I’m sure most of us have several vacations spots on “our list” that we are just trying to figure out how to book most effectively or how to squeeze into our busy schedules. Sitting at the top of my list is Costa Rica, and specifically staying at the Andaz Peninsula Papagayo which looks to be a great property in a good spot. I have seen some solid cash rates there, but on points it is also great as a Category 4 Hyatt property (15,000 points per night or 7,500 + $100 USD per night).
They have a family pool, a spa, a beach, and an all important kid’s club for kids ages 4-12. Really, what more could you ask for? I’m sold right there. Needless to say, I have the hotel aspect of the trip nailed down in my mind with staying at the Andaz (likely on a cash + points booking with a Diamond Suite Upgrade applied), but even though Houston – Liberia, Costa Rica is only a 3 1/2 hour nonstop flight on United, the prices are often pretty nasty at $700 – $1,000 round trip each. Multiply that by the three of us, and it simply isn’t going to happen. Even on miles, it rings in at 35,000 United miles each for the round trip. That isn’t bad given the cash price, but it would be 105,000 miles for the three of us, so that’s a relatively substantial sum. Families have to stretch miles smarter than that when possible.
Luckily, there is a better way leveraging an award chart sweet spot via ANA who is a Star Alliance partner, but uses a distance based chart similar to the way that British Airways does. Even if you have never flown on ANA, or heck never even heard of ANA, you still can take advantage of this too since they are a transfer partner of the American Express Membership Rewards program.
Flying from Houston to Liberia is roughly 1,469 miles each way, or 2938 miles round trip. That means that via the ANA award chart it will cost just 22,000 miles in coach for the award. Their stopover rules are a little confusing at first, but somewhat outlined here. Milenomics has a good post on maximizing ANA stopovers here. For this particular trip stopovers would be irrelevant, but of course stopovers could be useful on a different trip, and I’ll talk about that in a future post.
The ANA online booking tool is very good in some respects, but a little clunky and awkward in others. If you have 0 miles like I do, read this post for how to use their search tool. None the less, it is at least functional for searching and booking Star Alliance partners like United. Availability should be the same for United award flights as United offers its own members at the Saver level (though not the extra availability that United sometimes gives elite members or those with the co-branded credit card). As you can see below, the flight prices out on some example dates at 22,000 miles each just as the chart says it should.
Booking this way would turn what would be 105,000 United miles for the three of us if we booked via MileagePlus into 66,000 Membership Reward points by booking via ANA for the same exact flights. Assuming you valued United miles and Membership Reward points at around the same value, that is a savings of 37% miles/points just be being aware of different award charts. I’ll post more about ANA soon as I think it is a good option for those of us in the Southern half of the US for heading to the Caribbean, Central America, etc. Another very good option for some will be using British Airways Avios to fly on US Airways and American Airlines operated flights. If you are interested in other award chart sweet spots, here is a post listing a few of my favorite airline award chart sweet spots.
Have you used ANA for some short but pricey trips like this one? What are some of your other favorite award chart sweet spots?