The only thing better than making a great springtime escape is doing it on the cheap. Start here.
Forget about the cold and plan ahead for springtime vacations using your favorite miles and points. Loyalty programs can be extremely valuable; here’s how to stretch those balances for upcoming travel.
Hurricane relief is in full swing, but it’s hard to tell at some of the island’s popular resorts. While winter is the traditional high season, the pace has been understandably slower this year, and there are some good bargains. Hip La Concha, a Renaissance Resort, is part of a popular Marriott Rewards offer where you can pay as little as $25 to upgrade to a larger room or suite on an award reservation if available (rooms cost 40,000 Marriott Rewards points per night), even without elite status. You could be in for a surprise. If you have United Premier Gold status or higher, you’re eligible for free Marriott elite status through RewardsPlus, which could mean free breakfast, faster wireless Internet, and suite upgrades. Have you linked your United and Marriott accounts?
The Courtyard Isla Verde Beach Resort, complete with its own casino, goes for 35,000 Marriott Rewards points per night; each room has an oceanview balcony, and the resort participates in a similar discounted upgrade offer on award reservations. Now more than ever, this is a destination worth supporting. Not sure how many miles you need for a flight on your preferred mileage program? Try this nifty tool from Award Ex that does the hard work for you. If you can’t make it to Puerto Rico, you can donate miles to charity organizations helping with relief.
County Clare, Ireland
The mild spring weather and a little luck of the Irish make a visit to Ireland’s western coast quite magical. From visits to the Cliffs of Moher on the edge of the Atlantic to a stay at Dromoland Castle, 15 minutes from Shannon airport, this is a fantastic family retreat. Dromoland Castle features a championship parkland golf course, full-service spa, falconry, fishing, tennis, and formal dining. It is a member of the iPrefer program of Preferred Hotels and Resorts, which offers instant room upgrades and wireless Internet when you sign up. Even better, if available, there is free early check-in for iPrefer members, which can come in handy on those early morning arrivals in Europe. If you have Choice Privileges points, you can redeem as few as 25,000 points per night for Preferred Hotels and Resorts in a valuable partnership. Choice Privileges can be transferred from credit card programs like American Express Membership Rewards.
There’s a sweet spot for finding cheap mileage tickets to Ireland via British Airways’ Avios program (a transfer partner of many credit card programs). Aer Lingus flights from Boston or New York are only 13,000 miles each way (except between March 23-April 8). You have to call British Airways or book via avios.com to find the off-peak 26,000-mile economy, round-trip award on partner Aer Lingus, but that’s a steal to get to Ireland! Don’t have Avios points? You can transfer them from Starwood Preferred Guest or credit card partners like American Express Membership Rewards.
Maui’s Ritz-Carlton Kapalua has unveiled a $30 million renovation in celebration of its 25th anniversary, and the best way to take advantage is by booking a Marriott Rewards Hotel + Air package, which bundles airline miles with seven nights at a hotel. Plus, United fliers who participate in the Marriott Rewards Plus partnership get 10 percent more miles with United via this package. Connect your Starwood and Marriott accounts so you can transfer points to Marriott to redeem for one of these packages. A little-known secret is how inexpensive redemptions to Hawaii are using Korean Air miles on partner Delta. It can be as cheap as 25,000 Korean Air miles round-trip on Delta flights from the U.S. mainland to Hawaii. First class is 45,000 miles round-trip (that’s half of what most airlines charge). Join Korean Air SKYPASS, and transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards to take advantage. Here are some suggestions to boost your mileage and point balances.
On Oahu, the largest Holiday Inn Express in North America will celebrate its first anniversary this year just blocks from Waikiki Beach. IHG Rewards Club members can redeem points for a stay, especially with the current promotion through February 28, giving members as much as a 75 percent bonus when they sign in to their account. That’s an excellent deal, especially for pricey destinations like Hawaii. Did we mention the hotel’s make-your-own-pancake station and Cinnabon pastries at the free, daily breakfast buffet?
Much of Europe is lovely in springtime, but there’s something special about the spring tulips in the Netherlands. IHG Rewards Club members can take advantage of Kimpton’s first hotel in Europe, the De Witt in Amsterdam, a great home base for exploring the tulip fields at Keukenhof, which are best seen between March and May. Take advantage of Kimpton’s free bikes to cycle around town like a local before returning for the free wine happy hour each evening. Kimpton Rewards is merging into IHG Rewards Club this spring, and a lucrative IHG Rewards Club Accelerate promotion, valid through the end of April, offers personalized bonuses with the option to earn several free nights after only a few stays. The 75 percent bonus on purchased points can help you top up your account to reach the 50,000 points-per-night needed for a stay.
Looking to redeem miles to get there? Try Award Hacker, which outlines how much it costs in miles with various programs and how you can easily transfer points to reach the threshold faster. Even better, Air France/KLM often puts award flights to Amsterdam on sale between the United States and Europe via their Flying Blue program. Don’t have Flying Blue miles? You can transfer them from American Express Membership Rewards among other programs.
Spring is the ideal time for a safari because it is the dry season and offers some of the best animal-viewing. Elewana Collection, part of the Global Hotel Alliance’s Discovery program, is one of the few safari experiences to participate in a loyalty program. Its safaris are already amenity-rich with food, drinks, and entertainment included, but having this additional membership gives you an edge. Depending upon your elite level with GHA, travelers can enjoy private sundowners, complimentary spa treatments, and bubble baths with sparkling wine as bonus perks.
Specialty travel agents can score the best deals, but be sure to pay with a credit card that rewards the most points. For example, the Chase Sapphire Reserve card dishes out three Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent on travel, which is a savvy way to maximize benefits on a pricey purchase. Alternatively, if you have a glut of credit card points, many programs like Amex Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards allow you to pay for travel directly using your points (you need to reserve the trip through the credit card’s travel department). Don’t forget that you can redeem Delta miles on Kenya Airways flights and United miles on Ethiopian flights, but both of these partners do not always appear in online award searches. Use Award Hacker to find award availability; American has great availability to Africa with alliance partner Qatar Airways (avoid redeeming miles on British Airways due to high surcharges).
Icelandair has made a name for itself due to its popular stopover program that lets fliers stay in Iceland for several nights with plenty of hotel discounts. This spring, the airline will launch new flights from several U.S. cities (Baltimore, Dallas, and Kansas City) as will its competitor WOW Air (Cleveland, Cincinnati, Detroit, and St. Louis). This means there are sure to be some airfare bargains to both Iceland and most of Europe. If you can’t find a cheap ticket, you can redeem Alaska Mileage Plan miles (45,000 miles round-trip from the United States to Europe, which is a great deal).
Plus, if you have Alaska MVP Gold status or higher, you can use Icelandair’s Saga newly inaugurated business class lounge in Reykjavík no matter what class you’re flying. Iceland can be expensive, but there are lots of ways to redeem Hilton Honors points there, including the newest hotel in the country, the Konsulat Hotel, A Curio Collection by Hilton property opening at the end of March.
United recently launched nonstop service between its Houston hub and Sydney, making it one of the few nonstop options for travel from a non–West Coast city. As when many new flights are announced, there is plenty of great award availability for redeeming miles on one of the longest flights in the world (around 17 hours). Economy class is 80,000 miles round-trip, while business class will set you back 160,000 miles round-trip. If you’re short on miles, don’t forget you can instantly transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points to United or move Marriott points to United on a scale that gets better the more you transfer. Be sure to sign up for Rewards Plus to take advantage of a member-only mileage bonus.
Land vacations are not the only catch this spring. Viking Cruises will christen its Viking Sun ship on the Bund in Shanghai, China (the first cruise ship to be christened on the Bund and the first time a Viking ocean ship will sail in China). It’s on its inaugural round-the-world sailing but will begin sailing around Europe this spring. Use American Express Rewards points to book a trip on the newest ocean ship from Viking, and if you have the Business Platinum Card from American Express OPEN, points are even more valuable (one point is equal to 1.25 cents versus one point per cent with other Amex cards).
Royal Caribbean’s newest ship, Symphony of the Seas, is making its debut sailing around the Mediterranean this spring, too. It has the tallest slide at sea, robotic bartenders, a duplex family suite with LEGO wall, and an aqua theater with high-flying trapeze artists. Bet you didn’t know that you can pay for a cruise with your United miles. MileagePlus Cruise Awards allow you to redeem United miles for cruise vacations (you can also earn bonus miles for booking a cruise through the site). Short on miles? Transfer miles to United from Chase Ultimate Rewards, and don’t forget about joining cruise loyalty programs for onboard perks.