Whether you’re trying to escape the the winter cold or simply yearning for that next big vacation, consider using miles and points to shave big bucks off the cost of your next trip. Even if you can’t get to the most popular Hawaiian resort or Caribbean paradise, there are some great alternatives that you can book with airline or hotel loyalty programs.
See the terra-cotta warriors in Xi’an, China
Hainan Airlines has announced a new nonstop flight from Los Angeles to Xi’an, China (home of the world-famous Terra-Cotta Army), with round-trip fares often under $500. Alaska Mileage Plan offers some great mileage-earning and redemption opportunities with Hainan Airlines—and the best part is that you can use those same Alaska miles on American Airlines flights from other cities to reach the LAX gateway.
Once there, stay at the brand-new Grand Hyatt Xi’an for 12,000 points per night. If you’re not a World of Hyatt regular, you can always transfer points from credit card partners like Chase Ultimate Rewards. For elite members, the hotel has a glamorous club level with an outdoor deck and a world-class spa. There’s also a Hyatt Regency in town for 8,000 points per night with an amenity-packed club level of its own. Another little-known benefit is that you can redeem more World of Hyatt points for a room upgrade to the club level.
Head to the world’s tallest champagne and whiskey bars
Consider using credit card reward points for maximum value in cities like Bangkok, where low hotel rates make it more valuable to book travel with points through credit card portals than using hotel program points. Cards like Chase Sapphire Reserve, which can be redeemed for 1.5 cents per point, or Chase Sapphire Preferred, which offers 1.25 cents per point (versus other Chase cards, which value each point at a penny), mean redeeming points as cash for a hotel night is far more valuable.
Use those hard-earned points at unique properties where being a guest gets you preferred access to attractions. At The Dome at Lebua, a self-proclaimed “vertical destination” atop Lebua at State Tower, guests get first dibs at reservations atop Bangkok’s tallest building. Propose a toast at the world’s highest champagne and whiskey bars or enjoy caviar at the city’s first vodka and caviar bar. Views from this vantage point are designed for the best selfies, especially the outdoor terraces of Sirocco and Sky Bar, suspended 820 feet in the air. The newly opened Chef’s Table, the first of its kind in Thailand, features food that is more a work of art than a meal. The table is crafted from marble and an architectural marvel, and it allows guests to interact with the three-Michelin-starred chef preparing inventive French cuisine. And don’t forget to pay with a credit card that earns bonus points, like the Chase Sapphire Reserve that gets you three points per dollar spent on dining. Frolic with monkeys on Monkey Mountain
With Singapore Airlines’s new ultra-long-haul flight between Newark and Singapore, one-stop connections to places like Bangkok and Danang are much easier to swallow. Redeem award flights using United miles on Singapore Airlines (or any other Star Alliance partner like Asiana and Eva Air), or transfer points from credit card partners to Singapore’s mileage program.
Once there, the InterContinental Danang Sun Peninsula Resort is a bucket list place for many travelers thanks to its sprawling hillside location along Monkey Mountain. The adorable creatures hop through the jungle as guests wade through private infinity pools, splash along the private shoreline, and dine on fragrant Vietnamese cuisine. For 70,000 points per night (easily transferable from many credit cards), you could be strolling the ancient village streets of Hoi An in no time. Other unique ways to rack up IHG Rewards Club points is by booking car transfers through GroundLink or signing up for the latest IHG Rewards Club Free Nights Faster challenge.
Take the whole family to London
Why overspend on connecting rooms when you can book one of London’s newest hotels, the Residence Inn by Marriott London Kensington, instead? With its multi-bedroom suites, it’s easy to save money (and Marriott Bonvoy points). A one-bedroom suite with living room sofa bed and kitchenette goes for 35,000 points per night, which typically costs more than $200 per night here and much more at London hotels.
Getting there on miles is easier than before, too. Delta recently had a flash sale with heavily discounted flights on miles, and United has a new saver availability calendar that can help you find the lowest-priced award flights more easily. In addition to newly launched Web Specials that can discount economy-class flights throughout the year, American has a special off-peak award chart to Europe for travel between January 10 and March 14, bringing round-trip award flights to London down to 45,000 miles round-trip (15,000 thousand miles less than usual).
Don’t forget new flights added to the timetable this year, including British Airways’s nonstops to London from Charleston, South Carolina, and Pittsburgh. One caveat: If you redeem American miles on those flights, you will face some pretty hefty taxes imposed by British Airways.
Eat your way across Copenhagen’s canals
Food lovers are increasingly flocking to the Danish capital for a coveted reservation at Noma or Geranium (advanced planning is a must), but the simple open-faced sandwiches and to-die-for pastries at local bakeries and cafés that are worth a trip, too. You’ll want to save your kroner for dining, which is why using points at Copenhagen hotels is smart.
The newly expanded Nimb Hotel, a member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World, has finalized its participation in the new World of Hyatt partnership, so you can redeem points for a stay at this magical hotel. Its adjacent food hall is a must-visit spot, and all guests are treated to free access to the Tivoli Gardens amusement park when it’s open. Room rates can start at around $500 in spring and summer, making this a great find with points.
Choice Hotels’s Choice Privileges program can be a great deal across Scandinavia, too. Lock in free nights for as few as 20,000 points, which can be transferred from credit card programs or airlines fairly easily. Stock up on points via hefty promotions like double points on all stays until February 15. A lesser-known benefit of Choice Privileges is the ability to redeem points at Preferred Hotels and Resorts hotels, like the Hotel Skt Petri in Copenhagen.
Use miles for a cruise
Instead of paying for a trip around Europe, why not hop aboard a river cruise like the new Avalon Envision, which sets sail along the Danube for the first time this year? With two full decks of Panorama Suites and wall-to-wall windows, travelers will find cabins 30 percent larger than the industry standard, plus window-facing beds with a view.
Many travelers may not realize that they can use airline miles for a cruise. United Cruises and American Cruises allow you to redeem your miles for sailings (or earn plenty of miles if you still want to pay). This is not like redeeming miles through an airline website. Instead, travelers are routed through a full-service travel agency that specializes in cruise trips with access to special deals and discounts, including potential cabin upgrades and onboard credits.
Watch for airline flash deals using miles
American, Delta, and United now offer flash deals through social media channels and on their websites for as few as 5,000 miles. American’s Economy Web Specials are not specifically listed online, but if you search for a particular city pair, a deal will pop up if you are logged into your AAdvantage account. If you hold one of American’s cobranded credit cards, you can score mileage discounts each quarter on a variety of routes. Be sure to check the list to make sure your city is featured.
Delta has a dedicated page of mileage deals available for everyone, while United has its own nifty web function that shows which routes are most likely to have “saver” level seats from different cities. That means no matter where you want to go this spring, there’s likely a great deal waiting for you.