Although summer is already in full swing, planning your vacation might still be on the to-do list. Fear not, foot-draggers: We’re here to help. From Peru to Puerto Rico, Bologna to Beirut, you can still put those well-deserved miles and points to work and resuscitate summer with an exciting international adventure or a quick trip closer to home.
Skip the summer crowds in Rome and Venice and head to Tuscany and Emilia-Romagna, instead. You can still find award space using miles for American Airlines’ new, nonstop flights between Philadelphia and Bologna. Pro tip: Use American’s mobile app instead of its website; it often provides more (and cheaper) options.
The university town of Bologna will wow you with its long porticoes and archways, shops, and cafés. The region is most famous for its cuisine—this is the home of famous dishes like tagliatelle al ragu, or what we call spaghetti Bolognese, and Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, after all. Foodie amusement park FICO Eataly World is a popular stop featuring dozens of restaurants, bars, culinary classes, and tasting events. Don’t forget to charge meals to a foreign exchange fee-free card that will earn you bonus points on dining, including Citi Prestige, which offers five points per dollar, and Chase Sapphire Reserve, which offers three points per dollar, for dining charges.
Rent a car for a do-it-yourself Italian road trip, and examine your credit card because it may have included rental insurance benefits that would make getting some wheels that much more affordable. If you decide to head to Tuscany (and why wouldn’t you?), pick a home base like the Renaissance Tuscany Il Ciocco Resort & Spa in Barga, which you can book with 25,000 Marriott Bonvoy points. Don’t forget that you can also pay with a combination of cash and points—using about 12,000 points will score you a night for around 100 euros (or US$114). From here, you’re within a short drive from day-trip hot spots like Lucca, Florence, and Cinque Terre. Return each evening for cocktails by the pool overlooking the Tuscan hillside.
Dip just below the equator to visit this magical country where you can spend a few days in Lima exploring the old town and the seaside Miraflores district. Within a few blocks of each other in the blossoming Miraflores neighborhood, there are four modern Marriott Bonvoy properties: the brand-new Aloft Lima Miraflores (with rooms starting at 22,500 points), the AC Hotel Lima Miraflores (with rooms starting at 17,500 points), the Four Points by Sheraton Miraflores (with rooms starting at 17,500 points, and the JW Marriott Hotel Lima (with rooms starting at 35,000 points).
Use 4,500 British Airways Avios points (what British Airways calls its frequent flier miles) for a cheap ticket to Cusco. The Avios program is unique in that it charges points based on the distance flown—4,500 points can score you a 650-mile flight, making it one of the best mileage awards on the market. These points can also be easily transferred from credit card programs like American Express Membership Rewards or Chase Ultimate Rewards to score a cheap ticket.
Once in Cusco, take a day to get acclimated to the higher altitude in this charming Peruvian Andes city. Luxury hotels like the JW Marriott El Convento Cusco, housed in a historic convent, provide helpful remedies like coca leaf tea and oxygen to help (rooms start at 35,000 Marriott Bonvoy points per night). Make your next home base the Sacred Valley at Tambo del Inka, a Luxury Collection property, which also goes for 35,000 Bonvoy points per night. Save your cash for a luxury train ride to Machu Picchu.
New rules to curb overtourism in Machu Picchu may convince some to stay closer to the coast and head for the famous Nazca Lines. Just a few hours south of Lima is Hotel Paracas, A Luxury Collection Resort that is close to the famous ancient sand drawings. For only 35,000 Bonvoy points, it offers another way to redeem for maximum value near a world-famous landmark.
The Mediterranean coastline offers a lot of mesmerizing beauty, but this underexplored destination for Americans deserves a closer look. A longtime favorite of Europeans, its glittery beaches and rapidly changing skyline sit beneath snow-capped mountains lined with the country’s famous cedar trees.
A points-redemption favorite is historic Phoenicia Beirut, part of InterContinental Hotels, where travelers can redeem ocean-facing rooms for 30,000 IHG Rewards Club points. Or head for the hills for a cooler summer breeze and incredible views of the city and bay below. A room at Grand Hills, A Luxury Collection Resort & Spa, in Broumana goes for 35,000 Marriott Bonvoy points per night. Looking to splurge? Guinness Book of World Records asserts that the largest hotel suite in the world is here, with seven floors of opulence, pools, and lavish living areas housed in a private mansion. You can’t use points to book it, but you can certainly earn points for staying in it.
Flights to Mexico are plentiful, which means it is ideal for a weekend getaway. West Coasters looking for a quick trip down to the Pacific Coast of Mexico can use points they’ve accumulated at Choice Hotels (through the Choice Privileges loyalty program) at more upscale Preferred Hotels & Resorts properties like the adults-only Grand Fiesta Americana Puerto Vallarta All-Inclusive. This is thanks to a unique partnership between Choice Privileges and Preferred Hotels & Resorts. The redemption options via Choice usually start at 25,000 points, making it a prized, yet hidden, bargain.
Along the Mexican Riviera, Mayakoba is away from the bustle of Cancun and Cozumel and delivers a more relaxed experience at properties like Andaz Mayakoba. For 25,000 World of Hyatt points per night, you can access crystalline waters and a slice of paradise. World of Hyatt loyalty members and Hyatt cobranded credit card members can slash 10 percent off the cost of rooms (booked with points) for stays between July 1 and September 2 (register before July 15).
Don’t have enough points? Make sure to link your World of Hyatt and American AAdvantage accounts because you can take advantage of free reciprocal elite status and bonus miles and points earnings for each flight and hotel stay.
The newly reopened Caribe Hilton in Puerto Rico is ready to show off its $150 million renovation following Hurricane Maria. For 50,000 Hilton Honors points per night, you can enjoy a stay in paradise while supporting an island’s tourism industry eager for a big comeback. If you are short on points, Hilton Honors lets you pool points among you and 10 additional members.
Follow your preferred airlines on social media to spot flash sales for super-cheap mileage redemptions on domestic trips. Often, hub cities like Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Seattle can be booked with as few as 5,000 miles. Hotels offer similar sales like the quarterly IHG Rewards Club PointBreaks sale, which offers hotel nights for as low as 5,000 points.
World of Hyatt redemptions at any Miraval Resort around the country qualify for a 50 percent rebate on points as long as you check out by August 31. And if you pay with cash, you’ll earn double points this summer.
Even if you stay home, put your points to good use through Hilton Honors’ Lawn Days Summer Concert Series; its headline concerts cost as little as 10,000 points via its “Experiences” platform. More than two dozen cities are on the hot-ticket list for performers like Brad Paisley, Mary J. Blige, and Rascal Flatts, among others.
Marriott Bonvoy Moments has a similar platform where you can redeem points for everything from sailing festivals to Mercedes driving experiences.