The perennial question regarding New Year’s Eve is: Where do you spend the big moment? For some, it is best spent at home with close friends and family. Others think it should be a big splash in an exciting locale like London or Sydney. Here are five entertaining North American spots to consider for the final countdown of 2016 and how to maximize your points and miles during your visit.
1. Charleston, S.C.
Hit the low country for its burgeoning food scene and mild, sunny days. You’ll only need a light sweater as you stroll the streets for eclectic shopping, colorful art galleries, and coffee shops galore.
Charleston has several branded hotel properties where you can redeem points close to the city center (Embassy Suites, Renaissance, and Autograph Collection among them), but the real gems of this charming southern city are the smaller inns and boutique properties.
One of the hottest newcomers to town is the Spectator Hotel, a trendy art deco option with a sleek lobby awash in art and a hip cocktail bar that draws outsiders for its tasty concoctions in a 1920s speakeasy setting. Oversized guest rooms boast amenities like locally sourced minibars, Nespresso machines, complimentary breakfast, and large marble baths with C.O. Bigelow toiletries. Ask your personal butler for the best recommendation on where to ring in the new year.
Although you can’t redeem points and miles for a stay here, you can definitely earn them. Book your stay through outlets like PointsHound.com or Rocketmiles.com to earn miles with dozens of airlines based upon the room rate (something that most travelers overlook when booking at smaller hotels).
2. Salt Lake City, Utah
Whether you want to hit the slopes or curl up by the fire with a cocktail in hand, Salt Lake City, a major Delta hub (redeem those SkyMiles!) has it all. Nearby Park City is the celebrated ski resort boasting everything from the elegant Waldorf Astoria Park City (at which you can redeem 80,000 HHonors points per night) to the stylish and modern DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Park City - The Yarrow (50,000 HHonors points per night), which debuted last year following a multimillion-dollar transformation.
Over at Snowbird, a major renovation project has transformed the slopeside Cliff Lodge and Spa into a contemporary resort. Cliff Spa offers a range of massage treatments plus saunas, a pool, and a whirlpool facing the peaks. Take in the panoramic fine dining at The Aerie and the famous aerial tram that rises to 11,000 feet above sea level. Cliff Lodge and Spa participates in PointsHound and Rocketmiles earning programs; don’t book a night here without taking advantage.
If you want more of a city vibe, Salt Lake City’s downtown is less than a 30-minute drive from main ski areas. Downtown brands like Sheraton (7,000 Starwood points per night) and Marriott (30,000 Marriott points per night) are ideal for families needing extra space. Make sure to check out EVE Winter Fest, the downtown festival that takes place over New Year’s Eve (there’s even a mirror ball countdown). Aside from skiing and festival-going, take advantage of your prime location: Taste chocolate and cheese at Caputo’s Market (Utah has a growing reputation for bean-to-bar chocolate producers) and sample the avocado toast and fresh brews at Salt Lake’s popular small-batch roaster Publik. The city’s culinary scene is growing so fast, you might mistake it for Portland, Oregon.
JetBlue has launched a new flight from Newark to this island hot spot, adding to the slew of other nonstop routes that airlines offer from the United States (including JetBlue service from Fort Lauderdale and New York JFK). As part of the recent launch, JetBlue has put a lot of paid and award seats on sale. (Tip: One great way to rack up more TrueBlue points is to shop via the new JetBlue Amazon partnership link to earn three points per dollar spent.)
Barbados native Rihanna is often seen at home for the holidays, but you can hobnob with many A-listers on the island. Sandy Lane, a member of The Leading Hotels of the World, is one such spot. Members of its Leaders Club get automatic bonuses like room upgrades, free breakfast, and welcome gifts. The program has a $150 joining fee, but the benefits are automatic so travelers need not wait to accrue a certain number of points to attain elite status.
4. Honolulu, Hawaii
One of the most popular frequent flier redemptions according to most airlines is a ticket to Hawaii. If you begin to book flights nine months out, there may be few award seats to spare. But flights between now and the end of the year may have some dates where bookings are low and airlines are willing to put seats up for redemption. There are some great tips to help you find award seats as you get closer to departure, which could be helpful for a last-minute trip.
Once you’re there, consider bunking at famed The Royal Hawaiian, which will ring in 2017 with a posh gala on New Year’s Eve. The Pink Party will feature celebrity chef food stations and open drinks from the Mai Tai bar. A night at The Royal Hawaiian (a Luxury Collection property) goes for only 20,000 Starwood points per night. An additional option is to book one of its Starwood neighbors like the Sheraton Waikiki (where another New Year’s fiesta will be taking place), Sheraton Princess Kaiulani, and Moana Surfrider, a Westin Resort & Spa (all of which are available for a similar number of Starwood points).
If you prefer to be further down Waikiki Beach, consider the Waikiki Beach Marriott Resort & Spa, which goes for 40,000 Marriott points per night. Remember, all of these properties are now part of the Marriott portfolio, and you can transfer points between brands. This means, however, that there is some arithmetic involved in making hotel decisions. For example, a room at Marriott may go for 40,000 points, but that is equal to 13,334 Starwood points (if you transfer them). A stay at the Royal Hawaiian goes for 20,000 Starwood points, but that’s 60,000 Marriott points after the transfer. Just make sure you spend your points wisely—you may have more point value than you realize.
5. Los Cabos, Mexico
Why not book a room at the newest upscale property in paradise? You can’t use points or miles at the Towers at Pacifica, but like other properties mentioned above, it’s possible to book a room via mileage-earning websites like PointsHound or credit card travel services. For the latter, special perks are often thrown into the bookings with services like American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts —late checkout, a fourth night free, or on-site dining or spa credits, for example.
The Towers at Pacifica opens two weeks before New Year’s Eve and is part of the larger Pueblo Bonito development that encompasses everything from fractional ownership villas and condominiums to traditional hotel accommodations. All-inclusive food and beverage packages are a highlight, but the real draw is the Jack Nicklaus–designed golf course at Quivira Golf Club that hugs the coastline from its dramatic perch.
It’s easy to get to Cabo with miles. You can use Delta SkyMiles on Delta’s own flights or those of partners Aeromexico and Alaska. American AAdvantage miles work on its own flights or those of partner Alaska. United miles can be used on its own flights or those of partner Air Canada. Keep in mind that airline websites may not make every option on partners available, so it can pay to pick up the phone and call the airline.
Can’t find a mileage award to your chosen destination? Don’t forget about credit card points that can be used to redeem for flights without any need to check for award space. Chase Ultimate Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards, Citi ThankYou points (redeem for American flights for maximum benefit), and Barclaycard Arrival Miles are all value-packed options. These points can also be used to redeem for hotels, car rentals, or even vacation experiences.
No matter where you choose to spend New Year’s Eve, it could pay off to choose a restaurant that participates in an airline’s dining rewards program. If you’re splurging on a fancy dinner and champagne, you might as well score tons of miles for it.