Points and miles can present a very lucrative value proposition when traveling to exotic destinations, particularly when do so at the last minute. In this post, I'll cover how I flew to Turks and Caicos for $109 plus points. Airfare at the time of booking the trip was ~$945.
To be fair, a Chicago-Providenciales roundtrip fare will not always set you back $900+. In fact, they are quite often in the the $600-ish vicinity. But that's the added beauty of award travel - last-minute travel using miles can present even greater value, provided there is award space (the seats an airline sets aside for redemption using frequent flyer miles).
This trip was booked using Iberia Plus Avios. Iberia is a Spanish airline and is owned by IAG, the same parent company that owns British Airways. Why did I choose Iberia Plus? Simple - (1) the program costs the fewest number of miles for this trip, and (2) I had British Airways Avios which I will be able to transfer to the Iberia Plus program. One nifty website I use to find out what various frequent flyer programs charge for a given trip is http://www.awardhacker.com/. A quick check on Award Hacker lists the following mileage costs for a Chicago-Providenciales round trip ticket.
Mileage costs for ORD-PLS round trip
Naturally, you would want to spend the fewest number of miles for a trip but the decision to use the appropriate one for you would also depend on your balance in that program. The lowest cost in the list above is Japan Airlines' Mileage Bank program. However, since I'm not active in JAL's program, the next best thing was Iberia Plus, which incidentally, doesn't show up on Award Hacker. Ultimately, the cost for this trip was 23,000 Iberia Plus Avios and about $109 in taxes and fees.
ORD-PLS roundtrip with Iberia Plus
Note that these are American Airlines flights. Another advantage of airline alliances and partnerships is that you can use your miles from one program to redeem flights on a different airline. As long as there is Saver Level availability on American's site, you should be able to book that ticket from a partner program. To check that availability, simple search for space on American Airlines website. Anything that lights up with Economy MileSAAver or Business/First MileSAAver should be fair game.
Any SAAver level availability should be bookable from a partner program
How to get Iberia Plus Avios
1. Fly Iberia or any of its partners
The obvious way to earn miles in an airline's loyalty program might appear to be to travel with that airline. While that is true, thanks to alliances and cross-alliance partnerships, you can earn miles in an airline's program even while flying with its partners. A list of Iberia's partners through which you can earn Iberia Plus Avios can be found here. Note that the number of miles you'd earn on a given trip would depend on the airline itself as well as the fare class of the ticket purchased.
2. Transfer your British Airways Avios to Iberia Plus
The cardinal rule of frequent flyer miles is that you cannot combine your miles in one program with another. Except for that rare exception. One such exception is the ability to transfer your British Airways Avios to Iberia Plus. So if you're flush with BA Avios, you essentially also have Iberia Plus Avios. Read about how to do this in detail in my How I flew to Spain in Business Class using points post.
3. Use your credit card points
Credit card rewards such as Chase Ultimate Rewards and American Express Membership Rewards are flexible points currencies that can be converted to a range of airline and hotel loyalty programs. So if you have points in either of these programs, you can transfer them to your Iberia Plus account. The article How I flew to Spain in Business Class using points also talks about this.
4. Earn miles through Shopping Portals
If there were such a thing as 'free miles', it would be this. The only thing it costs is a couple of extra mouseclicks during your online shopping. Read all about in my Earn Free Miles While You Shop post.