A Thanksgiving Jackpot: Ft Lauderdale to Las Vegas

A Thanksgiving Jackpot: Ft Lauderdale to Las Vegas


Image courtesy: djfpaagman

Trip Information

PointsAway reader Erica is looking for a way to travel with her husband from Fort Lauderdale to Las Vegas for Thanksgiving. Without any family plans for the holiday, it’s an opportune time for them to get out of town and go somewhere fun. Vegas certainly fits that bill! Erica already has a plan for their stay once on the ground, so we’re focused only on finding flights today.

Current Program Status

Erica has 36,000 American Express Membership Rewards points, a small amount of American Express Blue Cash points and a little more than 15,000 Bank of America WorldPoints saved up. They don’t hold any travel-specific cards at the moment.

Our Take

This itinerary hits us with a one-two punch. As much as I love Vegas, it’s a prohibitively expensive city to fly into from most destinations. The cost on even budget-minded carriers like Southwest typically is much higher from the East Coast than, say, to Los Angeles. Award flights are also typically constrained due to Sin City’s unique destination status.

Add to this the fact that Erica is looking to travel during the busiest air traffic weekend of the year and we’re up against a perfect storm of poor award availability and jacked-up cash fares. While anything’s possible with enough miles, this trip is also coming up quickly, so we want to work with what Erica has as much as possible. Let’s get started!

Getting There

Sifting through the award charts in my research was an ugly proposition. Erica wants to head out on November 26th or 27th and has to return home on December 1st. This aligns well with the schedules of most other working and traveling Americans over the Thanksgiving weekend, and now that we’re just a few months out, availability is poor across the board.

Shockingly, Delta actually shows low level award availability for departure on the 26th. Unfortunately, there’s no such luck on the way home, with only medium and high level availability depending on the precise return date.

As we’ve discussed before, Delta only allows roundtrip redemptions, so this puts us in a bad position. “Low” level on the way and “Medium” on the way back would mean 37,500 SkyMiles. Even if we transfer Erica’s entire 36,000 stockpile from Membership Rewards, that wouldn’t quite cover one traveler, much less two.

Thankfully, we have a way around this! As discussed in our Membership Rewards breakdown on Wednesday, Air France’s FlyingBlue program allows for one-way domestic redemptions on Delta for half the miles! Since FlyingBlue is also a Membership Rewards transfer partner, sending 25,000 miles to FlyingBlue should cover the trip from Ft. Lauderdale to Las Vegas for both passengers.

Because there’s a high probability of this availability evaporating quickly, time is of the essence for this itinerary, and Erica should create a FlyingBlue account right away and then call Air France to confirm availability. It may or may not be worth paying the $25 fee to book by phone and be absolutely certain the flight is confirmed, but it’s certainly worth calling to talk through availability right before moving the miles from Membership Rewards to FlyingBlue.

Getting Home

Getting to Vegas required some trickery but proved doable for just a few dollars in booking fees. Perhaps clever planning can get us back for a few dollars, too?

Unfortunately, with only 11,000 Membership Rewards points left after booking the flight out, even if perfect availability existed – which it certainly doesn’t in this case – we wouldn’t have enough left for a flight on any transfer partner. It’s time to shift our focus to other possibilities.

We’ve never mentioned Bank of America’s WorldPoints Rewards before. In all honesty, that’s because it’s not a program we would recommend, with very poor redemption options across the board. Points are usable on a sliding scale, with most redemptions coming in at just fractions of a cent per point, scaling up to only 1¢ per point when redeeming 25,000 points or more.

That being said doesn’t take away from the fact that Erica has more than 15,000 points with the program already. Our best recommendation for these points is to cash them out for a statement credit or check. 15,000 points are worth $120 based on BOA’s award chart. We would take this cash out and stop using this card moving forward, as its earnings potential is very poor.

The American Express Blue Cash card is a fine choice for certain categories of shopping, such as at grocery stores where the standard version earns 3% back and the preferred version with an annual fee earns 6% back, but Erica’s 1,600 points with the card are unfortunately too low to do anything with, as redemptions begin at 2,500 points for $25. For our purposes, these points are unfortunately not applicable.

At this point, we have $120 cash in hand from cashing out WorldPoints but only a few Membership Rewards points. Our best bet is to find the most affordable possible cash flight from Vegas to Fort Lauderdale and then figure out how to drive down that price.

Far and away, the cheapest cash fare is on Spirit, which happily offers direct service to and from Ft. Lauderdale. Spirit comes in at $183.90 per passenger. That adds up to $367.80 in total. Adding in $30 per checked bag, one bag each, we’d arrive at a total of $427.80. As you’ll see, it actually helps us get the best value to pay these baggage fees as part of the booking.

Finding the Miles

How can we defray as much of this cash cost as possible? Once again, Barclaycard Arrival comes to the rescue. The card offers $400 in free travel after $1,000 in purchases. Because Arrival earns 2 points per $1 in spending, simply meeting the minimum spend requirement is good for another 2,000 points worth an additional $20 in travel credit!

With Arrival, you simply book travel online or through an agency as you typically might, then call Barclaycard or go online and request a credit to your account for some or all of any eligible travel expense. Here’s the best part: credit can be issued for any travel expenses in the past 90 days. So, Erica can sign up for an Arrival card, use it to book her flight on Spirit as part of meeting her minimum spend, and then go back to use the points she earns to offset $420 of the $427.80 in expenses for the flight.

The card gives a 10% rebate on all miles used, so this $420 redemption will credit Erica back $42 in additional points the next day. This credit can be used to partially offset any baggage fees paid on the Delta flight out to Vegas if Erica pays them using her Arrival card. Delta charges $25 per bag typically, so this will lower her Delta baggage charge to $8 in total for two people.

Because Arrival rewards can be applied to travel purchases within the past 90 days, Erica can go back in time to apply her bonus credit, allowing her to lock in her trip as soon as she receives her Arrival card rather than waiting to meet the minimum spend requirement and for miles to be deposited in her account as would be necessary with other programs. That makes Arrival an outstanding choice for time-critical bookings like this one.

As for that $120 from the Bank of America card? Well, you could use part of it to defray the last $15.80 in flight expenses including bags, but we’d bet it on black.

Trip Component Cash Price Points + Cash Savings
Delta via FlyingBlue: FLL -> LAS, 2 Adults: 11/26 $336 on Spirit + 2 checked bags for $60. 25,000 Delta SkyMiles + $10 flight fees + $50 baggage fees – $42 Statement Credit from Arrival Card $378.00
Spirit Air: LAS -> FLL, 2 Adults: 12/01 $183.90pp on Spirit ($367.80 total + $60 baggage fees). $420 Statement Credit from Arrival Card + $7.80 $420.00
Total: $823.80 25,000 Membership Rewards -> FlyingBlue + $440 of Arrival Credits + $47.80 $776.00

Happy travels!

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About PointsAway
Casey Ayers is a consultant and entrepreneur with a passion for travel. After amassing enough miles and points to travel anywhere in the world for almost free in less than six months, he developed PointsAway as a way to help others make travel dreams big and small come true.
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