If I’m interested in flying to Albany, notice that I can only book that at the reduced mileage price for flights in September.

The current list for September 2018 is a gold mine. Most of the airports shown on the list are available for reduced mileage awards this month, which comes to a total of over 100. Chances are you’ll find the destination you’re looking for if you’re willing to travel outside of peak summer season.

Some people have previously reported that if your origin is included in the reduced mileage list for a given month, this gives you reduced mileage prices anywhere in the U.S. Not all agents would abide by this, but by using the “hang up, call again” (HUCA) trick, you could typically book them.

However, I don’t see this in the terms. Everything refers to the destination being on the list. Only the destination airport has to be on the list for a one-way or round-trip. The origin doesn’t seem to play into the equation at all. I could be wrong on this, though, or the terms could have changed such that they are now in line with my understanding. In any case, you’re more than welcome to try to see where you can get with an agent. Some airports are routinely available, and it would be amazing to fly for reduced mileage prices much of the year.

How to book a reduced mileage award

You have to call reservations at 800-882-8880 to book American Airlines reduced mileage awards. However, you’ll first need to make sure there is space available for the award you want, and I suggest doing this online. Head to aa.com and look for MileSAAver space. You cannot use the reduced milage award codes for standard awards.

You’ll also need the award code for the credit card you hold. You can find these on the American Airlines reduced mileage awards web page. The agent will ask for a code when you go to book the award.

My experience booking a reduced milage award was pretty painless. I called American Airlines reservations, spoke our date, origin and destination into the automated system, and was connected with an agent within only a few minutes. I explained that I wanted to book a reduced milage award. The lady was completely familiar with the process and asked for the code. She spent a minute confirming that our destination was on the list, and our tickets were booked a minute or two later.

The reservation service charge is waived for these awards since they are not bookable online, which totally makes sense.

Final notes on the American Airlines reduced mileage awards

American Airlines reduced mileage awards offer fantastic value for families since you can fly round-trip domestic itineraries for so much less. A family of 5 flying to a reduced mileage destination only needs 87,500 miles rather than 125,000 miles. Given that some of the American Airlines co-branded cards sometimes offer a sign-up bonus of 60,000 or even 70,000 miles, an application plus some spending can easily get free flights for the whole family.

A few final things to note:

  • The terribly (might I say AAwful) $75 close-in booking fee still applies to itineraries 21 days out or less.
  • The discounts only apply to awards within the United States. Even if you live at an airport on the list where flights should be at reduced cost to anywhere, don’t expect to head to Europe with a mileage discount.
  • You can actually apply the discount to business and first class domestically. I’m just never interested in premium cabin domestic awards, so details like this tend to slip my mind.
  • Finding American Airlines award space might be a real issue at times, but it can be done. Don’t expect to see wide-open awards to any of these destinations, but expect to be able to make something work if you are flexible with your dates.

Hope you make great use of the American Airlines reduced mileage awards!

Featured image courtesy of Grant Wickes. 

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