Reader Terrell wants to travel from Jacksonville to Philadelphia sometime this August. His best friend attends medical school there and Terrell would like to surprise him for his birthday.
Terrell’s new to miles and points travel, with neither any balances in frequent flyer or hotel loyalty programs or any travel credit cards at the moment, so this is a good chance to help him lock in his first points-powered adventure.
This trip falls right in line with my own trip to Philadelphia coming up soon. That makes today’s example a fairly simple one to walk through. Let’s get started!
Two Ways To Philly
Coming from Jacksonville, two options stand out as the best ways to Philadelphia. US Air runs direct service daily from Jacksonville to its Philadelphia hub, meaning the trip is a potential opportunity to use British Airways Avios. As we cover in the book and in our recent feature on using Avios to travel on US Airways, flights from Jacksonville to Philadelphia take only 7,500 Avios each way, since Avios redemptions are based on distance traveled.
Compare that to the 12,500 miles each way that either American’s AAdvantage program or US Air’s Dividend Miles program would require for the same seat, and you’ll find savings of 10,000 miles for the roundtrip!
Our other best option would be to find a cheap fare on Southwest, since the number of points required in its program is determined not by region or distance but simply by the price of a ticket. Since this is just a hop up the East Coast, Southwest flights are probably pretty affordable for this trip, meaning the number of points required won’t be high.
Thankfully, Southwest and British Airways are both transfer partners of Ultimate Rewards, meaning no matter which option works best for Terrell’s schedule, there’s an easy way he can rapidly accumulate more than enough miles to cover this trip in full.
Chase Sapphire Preferred is the best personal travel credit card Terrell could consider to help him get started with points and miles travel. The card offers 40,000 points as a sign-up bonus after $3,000 in purchases within three months.
These points can be transferred at a 1:1 rate to a variety of partner airline and hotel programs, including both British Airways Avios and Southwest Rapid Rewards, the two programs that make the most sense for this trip. Point transfers occur instantly to programs in increments of 1,000 points.
Flying US Air gives us a great option if there’s availability and if Southwest flights come back at higher than 7,500 points each way. Otherwise, Southwest is our better bet.
Here’s a look at US Air availability in August from Jacksonville to Philadelphia:
Here’s a look at US Air availability in August from Philadelphia to Jacksonville:
Note that only direct flights are shown, because Avios redemptions are calculated one segment at a time. That means flights direct from Jacksonville to Philadelphia will cost 7,500 Avios, but flights with a connection will cost the Avios needed to fly to the connection point plus the Avios needed from the connection point to Philadelphia, as if they were two separate trips.
I used American’s booking engine to search for these because I find it easier than BA’s or US Air’s for initial searches. If direct flights show up as Saver Economy seats – which is exactly what all of the green dates above indicate – then they’re bookable for 7,500 Avios.
That gives Terrell a wide variety of opportunities, but let’s check in with Southwest just to see if even more affordable options are available or if he might be able to fly with Southwest on days when US Air is unavailable.
Here’s a look at Southwest availability in August from Jacksonville to Philadelphia:
Here’s a look at Southwest availability in August from Philadelphia to Jacksonville:
As you can see, rates are presently pretty consistent on Southwest in each direction, with rates at 7,749 points being the norm most days. That’s more than on US Air using Avios, but only by a couple hundred miles. As such, if Terrell can travel on days when US Air is available, great! If not, there’s very little to be lost.
That’s the great thing about Ultimate Rewards: it’s an extremely versatile points currency since you don’t need to make transfers until minutes prior to actually booking a ticket. Rather than simply earning Avios or Rapid Rewards and being beholden to one program, Terrell can play them against each other for a trip like this in order to get the best value possible.
If he flies on Avios tickets in both directions, Terrell will pay a total of just $5 for this flight. Assuming one direction on US Air and the other using Southwest – perhaps the most likely scenario – he’d pay just $2.50 for the Avios award and $5 for the Southwest award, for a total of $7.50. Southwest for the full roundtrip would be $10. However you dice it, that’s a great way to save hundreds of dollars on a fun trip!