Booking: Costa Rica and Hawaii with UA and BA miles (2.4 CPM)

Sam here: I want to thank my special guest blogger S. Claus, who stopped by the last two days to leave us with his 2013 lists of Naughty and Nice in the world of Miles. Because Kris K. took the load off of me for writing the blog, I was able to really focus on booking my spring break surprise trip.

This post directly follows the “Planning Spring Break trip to Costa Rica or Curacao.” In that post I stepped us through the early planning stages of a surprise Spring Break trip to Costa Rica or Curacao. In doing so I almost completely took Curacao off the table and started to focus on Costa Rica. Last night I went ahead and booked the flights, so I’ll go ahead and write up the process I went through. Thinking about booking some flights yourself, check out the best one day adventure excursions offered by Buena Vista Del Rincon.

Early Planning

To briefly recap, I had a terrible combination of options: almost zero flexibility in my dates, and with the removal of Curacao from the equation no destination flexibility either. Making this booking work under these situations was luck, plain and simple.

After checking flight options I settled on either United Miles, or Delta for this trip. The flight options for Delta were bad–a redye there and a 7am home. This left me with United for the flights. I found better options into and out of LIR than SJO. While SJO had mostly morning flights, LIR had a nice 5pm return. This will maximize our time on the ground. Getting there I was forced to fly to Houston on a Friday evening, then spend a night in Houston and fly to LIR at either 9am or 11:30am. I took the 11:30–we’ll have some time to relax at a hotel, have breakfast and then shoot down to LIR, arriving by around 2pm.

Using an Almost Free One Way to Hawaii

With these flights set, I scanned my Demand Schedule to see what would be the best use of a free one way on this international *A itinerary. I had talked about using my one way with Delta to fly up to Seattle, but since this turned into a United booking I wanted to exploit a wonderful weak-point of their award chart:

The above is the required mileage to/from the US, Canada & Alaska to Central America.  Note the cost is 17,500 miles per person each way.
The above is the required mileage to/from the US, Canada & Alaska to Central America. Note the cost is 17,500 miles per person each way.

Compare this to the Hawaii Chart to/From Central America:

Just 2,500 miles more and you can fly to Hawaii from Central America.
Just 2,500 miles more and you can fly to Hawaii from Central America.

All of this will change somewhat Feb 1, but the idea remains the same; book from Central America back to LAX (my home airport), stop there for months, then continue to Hawaii.

The basic concept for this booking now turned into: LAX-LIR-LAX stop LAX-Hawaii. You’ll notice this doesn’t include a way to return home to LAX. For that I’ll be trying to use Avios, since they offer a great 12.5k option for Hawaii-LAX nonstops.

Close readers of Milenomics know that on my demand schedule is a trip to Maui sometime next year. I’ve decided to change that to Kauai after sneaking a peek at my wife’s wishlist and noticing a Bed & Breakfast in LIH on that list, but nothing in Maui. Shhhhh 😉

When Starting Searches Always Work Backward

With this LIH idea in mind, I set out first to find a flight back from LIH. I had some very specific requirements for this return LIH flight. My requirements were:

1) Be later in the year, Aug-Nov.

2) Return on a Monday, so I miss jut 1-2 days of work.

3) Be non-stop, since I’m using Avios.

4) Have corresponding availability outbound with United miles on a Thurs/Fri

Firing up for this search I chose One way, and LIH-LAX. I went month by Month in September, then October before I finally found a date that worked, November 3:LIH-LAX AA

This was indeed a nonstop–with at least 2 seats, on a Monday from LIH-LAX:

LIH-LAX Detail Crop

With this piece of information I now needed to check corresponding flights on United, LAX-LIH for dates at the end of October:


There were plenty of great options, and I’ll spare you the detailed accounting of each one, but needless to say, I had a matched pair–an outbound flight with UA miles and a return on AA (with Avios).

United to Central America and Hawaii for 42.5k UA

I did segment searches to find these flights, but when it came down to booking it I was able to do so online without feeding each segment. The search screen I used was this:

LIR_LAX UA Cropped
LAX-LIR-LAX-LIH, how confusing! Just one letter’s difference between the two destinations. I had to often double check my typing on this one.


I then clicked through each option I wanted, and the flights priced out correctly. If I had encountered issues I would have stopped and gone segment by segment in a multi-city search (LAX-IAH, IAH-LIR, LIR-SAL, SAL-LAX, LAX-HNL-LIR)

Fortunately I didn’t need to, and the flights worked out ok:

Final Pricing UA

You’ll notice that this priced at 85,000 miles for the flights, which is 10,000 more than it should be (35k + 40k). This is because the flight I ended up going with is not a nonstop LAX-LIH on United. Instead We’re booked LAX-HNL on UA and then HNL-LIH on HA. Adding a Segment on Hawaiian Airlines adds 5,000 miles to any United booking. I did this because the nonstop LAX-LIH gets us in at almost 8pm. Taking these earlier flights means an extra Sunset in LIH. Staying with the UA nonstop the whole booking could have been done for just 75k UA and 25k BA.

Booking LIH-LAX on AA with 12.5k Avios

For the AA Flight I transferred 21,000 American Express Membership Reward points to 25,000 British Airways Avios (there is currently a 20% bonus on transfers). With these 25,000 Avios, I went to and completed my booking.


AA 266 showed up in my search, with 3 available award seats (now down to 1 after my booking). I paid $5, and 25,000 Avios and my booking was complete.

Calculating Value

I calculate out value a little differently here on Milenomics, so I’ll step through that right now:

Cost for LAX-LIR flights: Lowest price option $790 per person same dates.

Cost for LAX-LIH flights: $669 in a similar 2 stop/nonstop combination.

Total Flown Miles: 10,755 @ Average Cost Per Mile of $.011 = $118.31 – Value of lost miles

Out of Pocket Costs: $53.72 Per person

Gives me a net of $1286 per person booked with 52,500 total miles per person (42,500 UA and 10,500 MR)=2.4 CPM.

Remember my average cost for these miles was $.011, which means not only did I recoup my investment of Time, Travel and Fees, but I paid myself a hefty 1.3 CPM dividend on those miles.

There’s a lot here, and it is a dense booking, so if you have questions, or would like to see something expanded let me know in the comments.

Now… how do I wrap this up and put it under the Tree? Print fake tickets? A photo in a frame… Print this post? hmm I can figure this out, but I sure could use your help with ideas.

Everything below this line is automatically inserted into this post and is not necessarily endorsed by Milenomics:

About the author

- Written by Sam Simon. All ideas are my own, but I encourage you to see my point of view and I promise I'll try to do the same. Connect with me on Twitter @Milenomics.


  1. Why didn’t you have flexible destinations? Since US to Central America and US to Caribbean cost the same amount of miles, I would think that you would have been able to go anywhere in those 2 regions that there was award space available.

    1. Brandon: Because my wife only gave me those two choices 😉 But you’re right–the pricing is the same so it could be anywhere really.

  2. Too bad you have to do an overnighter for only 3 days in Costa Rica. Unless you have been there before, you will be torn between the coast, Rincon, Arenal, and Monteverde. 🙂

    1. I have not been yet–this has been the trip that keeps getting away from us, in favor of father off places for our longer trips. I Agree– it will be short, but days off from work are precious and few. I’m hopeful that this will be a good into to the country, and force us to come back in ’15 for at least a week. Any tips? They’d be greatly appreciated.

      1. Tips: see something you cannot see at home–>that eliminates the beaches. Rincon is a bit far–>that leaves Arenal and Monteverde area. We stayed at Observatory lodge in Arenal (was great ‘cuz volcano was active at the time but would be nice anyways) and did the huge zip lines that are close by. Then we drove to Monteverde Cloud Forest and saw the animals (including the quetzal) there. Be sure to go back in the PM to Monteverde, after the crowds are gone—you’ll have the place to yourself.

        If you rent a car, like we did, ALWAYS drive just below the speed limit. Have fun!

        1. Thanks bluecat; I’m almost certain we’ll rent a car. No zip lines for us–but I’ll take the rest and start researching. Also going to put the Observatory loge on my list–it looks wonderful. Thanks again for the advice.

  3. How would you recommend starting a search if you were inflexible on date (+/- a day) but entirely flexible on an international destination? I know AA’s award map is a good start but not perfect for oneworld. Anything similar for Star?

    1. Ming: Off the top of my head I’m not coming up with any good ideas that are exactly similar to the AA Award map. Some other options: Try the flexible search as part of the Wandering Aramean’s travel tools (paying him the $15 a year for the expanded search options is a great idea as well, and gives you SMS notifications.) Read more about it here:

      To be clear, use the Star Alliance Alerts (ANA) found here and leave the destination blank. It will then churn through all possible options sometime during the day and email you a list–not instantaneous, but good enough for me.

      Otherwise Awardnexus should let you handle 3-4 searches simultaneously, so you could pick your closest hub, and search for a few possible nonstops all at once that way. Repeat as needed until you find something and then look around it to see what you can connect to from there. The first trans-pac or trans-atl flight is going to def. be the hard one to find, so if it was me I’d just focus on those until I found a good one (nonstop, right cabin), and then search for connecting flights.

  4. trying to figure out trip to Costa Rica in the beginning of December. Party of 5 adults traveling from Mia, Houston, & DC. How would I go about transferring my AA miles, MEmbership Reward miles or MIleage plus miles into avios to make travel cheaper? don’t know where to begin.

    1. Sally: I’ll suggest breaking it down into manageable pieces. Figure out which flights will work best for you from which airport. For example, from IAH you’re better off using ANA miles (22k per person). This is because IAH is a city mostly served by United, and there are non-stops from IAH to Costa Rica. MIA you’re best off using avios at only 15,000 r/t (nonstop only). From the DC area you’re probably best off using united Miles. There aren’t any nonstops from DC to SJO in the winter. For December you’ll likely have to connect in IAH, and United miles are just as good as ANA miles. Don’t forget your free stopover and one way when booking the united flight.

      There is no way to convert AA miles into Avios, and no way to convert United Mileage Plus miles into Avios either. Your Membership rewards points can convert to both ANA and Avios. Depending on how many of the 5 live in MIA and how many in IAH, if you had enough Membership Reward points you book MIA with Avios, IAH with ANA miles, and DC Area with United miles.

      Total would be 15K Avios Per person in MIA, 22k ANA per person in IAH and 35k United per person in DC.

      This all assumes you can find availability! Best of luck and let me know how you make out!

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