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Most major US frequent flyer programs price awards in large part based on geographic zones. For example, the lower 48 and Canada may be one pricing zone, Hawaii another, Europe another, Mexico and the Caribbean another. When you want to fly from one zone to another zone you pay the associated fee in miles according to the award chart.
A common theme among most of these award chart zones is that it costs more to fly from the lower 48 to Mexico or the Caribbean than to stick to domestic destinations or even head into Canada. It may not make total sense that it costs 12,500 United miles for me to fly the 1,854 miles from Houston to Alberta, Canada, and 17,500 United miles for me to fly just 811 miles from Houston to Cancun, Mexico, but because of zone based pricing that is the reality.
Because of these zones, those of us who geographically live pretty close to Mexico and the Caribbean have historically not gotten the greatest value out of our miles when using the major US airline award charts for those destinations, and instead have looked to distance based programs like British Airways Avios to get us to these close in destinations.
However, there is potentially an even cheaper alternative than British Airways Avios if you want to travel on miles to Mexico or the Caribbean, have date flexibility, and aren’t prissy.
You can fly to places like Cancun, Montego Bay, Aruba, Costa Rica, and more for just 2,500 Spirit Airlines miles each way. Yup, it’s Spirit Airlines, but 2,500 miles is a whole lot fewer than 17,500 miles each way, especially when you start doing the math for a whole family.
Spirit Airlines actually uses a distance based award chart where flights up to 1,249 miles in distance are in Region 1, flights from 1,250 miles – 1,749 miles are in Region 2, and so on.
This means that flights to Mexico, Caribbean, Central America, etc. that are under 1,249 miles in distance can theoretically be booked for as few as 2,500 miles + taxes/fees on off-peak dates if you have the Spirit Airlines MasterCard. This is not an affiliate link (in fact, I’m not even linking to it), but if you are going to do any Spirit award travel it is an essential tool to have.
I did some test searches today to many of these destinations, and as you would probably guessed, availability on off-peak dates is limited, but it does exist.
I found flights at the 2,500 mile level from Houston – Cancun, Dallas – Los Cabos, San Dieg0 – Los Cabos, Houston – Honduras, Ft. Lauderdale – Aruba, Ft. Lauderdale – Montego Bay, etc. If your desired flight(s) fall into a Region 2 pricing, then expect off-peak awards for cardholders to start at 5,000 miles each direction, which is still about 72% less than United, American, etc. would want for similar award flights.
In my mind I have historically thought of Spirit as a very cheap way to get around the United States to places like Las Vegas, Orlando, etc. but as you can see via the route map below, they are increasingly a real option to travel outside of this country, too, and at incredible prices.
Let me run some simple math by you one more time just for the heck of it. Let’s say your family of four wants to go from Dallas to Los Cabos for vacation. You could spend 140,000 miles round trip for four saver awards via many traditional airline programs, or you could spend just 20,000 Spirit Airline miles. That is about 85% fewer miles! Add to that fun math that the Spirit Airlines credit card awards 2x miles on all purchases, and you now have four airline tickets to Mexico or the Caribbean for as little as $10,000 in spending on that card – or less than that if you are using the 15,000 sign-up bonus miles from the co-branded Spirit credit card toward your award flights.
Factor in some checked bags, purchased on-board drinks, heck even splurge on seat assignments, and you are still coming out light years ahead. If this sounds interesting at all to you, here are a few other posts I recommend.
My Spirit Airlines Trip Report (AKA 10 Favorite Things About Flying Spirit Airlines)
No doubt Spirit Airlines has it’s “quirks” and won’t work for everyone. Above all else you need date flexibility, which I know can be tough for some families. However, for families looking to travel much more for much less, I think this program absolutely deserves a look, even if it is international travel you have on your mind.
Have you redeemed just 2,500 miles to head to Mexico, the Caribbean, and beyond on Spirit Airlines? Would you consider doing so?