My Week in Points: The Atlantic Island Hopper

Azores, Madeira, Canary Islands, Cabo Verde. This arc of Atlantic islands are little-known to US travelers. To European travelers they are a quick getaway for mountainous interiors, sandy if chilly beaches, and traditional European and colonial West African culture.

There are many European budget and charter airlines serving a number of these islands. Points options are a bit more limited. Azores and Madeira are part of Portugal, while independent Cabo Verde retains close ties, so TAP Portugal of Star Alliance is the prime airline. The Canaries are part of Spain, served by OneWorld’s Iberia and local regional airline Binter Canarias. I tried and tried, and failed, to redeem Iberia Avios for Binter.

My trip ended up:

  1. New York – Madrid – Las Palmas, Grand Canary on Iberia (revenue ticket, tied to my business trip)
  2. Las Palmas – Praia, Cabo Verde on Binter (revenue ticket)
  3. Praia – Madeira (via Lisbon) – Barcelona (via Oporto) on a United award

#3 is the one to focus on. Drew at Travel is Free has documented the potential for numerous hoppers through United’s generous routing rules.

I only flirted with maximizing the hopper as I only had the weekend and needed to be in Barcelona for business.

Praia (Africa) to Madeira (Europe) prices 30,000 miles one-way on TAP. Adding in my sub-24 hour connection in Madeira and continuing to Barcelona keeps it at 30,000.

I was going to book Madeira to Casablanca (via Lisbon), which by returning to Africa drops the ticket price to 17,500 miles. Since that would connect in Lisbon I (or you) could get off in Lisbon and save the miles. I would have used Avios on Iberia or a cheap revenue ticket on Air Europa to get from Lisbon to Barcelona were it not for packed flights due to Mobile World Congress.

If I had extra days I would have kept rolling to the Azores, though it is harder by limited flight schedules to stay under 24 hours other than immediately turning around on the plane you came in on.

Repeatedly routing through Lisbon sometimes messes up the pricing, so the Madeira-Oporto flight can be useful.

Adding in other United partners like Lufthansa and Aer Lingus seem to always break things.

There is a lot of potential to exploit here for rapid trips with short stops, some ideas:

  • Europe to Europe via Africa
  • Africa to Africa via Europe (TAP flies throughout Africa all the way down to Johannesburg)
  • Island hopper of Azores (multiple islands served, PDL, TER, HOR, PIX), Madeira (FNC), Cabo Verde (two islands, RAI and SID, served). Starting from the US, a revenue ticket on SATA from Boston to the Azores can kick off the trip.

The downside is that flying TAP is grim. Economy on the A320 is brutal. Very tight and filled with people who like to recline. Connecting in Lisbon around 6-7 am when all the flights from the former colonies arrive is chaos.

I am exhausted and my $35 a night hotel’s internet is too slow for uploading screenshots, so I’ll leave it there.

Drew, step it up and show us how to take this all the way!

Sorry, no recap of the week in miles and points. Haven’t read a thing.

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  • Just for the record, Tap does not fly to JNB, they fly to Maputo, in Mozambique.

    I think a Cape Verde to Sao Tome and then onwards to somewhere like South Africa might be in order 🙂

  • Rapid Travel Chai

    @Naked ‘Round the World – thanks for the correction, was working on a slow connection so only pulled up the Wikipedia TAP destinations page and overlooked the big “Terminated” by JNB. It would be nice to cross off Sao Tome. And sometime when I put my mind to it, to get an Angola visa.

  • I go to Madeira all the time! Oh you mean Madeira, PORTUGAL… I thought we were talking about Madeira, OHIO… 🙂

  • Rapid Travel Chai

    @Points with a Crew – someday…for now I can only dream.