When most people think of the Bahamas (assuming they ever think about the Bahamas) they likely think of Nassau and Freeport, 2 tourist-addled enclaves often overrun with sunburned waddlers vomited off the decks of the megaships that call on those ports.
But for people like me who prefer a quieter, more laid back experience, the so-called Out Islands of the Bahamas have lots to offer. My wife and I are planning a short trip to Harbour Island (Rock House, in case you care) and I’ve learned a couple of things that I thought I’d share for anyone considering a trip to the non-Nassau, non-Freeport Bahamas.
– We’re leaving from Ft. Lauderdale, but you basically have 3 departure options if you want to get to any of the Out Islands:
From Ft. Lauderdale, United (via Silver Airways, which some of you may remember from when it was called Gulfstream International Airlines) flies to these destinations: Treasure Cay, Marsh Harbour (Abaco), North Eleuthera (Harbour Island), Governors Harbour (Eleuthera), Cat Island, Bimini and George Town (Exuma). If you’re of a certain age (ie, mine) when you hear “Bimini” you probably think of Gary Hart.
From Miami, American Airlines flies to Marsh Harbour (Abaco), North Eleuthera (Harbour Island), and George Town (Exuma).
From Nassau, you can fly to pretty much any island you want via BahamasAir or a number of smaller carriers. HOWEVER, it is much, much easier to transfer at Miami or Ft. Lauderdale than to deal with transferring at Nassau.
– United Airlines charges 35,000 miles round trip for an award ticket to the Bahamas from Ft. Lauderdale, which you may remember from the classic OTR post looking at the worst mileage awards (Ft Lauderdale to Bimini is 60 miles each way and will cost 35,000 miles round trip). Our ticket to North Eleuthera costs $350. I hate to pay for airfare since I’m sitting on a bunch of miles. Rather than use United miles, I’m using Chase Ultimate Rewards to buy the ticket — remember that you get a 25% bonus when you use UR points to pay for travel. So the $350 ticket is costing me 28,000 Ultimate Rewards points. Is that the most optimized use of those points? No. But I look at it this way: I rarely stay at chain hotels on vacation, so I won’t be transferring them there. There are better uses of those points, especially if I transfer to Avios to use for short-haul flights. But you know what? I don’t want to spend the cash. Don’t let anyone tell you that a using miles is ever a bad idea. It’s your money – if you don’t want to spend the cash, use the miles. You deserve it.
If you did decide to use United miles, remember that you can add on a stopover and a later flight within the US for no extra charge. So you can fly Ft Lauderdale to the Bahamas, then back to Ft Lauderdale; then do a stopover for as long as you want (up to a year) and then do Ft Lauderdale to anywhere in the lower 48 + Alaska. You can tack on Hawaii for just 2,500 more miles. If you want to use United miles for the short Bahamas hop, DEFINITELY add on another leg after the stopover in Ft Lauderdale (check out my post about this trick).
– American Airlines is a much better option since you can use 9,000 Avios points for a roundtrip between Miami and the Bahamas. It’s a great use of those Avios points. Unfortunately, their availability isn’t as good as United.
Finally, it’s worth considering a charter flight. For many of us, this seems like a financially ridiculous decision. But it turns out, it’s not. Charter airline Watermakers Air charges $560 or so per person ROUND TRIP for a charter from Ft Lauderdale (Executive Airport, not FLL) to Andros (two great resorts are there – Tiamo and Kamalame Cay Resort). If you’re heading to the Bahamas from South Florida, it’s worth looking into the charter — especially for a short trip, since you can leave early in the morning rather than waiting for the midday flights typically offered by United and American.