Three For Free: Booking a Central America Family Vacation with Miles

I am taking a trip to Central America this March, and my mother and sister are joining me for portions of the trip. I booked all three of our tickets with airline miles from credit cards, and here I am going to share how I did it!

Toucan

Toucans like this one are native to Costa Rica, one of the countries I’ll be visiting.

For the first part of the trip, my sister and I will be flying into Guatemala City. We plan to explore parts of Guatemala and Belize before flying out of Belize City a week and a half later. From Belize City, my sister will be flying back home, but I’ll be headed to Panama on a short stopover and then Costa Rica. My mother will be joining me in Costa Rica for a couple weeks, and then we will be flying home to Seattle.

My sister lives in Florida, and my mum and I both live in Seattle. Booking the segments for my sister was easiest since they were both nonstop: Miami to Guatemala City on the way there and Belize City to Miami on the way back. As you might recall from my post on best uses for British Airways miles, nonstop flights to Central America are a steal! I was able to book my sister’s flights for 7500 British Airways Avios each way, for a total of 15,000 Avios plus a small amount of taxes and fees.

My Sister's Flights

My sister’s flights, booked with British Airways Avios.

For my flight to Guatemala City, unfortunately there was no availability out of Seattle on American Airlines the day I wanted to leave (remember American Airlines miles are the best choice for trips to Central America with stops as long as you only fly American Airlines itself, and flying from Seattle to Central America is not possible nonstop). With that option gone, I search Alaska Airlines and found availability by routing through Los Angeles and then Miami using a combination of Alaska and American Airlines flights. This was perfect, because I’d be able to fly on the same flight as my sister from Miami to Guatemala City and we could arrive together! Since the flight was during an off-peak period on the Alaska award chart, it only set me back 15,000 Alaska miles.

My Outbound Flight to Central America

My flight into Guatemala, booked with Alaska Airlines miles.

After romping around Guatemala and Belize (stay tuned for future posts!), I’ll be flying from Belize to Panama and then onto Costa Rica just after my sister flies out of Belize. Since United Airlines partners with Copa, based in Panama, United miles were ideal for booking this flight. Looking at the United award chart, flights within Central America are rated at 10,000 miles each way, which is what I paid. I took advantage of a sub-24 hour layover in Panama on my routing, and will hopefully be seeing the Panama Canal before spending the night in a hostel and catching my flight to Costa Rica the next day.

My flights within Central America

My flights within Central America, booked with United Airlines miles.

Finally, my mum is flying into Costa Rica and meeting me in San Jose, and we are both flying out of Liberia, another city in Costa Rica, a couple weeks later. I used American Airlines miles to book my mother’s flights in and out of Costa Rica, and my flight home. Unfortunately, we’ll be flying during peak season on American Airlines’ award chart, so flights were 15,000 miles each way (otherwise they would have been 12,500). Even so, since we’ll be flying wholly on American Airlines itself, and not Alaska or other partners, the flights are still a relatively good deal.

By another stroke of luck, I had just applied for the AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard and was able to recieve 10% of my redeemed miles back, effectively meaning that the flights were 13,500 each way. With a roundtrip ticket for my mother and a one-way for myself, this totaled out to 40,500 miles.

My mother's flight into San Jose via Miami, and our flights back from Liberia to Seattle

My mother’s flight into San Jose, and our flights back to Seattle from Liberia. All of these flights were booked with American Airlines miles.

By using a combination of different types of miles (British Airways, Alaska Airlines, United Airlines, and American Airlines), I was able to book coordinated trips for myself, my sister, and my mom to Central America for 80,500 miles total.

How You Could Have Booked This Trip

I already had all these miles stored up from previous credit card bonuses, but this same family trip could have been booked with just two credit card sign up bonuses- the Chase Sapphire Preferred (with a heightened bonus of 50,000+ Chase Ultimate Rewards points) and the AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard. (If you haven’t looked already, read my credit cards page for more information on traveling for free with miles from credit cards.)

By converting 35,000 of the Chase Ultimate Rewards from the Sapphire Preferred bonus to United miles, and another 15,000 to British Airways Avios, it would have been possible to book a roundtrip for myself to Central America, flying into Guatemala City and out of Liberia, and then used the Excursionist Perk (read about it in my United miles guide) to book my flight from Belize to San Jose with the long layover in Panama. With the 15,000 Avios I could have booked my sister’s roundtrip ticket from Miami to Guatemala City and back from Belize City.

With the 40,000 American Airlines miles from the Aviator Red Mastercard, I would have had more than enough miles to book the round trip ticket for my mother into Costa Rica.

Anyway, I hope this post was interesting and a good example of how you can use different types of miles to get the best value for free travel!

~Josh

Further reading:
Which Miles Should I Use? Part 1: Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan
Which Miles Should I Use? Part 2: United Airlines MileagePlus
Which Miles Should I Use? Part 3: British Airways Executive Club
Which Miles Should I Use? Part 4: American Airlines AAdvantage
Using Credit Cards To Travel For Free

Maps generated by the Great Circle Mapper – copyright © Karl L. Swartz.

Posted in Free Travel, Frugal Travel, Latin America.

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