Going away for my anniversary is always tricky. It usually falls on or near the Columbus Day holiday weekend, the last chance for many to soak up good weather before winter sets in.
I love to scan travel websites for an unexpected deal. You never know when you’ll find a destination you’ve been dying to go to for a steal. Last fall, I found a cruise to the Bahamas for $169 per person. It sounded like a great bargain . . . until we looked at flights to Miami and hotels near the port.
Thankfully, we had recently signed up for the Starwood Preferred Guest American Express card, which gave us 25,000 points as a sign-on bonus enough to make the whole trip an outrageous bargain. The card offers bonuses up to 30,000 points which can easily get you to Miami for a cruise if you do what we did.
You used to be able to fly to nearby domestic destinations for fewer miles than flying across the country, but now most airlines have a blanket 25,000 mile round-trip domestic award no matter where you are traveling in the United States. For a two- or three-hour flight, it’s usually a waste of miles. Unless you know how to leverage your points.
With the Starwood card, you get a 5,000-point bonus when you transfer 20,000 Starpoints to your airline frequent flyer program, essentially giving you a domestic ticket for only 20,000 points on participating airlines.
Booking directly through American Express, you can buy a ticket with a listed price up to $150 for 10,000 points or from $150 to $215 for 15,000 points. So, depending on the price of the ticket, you can save 5,000-15,000 points booking with Starpoints. In our case, ticket prices were on the higher side, so we transferred Starpoints to American Airlines to lock in a flight that fit perfectly with our plans. A 10 a.m. departure allowed us to sleep in and a 3 p.m. return flight gave us plenty of time to get to the airport after our cruise docked, while still making it home in time for dinner.
Another 4,000 Starpoints got us a free night in the Miami Element hotel so we could explore the city before we boarded our cruise.
Our Steal of a Bahamas Trip
Since we were only going to be in Miami for a day, we planned to take cabs or walk instead of renting a car. But when we checked into our hotel famished, not only did the concierge offer us a folder of lunch menus, he told us to call down when we were ready and the hotel van would drop us at the restaurant.
After a day of café con leche, empanadas, ceviche, and strolling by the ocean in Miami, we went through passport control at the dock and set out on our first cruise.
We thought the cabin might be cramped and that the food would be mediocre since we paid so little for the cruise fare, but our cabin had more than enough space for us and our luggage. Each evening we dined on steak, fresh seafood, and impressive French pastries in the ships surcharge-free restaurants.
The port stops always seemed too short, but we managed to pack in a lot in three days. We found an empty stretch of beach on Grand Bahama Island to have to ourselves for the afternoon, wandered the streets of Nassau in search of the best conch fritters, and found an aquamarine, mineral-rich swimming pond on Norwegian Cruise Lines private island, Great Stirrup Cay, for a warm swim when the waves were too big on the beach.
What We Paid
We upgraded to an ocean view room that cost $229 per person, including taxes, for a three-night cruise with meals included.
If you don’t already subscribe to the Travelzoo Top 20, I highly recommend it. It’s where I found this deal and I recently saw a six-night Caribbean cruise for $399 and an eight-night one for $549 with a $200 shipboard credit.
And getting to the departure port? Two round-trip tickets from New York to Miami on American Airlines on a holiday weekend cost 40,000 Starpoints and $17.82 in taxes and fees.