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3 Great Last-Minute Fall Destinations for Award Travel

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As the temperatures get cooler, you’ll find plenty of relative steals for last-minute award travel. TPG Contributor Jason Steele walks you through some of the best destinations for autumn jaunts, both abroad and within the US.

Some of the most frequently cited travel advice is to avoid peak seasons like the summer or the holidays. For award travelers, one of the best times for such off-peak travel is right now — especially to destinations where award seats and hotel nights are still available.

Today, allow me to share three of my favorite last-minute fall destinations, and show you some examples of great award availability that you can take advantage of today.

Park Hyatt Tokyo -
Japan’s capital city, as seen from the Park Hyatt Tokyo.


I just returned from my first trip to Japan and I was totally impressed by the beauty of the country, the depth of its culture and the hospitality of the people I met there. In fact, Japan is a bit of a hotspot for TPG staff, with our Chief Operating Officer Leigh Rowan and Editor-in-Chief Zach Honig both taking recent trips. (And our regular contributor Richard Kerr is currently based in the country.)

While Japan may be known for its steamy summers and blustery winters, visitors in the fall are likely to enjoy the nearly perfect, mild weather that I did, with daytime highs in the 70s and mostly clear skies.

There’s plenty of award space to Japan in both economy and premium cabins on United this fall.

Currently, there’s plenty of last-minute award availability to Japan, especially with the United MileagePlus program. United miles are especially easy to earn, not just by flying United or using the United MileagePlus Explorer Card, but also from transferring Chase Ultimate Rewards points. Round-trip economy awards start at 70,000 miles, while round-trip business awards go for 135,000 miles and up.

Chase Sapphire Preferred cardholders earn double points for dining and travel expenses, while Chase Ink Plus Business Card holders receive 5x points for office supplies and telecommunications services. Points earned from these two cards (among others) transfer instantly to your MileagePlus account. For more information on how to transfer UR points to United, read Nick Ewen’s post on the subject.

To learn more about booking an award flight to the Land of the Rising Sun, see Eric Rosen’s post on How to Use Airline Miles for Award Travel to Tokyo and my post on Best Mileage Transfer Partners For Awards To Japan.

Mount Fuji looks spectacular in the fall.
Mount Fuji looks spectacular in the fall.

When it comes to hotel awards, Japan is also an ideal destination, with numerous opportunities to use points for free nights. In particular, I found that IHG Hotels offers numerous Intercontinental and Crowne Plaza properties in major cities throughout the country. On my recent trip, I was able to use IHG Rewards Club points to stay at the Intercontinental Strings ANA hotel in Tokyo (50,000 points per night), the Crowne Plaza in Osaka (25,000 points per night) and the Crowne Plaza Hiroshima (30,000 points per night). I also used the IHG Rewards Club Concierge to book tours in those three cities using points. You can earn points with the IHG Rewards Club Select Credit Card, which counts Chase Ultimate Rewards among its transfer partners.

Of course, there are plenty of options outside the IHG brand, as well. In the capital city, options from other programs include the TPG staff favorite Park Hyatt Tokyo (30,000 Gold Passport points a night), the Andaz Tokyo Toranomon Hills (25,000 points per night), the Westin Tokyo (12,000 Starpoints per night), the Sheraton Miyako Hotel (10,000 Starpoints per night), the Hilton Tokyo Hotel (50,000 HHonors points per night) and the Conrad Tokyo (80,000 HHonors points per night).

Grand County, Colorado

Grand Lake is one of the most beautiful places in Colorado.
I found Grand Lake to be one of the most beautiful places in Colorado. This photo was taken from the historic Grand Lake Lodge.

You might be familiar with the other regions of the Colorado Rocky Mountains (where you’ll find the big-name ski resorts), yet Grand County, home to the Winter Park Resort, really stands out as a hidden gem — especially for fall travel. With just a two-hour drive from Denver, you can enjoy the high peaks of Colorado when the leaves are changing and the crowds are thin, and you just might see the first snowfall. This is a perfect time to take a horseback ride, view the native elk bugling during mating season or even spot a moose on the outskirts of Rocky Mountain National Park. And then there’s the town of Grand Lake and it’s namesake, the largest natural body of water in Colorado. Think of it as a cross between the Old West and Lake Como in Italy.

Award availability from New York (EWR or LGA) to DEN in late fall.

Getting there with miles this fall is easy, as you can fly into Denver International Airport, which is a major hub for United, Southwest and Frontier. These carriers have plenty of award availability in the fall, and redemptions are pretty easy to come by with other programs as well.

When it comes to paying for lodging with points and miles, your options are a little more scarce. In Fraser, options include the Holiday Inn Express in Fraser and the Best Western Alpenglo Lodge, both bookable for 20,000 IHG Rewards Club points per night. Best Western is an American Express Membership Rewards transfer partner, but only through the end of the year. But since fall is an off-peak time, lodging costs are lower than they during ski season, and this is a great opportunity to use miles from your Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard or Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card.

Charleston, South Carolina

Charleston has been in the news lately due to the freakish amounts of rain it received during a passing hurricane. Outside of that exceptional event, though, fall is actually the driest time of the year (based on seasonal averages), and the city experiences an average high of 77 degrees Fahrenheit in October. Charleston is well known for its historic French Quarter, and the Washington Post found it to be one of America’s best food cities.

From an award travel perspective, Charleston is pretty accessible. While it isn’t a major hub for any airline, the airport is served by all major carriers from most of their hub cities, with even Alaska Airlines offering flights from Seattle as of this November.

Check out the plentiful AA award availability for two people in October and November.

As you can see, there’s still plenty of saver-level award space on American to Charleston this fall, with one-way flights starting at 12,500 AAdvantage miles.

From a hotel standpoint, there are properties offered in the historic downtown from all the major chains including:

Bottom Line

Even if you can only get away for a long weekend, planning a fall trip is a great way to take advantage of off-peak redemption rates and put your miles and points to use. After all, we never know what the future holds when it comes to award programs and the value of their currencies, so it’s always a good idea to put your rewards to use if you have a trip in mind.

Hopefully these three destinations will help inspire you to find a spectacular fall getaway. If you’re looking for more ideas a bit further afield, check out Richard Kerr’s post on European Destinations with the Best Award Availability.

Have you booked any fall award travel? Feel free to share your plans, and tips, in the comments!

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