This post highlights the three best beaches I’ve ever visited and my tips on how to get to each of them using points and miles. All of these destinations are still reasonably well-kept secrets (at least for our American readers), so go now before word gets out!
Breaking It Down:
Aitutaki, Cook Islands
Quite possibly one of the most beautiful destinations on earth, Aitutaki, is a small island in the Cook Islands archipelago surrounded by a stunning turquoise lagoon. When here, the must-do activity is to join a lagoon tour that explores the many islands that dot the lagoon, including uninhabited islands that you can have completely to yourself.
While visiting, be sure to visit One Foot Island where you can get a novelty passport stamp.
The Cook Islands are relatively easy to visit from the United States. Air New Zealand operates a non-stop service every Saturday from LAX to Rarotonga (RAR), the capital of the Cook Islands. Award seats in economy can be booked for as little as 35,000 United miles + $80 in taxes. Business class awards price at 70,000 miles, but premium cabin award availability on Air New Zealand is notoriously scarce.
I recommend using the United award tool to search for availability. See the end of this post for tips on how to top off your mileage balance if you don’t have enough right now.
Nosy Be, Madagascar
Nosy Be translates to “Big Island” in the local Malagasy language, despite the fact that it’s actually a very small island off the northern coast of Madagascar (an actually big island). Nosy Be itself is underwhelming and overdeveloped. However, it is a hub for an island chain with beaches that rival those of more famous Indian Ocean destinations such as the Seychelles and Maldives – at a fraction of the price.
When I visited the area as part of a round-the-world award ticket, I stayed at the Constance Tsarabanjina, one of my favorite properties anywhere in the world (I might be biased because I visited on my honeymoon). The Constance occupies the entire island and accommodates all guests in beachfront standalone villas with stunning views.
Besides relaxing and enjoying the beach, guests can participate in world-class diving/snorkeling, paddle boarding, kayaking, or go on excursions to nearby islands.
Despite being over 8,500 miles away from the US East Coast, Nosy Be can be reached with just one stop for many North Americans.
Unless you intend to explore more of Madagascar, I recommend flying directly into Nosy Be and avoid the hassle of transiting the capital, Antananarivo.
Ethiopian Air flies to Nosy Be via Addis Ababa from Los Angeles (ending Summer 2019), Houston (starting Summer 2019), Toronto, Washington D.C, and New York. Ethiopian has one of the better business class products to Africa, with comfortable lie-flat seats, decent service, and fantastic catering.
To book an award, I recommend transferring American Express Membership Reward points to Air Canada Aeroplan or ANA Mileage Club, and booking a business class roundtrip for 150,000 or ~104,000 miles respectively, depending on your origin point. Award consultants at Juicy Mile are available to help!
Due to its popularity with Italian travelers, Nosy Be also has direct air links to Rome and Milan on low-cost carrier Neos.
Los Roques National Park, Venezuela
Los Roques is a national marine reserve archipelago north of Venezuela and amongst the least visited places in the Caribbean. For those in the know, this “Maldives of the Caribbean” offers a virgin paradise with inviting beaches, a laid-back vibe, and pristine marine life.
Much like Nosy Be in Madagascar, the only tourists who seem to regularly visit Los Roques are Italian beach lovers. Most visitors stay on Gran Roque in boutique guesthouses or on private yachts. All of the guest houses operate on a fully inclusive basis that includes daily island hopping day trips. The excursions will include a cooler full of food and drinks (including sparkling wine!), since many of the islands have no infrastructure.
Getting to Los Roques requires transiting on a puddle-hopper flight in Caracas, which is not the safest place to visit at the moment. Many international airlines have indefinitely paused flights to Venezuela due to the currency and humanitarian crisis.
At the moment, North American visitors have two options for travel to Venezuela:
American Airline flies daily to Caracas from Miami International. Award availability is WIDE open in both economy and business. American charges 30,000 miles in economy or 57,500 miles in business. However, for an even better value, consider transferring Chase Ultimate Rewards or American Express Membership Rewards to British Airway’s Avios program to book the same flights for only 10,000 in economy or 40,000 in business.
Alternatively, Copa Airlines flies to Caracas via Panama City. To book this route, transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards to United and book business class awards for as little as 35,000 miles.
If you’re determined to visit Los Roques, I would strongly recommend working with a local travel operator who can facilitate a safe airport transit in Caracas and help with exchanging currency on the black market.
I’d love to see the situation in Venezuela resolved soon. The humanitarian crisis on the mainland is heartbreaking. I’d like to think that tourist dollars once again flowing into beautiful Los Roques can be a part of the solution.
Need more miles?
Ready to hit the beach on one of these island paradises, but don’t have enough miles? Award tickets to all three of the destinations mentioned in this post cost less than the sign up bonus for many of the most popular credit cards available today.
Earn 50,000 Ultimate Rewards with the Chase Sapphire Preferred after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. If you have a small business, it’s worth also considering the Ink Business Preferred, which is currently offering 80,000 bonus points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. Ultimate Rewards can be transferred to United Airlines or Singapore Airlines for amazing redemption on Star Alliance partner carriers.
The Platinum Card by American Express is currently offering 60,000 Membership Rewards Points after you use your card to make $5,000 in purchases in your first 3 months. Membership Rewards can be transferred to ANA or Aeroplan for redemptions on Star Alliance.
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