Mexico is one of the most popular vacation destinations for US travelers. Mexico is beautiful, usually 3-4 hours away, and is known for having affordable hotels. That is all great, but how do I get to Mexico using airline points? That is the big question.
The great news is you CAN get to Mexico using your points and there are a ton of non-stop flights. There are over 35 US cities that have non-stop flights to the big three vacation spots south of the border;
• San Jose Del Cabo (Cabo San Lucas) [SJD]
• Puerto Vallarta [PVR]
• Cancun (Cozumel) [CUN]
The standard number of points needed to fly south of the border is 35,000 round-trip. This is usually the case with the big airlines like, United, Delta, Alaska and American. Some other options for using your points to Mexico is on Southwest and JetBlue. These two airlines do not have fixed values on their reward flights, rather the required points for a flight is based on what the real ticket price would be. For example, if a Southwest ticket was $400 to Mexico, that would run you around 23k-28k points. Both JetBlue and Southwest points are worth roughly 1.4 cents per point. So a $100 flight is going to run you 7,000 points +/-.
One thing that needs to be discussed are the customs fees. You see, a normal cash ticket to Mexico automatically includes customs fees, typically $59 goes to the USA and $28 goes to Mexico. These customs fees are built into your cash ticket, hence why a flight from Los Angeles to Puerto Vallarta typically costs more than a flight from Los Angeles to Dallas. (which are the same distance).
When using your points to buy a flight to Mexico you are still going to be on the hook for the customs fees since those are required to be paid to the government. You are looking at about $87 per round-trip to Mexico. If you fly with points to England, customs fees are $201. With points to Canada, you’re look at about $50 in fees.
The best option to use points for Mexico airfare is through British Airways using your ‘Avios’. Before I start, you can transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards or Amex Membership Rewards points to British Airways, at a transfer ratio of 5:5 and 5:4 respectively. Of course, you can also sign up for the Chase British Airways card for 50,000 Avios.
You can book flights on either American and Alaska Air using your British Airways Avios. The number of miles needed for the flight is based on the distance to your destination. For example, you can fly from San Jose, CA to Cabo, non-stop on Alaska Air. This flight, since it is 1,220 miles one-way, would run you 10,000 Avios one-way. You can find the distance between airports here. Here is the award chart chart for British Airways when booking with partner airlines (such as American or Alaska):
Finding the sweet spots
San Jose, CA to Cabo would cost you 20,000 points round-trip and $87 in customs fees if you book with your Avios points. Compare that to 35,000 Alaska points if you booked the same flights. To find out which Alaska flights are eligible to be booked with your Avios points, just go to alaskaair.com and shop for flights ‘using miles’. When you see award flights, you will want to find the flights for 17,500 points one-way. Flights that are 17.5k one-way to Mexico are the only ones that are available to be booked using British Airways points. (same 17.5k rule applies to American flights you want to book using your Avios)
To book your Alaska flights using your Avios, just call British Airways and reference the flight numbers and dates you wish to book. They may try to charge you a phone booking fee, just ask them to waive it since you can only book it over the phone. American Airlines flights can be booked on British Airways using your Avios, no need to call.
Note, this Avios “trick” only works for non-stop flights on American or Alaska. If you live in Salt Lake City, you would have to get to an airport like Los Angeles or Phoenix first, then catch your flight from one of those two airports using Avios.
Here are the cities you can fly to Mexico non-stop on Alaska Airlines:
• San Diego (SAN)
• Orange County (SNA)
• Los Angeles (LAX)
• San Jose (SJC)
• San Francisco (SFO)
• Portland (PDX)
• Seattle (SEA)
The best flight deal is from San Diego, you can fly via Alaska Air to Cabo for only 7,500 points one-way. (using British Airways Avios). The reason it is only 7,500 Avios one-way is because the flight distance from SAN to SJD is only 800 miles. If you look up at the chart, you can see the 7,500 points mileage range. From Seattle to Cancun it would cost you 12,500 points one-way. The distance between Seattle and Cancun is 2,680 miles, therefore falling between the 2,000-3,000 range. Remember, you always pay the customs fees when flying international using any type of points, $87 when flying to Mexico from the US.
There are credit cards that can give you credit to completely offset the $87, which is how I can say I travel for free! Remember, you can use your airline incidental credit from your American Express Premier Rewards Gold Card, $100 per calendar year. You could also sign up for the Capital One Venture Card or Barclay Arrival Plus cards which each offer $400 in travel credit as a sign up bonus. Just use one of the aforementioned cards to pay for the $87 and use your credits to reimburse the charge. You would then have a 100% free flight to Mexico.
What about American Airlines?
American Airlines is another partner with British Airways allowing you to use your Avios to cover non-stop flights — based on distance. You can fly from Dallas to Cancun for 7,500 points one-way with Avios. You can also fly from Phoenix to either Cabo or Puerto Vallarta for only 7,500 Avios one-way. Compare that to 15,000 American Airline points needed for Mexico one-way’s or 12,500 American points during off-peak. (September 7 – November 14 & April 27 – May 20)
You can fly non-stop on American to Mexico from the following cities:
• Los Angeles (LAX)
• Phoenix (PHX)
• Dallas (DFW)
• Miami (MIA)
• Charlotte (CLT)
• Chicago (ORD)
• New York (JFK)
• Philadelphia (PHL)
• Raleigh/Durham (RDU – Select days of the week)
If you have Southwest points, you can fly non-stop to Mexico from 11 cities in the US. You can catch connections from other cities using your Southwest points, but you will be stopping at one of the following 11 cities on your journey down south:
• Orange County (SNA)
• Austin (AUS)
• San Antonio (SAT)
• Houston (HOU)
• Atlanta (ATL)
• Baltimore (BWI)
• Denver (DEN)
• Chicago (MDW)
• Los Angeles (LAX)
• Milwaukee (MKE)
• Oakland (OAK – Starting Feb 12th)
Sometimes it is cheaper to book flights to one of these 11 connection cities and then book the flight to Mexico separately from there on. For example, if you wanted to fly from Sacramento to Cabo – SJD you will have to stop in SNA or LAX on Southwest. If you book Sacramento to Cabo it would be about 15,000 Southwest points direct. You could just book the two flights separately, 5,000 down to Orange County and then 7,500 down to Cabo. That is only 12,500 points verses 15,000 for the same flights two segments.
Now, there are some LCC’s (lowest cost carriers) that fly to mexico if you don’t have points, like Spirit and Frontier. You will want to weigh the price of all the extra fees to see if it makes sense for you. For example, you can fly from Denver to Cancun for $142 round-trip on Frontier Airlines, including all taxes. That flight on Frontier only includes a small personal item that can fit under the seat. Read about the extra fees on Frontier here. If you have to carry-on a second bag, reserve your seat, and pay for one drink on Frontier, your ticket will end up costing about $225 R/T on Frontier. That is still very cheap to fly from Denver to Cancun, but it still pays to check the overall cost, no pun intended.
There are other – less popular – coastal cities in Mexico you can fly to using your points (or a ton of cash, of course). You can fly from Los Angeles to La Paz via Alaska Airlines. From Phoenix, you can fly to Mazatlan , Ixtapa, and Manzanillo, via American Airlines. Again, these flights can be booked through British Airways using Avios. Points needed depends on the flight distance.
If you have a large pool of miles on Delta, American, or United, you can book a Mexico round-trip for 35,000 miles round-trip + $87 in fees.
If you live in one of the cities that American or Alaska fly non-stop to Mexico, it would make sense to book with British Airways Avios as these flights will only run 7,500 to 12,500 one-way, based on the flight distance. It may make sense to catch a positioning flight or drive to one of these cities to catch your flight to Mexico using Avios, if you live elsewhere.
Southwest flies to Cabo, Puerto Vallarta, and Cancun. The great part with Southwest points is that the price of the ticket determines the points required. Typically every $100 in airfare will cost you 7,000 in points. If you have your Companion Pass, you will get two-for-one travel to Mexico also! (even using points) You just have to pay the $87 in customs fee for each passenger.
At the time of writing this, the US dollar will exchange to 18.5 Mexican Pesos. Just two years ago it was 1:14. For example, a typical 10 mile taxi ride will run you roughly 200 Pesos, or about $11. A six-pack of Corona long necks will cost about 80 Pesos, close to $4. (That is nice to take back to your hotel room for only $4!)