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It’s that time of year again — when the weather turns cold, the mountains get their first snowfall and people start planning their next ski or snowboarding trip. TPG Senior Points & Miles Correspondent Jason Steele shares his tips for booking award travel to the slopes.
For those hoping to use points and miles for a trip to the mountains, award space may already be pretty tight, especially on flights to smaller airports and at the best hotels. So in today’s post, I’ll provide an update to last year’s guide on Saving on Family Ski Trips so that you can jump-start your ski vacation plans for this season.
The first step for many people planning a ski trip is securing airline tickets to the mountains. Here, there are two strains of thought. The first is to fly into a small airport that’s closest to the ski area you want to visit, such as Aspen, Vail, Steamboat or Montrose/Telluride. This can be very convenient when it all works out well, but it has several disadvantages. First, you’re unlikely to get a nonstop flight unless you are fortunate enough to live in one of a handful of cities with direct service. Next, your flights will be very dependent on unpredictable mountain weather, along with the operation of less-reliable regional airline partners in most cases. Finally, award seats on these flights may be very scarce, especially during the peak ski season.
The other option is to fly into a major airport a little farther away from the ski areas, such as Denver, Albuquerque, Reno or Salt Lake City. The advantages of this strategy are flying on far more reliable mainline service and vastly superior award availability. On the downside, you will have more expensive ground transportation costs, whether you choose to rent a car or take a shuttle bus.
Here are some of the best hotels near ski areas, all of which can be booked with points:
You can earn Hilton Honors points with the Citi Hilton HHonors Visa Signature Card and the Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve Card, or with the Hilton Honors Card from American Express and Hilton Honors Surpass Card from American Express. The Hilton Honors program is also a Citi ThankYou Rewards transfer partner.
- DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Breckenridge, Colorado — Category 7; 30,000 – 60,000 points
- Hampton Inn & Suites Steamboat Springs, Colorado — Category 5; 30,000 – 40,000 points
- Hampton Inn & Suites Park City, Utah — Category 5; 30,000 to 40,000 points
- Waldorf Astoria Park City, Utah — Category 9; 50,000 – 80,000 points
- DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Park City – The Yarrow, Utah — Category 6; 30,000 – 50,000 points
Hyatt Gold Passport
You can earn World of Hyatt points with the Hyatt Credit Card from Chase. This program is a transfer partner of the Chase Ultimate Rewards program when you use the Ink Plus Business Card or Chase Sapphire Preferred.
- Park Hyatt Beaver Creek, Colorado — Category 7; 30,000 Hyatt points
- Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe Resort, Nevada — Category 5; 20,000 points
- Hyatt Escala Lodge at Park City, Utah — Category 4; 15,000 points
Hyatt Vacation Clubs
These properties cost 12,000 points per night for a studio, 15,000 for a one bedroom, 23,000 for a two bedroom and 30,000 for a three bedroom. This can be a great deal, but unlike with other Hyatt properties, awards are capacity-controlled and may not be available during the peak season.
- Hyatt Grand Aspen – A Hyatt Residence Club
- Hyatt Mountain Lodge – A Hyatt Residence in Aspen
- Hyatt Main Street Station – A Hyatt Residence in Breckenridge
- The Residences at Park Hyatt Beaver Creek – Colorado
- Northstar Lodge – Truckee, California (Lake Tahoe area)
IHG Club Rewards
You can earn points with the IHG Rewards Club Select Credit Card from Chase, and IHG is also a transfer partner of the Chase Ultimate Rewards program when you use cards like the Ink Plus and Sapphire Preferred.
- Holiday Inn Express Snowmass Village, Colorado — Category 3; 20,000 points
- Holiday Inn Express in Fraser, Colorado — Category 3; 20,000 points
- Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites, Park City, Utah — Category 3; 20,000 points
You can earn Starpoints with the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express, along with the business version of the card, the Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Credit Card from American Express
Three Starwood hotels near ski areas actually moved down in categories in the past year, meaning they now require fewer points per night. The Sheraton Mountain Vista Villas, Avon / Vail Valley Colorado went from Category 5 to 4, the Sheraton Steamboat Resort Villas Colorado went from Category 7 to 6 and the The Westin Riverfront Mountain Villas, Beaver Creek Mountain Colorado went from Category 6 to 5.
- Sheraton Mountain Vista Villas, Avon / Vail Valley, Colorado — Category 4; 10,000 points
- The Westin Riverfront Resort & Spa at Beaver Creek Mountain, Colorado — Category 5; 12,000 – 16,000 points
- The St. Regis Aspen Resort, Colorado — Category 7; 30,000 – 35,000 points
- Sheraton Steamboat Resort, Colorado — Category 5; 12,000 – 16,000 points
- Westin Riverfront Mountain Villas, Colorado – Category 5; 12,000 – 16,000 points
- The Westin Snowmass Resort, Colorado — Category 5; 12,000 – 16,000 points
- The St. Regis Deer Valley, Utah — Category 7; 30,000 – 35,000 points
- Westin Monache Resort, Mammoth, California — Category 5; 12,000 – 16,000 points
You can earn points with this program by using the Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card from Chase. The brand is also a transfer partner of the Chase Ultimate Rewards program when you use cards like the Ink Plus and Sapphire Preferred.
- Vail Marriott Mountain Resort, Colorado — Category 9; 45,000 points
- The Ritz-Carlton, Bachelor Gulch, Colorado — Tier 5; 70,000 points
- Marriott’s Mountain Valley Lodge at Breckenridge, Colorado — Category 8; 40,000 points
- Park City Marriott, Utah — Category 8; 40,000 points
- Marriott’s MountainSide, Utah — Category 9; 45,000 points
- Marriott’s Summit Watch, Utah — Category 9; 45,000 points
Since the changes to this program earlier this year went into effect, all properties are now just 15,000 points each. You can earn these points by using the Wyndham Rewards credit card from Barclaycard. Although most of the Wyndham hotels are low-end properties, it does have an attractive mountain resort near Aspen:
- Aspen Meadows Resort, Colorado — 15,000 points per night
Once you arrive by air, you have two options when it comes to transportation to the ski area. One is to rent a car, which has several pros and cons. On the downside, there’s the cost of the rental car, and you may even face parking charges if you stay at a property that is very close to the mountain. You’ll also have to deal with mountain driving conditions — including traffic and weather — which visitors from warmer climates may not be used to. On the plus side, you can enjoy a leisurely trip to the slopes and stop at various cities and towns along the way. Having a car will also make it easier to visit other nearby attractions.
If you do decide to rent a car, be sure to read Nick Ewen’s post on Credit Cards That Offer Rental Car Elite Status in 2015 and Richard Kerr’s Guide to Maximizing Bonus Categories — Rental Cars. Finally, consider renting from Silvercar in Denver, as you’re guaranteed to get an all-wheel drive Audi, which is great for the mountains.
The other option is to utilize a shuttle service. For example, Colorado Mountain Express (CME), offers van service (with free Wi-Fi) from the Denver Airport to many Colorado Ski Areas, such as Vail, Breckenridge, Copper and Beaver Creek. There’s currently a 20% discount for early booking (Promo code: BOOKNOW20), as well as 20% off of parties of three or more and kids for half price, although these discounts are not stackable and have blackout dates.
The advantage is that you leave the driving to someone else, and in most mountain towns, you can use free public shuttle service to get around once you arrive. You may also come out slightly ahead on price if you stay for a week and add up gas and parking charges.
With most major ski areas charging more than $100 per day for lift tickets, local skiers and snowboarders like me will never pay those rates! So how do we do it? One of our tricks is to purchase tickets before the season starts — like right now through mid-November. While many of these deals are only offered in person, you can get in on some of them online. Here are some of the currently active lift ticket deals:
- Loveland Ski Area in Colorado is offering four unrestricted tickets (no blackout dates, fully transferrable) for $139, now through November 22.
- Arapahoe Basin Colorado also offers four discounted tickets for $149, which it calls the Elevation 4 Pass. These tickets have no blackout dates, but they do have your picture on them and are non-transferable.
- Copper Mountain Colorado has a non-transferable four pack for $169 with no blackout dates. It also includes discounted $69 friends and family tickets, as well as numerous discounts for on-mountain purchases.
- Winter Park Colorado offers a 4 pack for $199, which also includes some other discounts.
Another strategy is to buy a season pass, which will make sense if you plan to ski more than once, and might even be worth it if you do one week-long trip. Here are a few of the best season pass deals:
- M.A.X. Pass costs $719 and offers up to five days at each of 22 preselected mountains around the country, including Copper, Winter Park and Steamboat in Colorado.
- Epic Local Pass costs $619 and features unrestricted skiing or riding at Breckenridge, Keystone, Afton Alps, Mt. Brighton and Arapahoe Basin, with limited restrictions at Park City, Heavenly, Northstar and Kirkwood. It also includes 10 days at Vail and Beaver Creek with holiday restrictions.
- Rocky Mountain Super Pass costs $499 and includes unlimited skiing at Winter Park and Copper Mountains, along with several other discounts. This pass could easily pay for itself with just a week-long ski trip.
Finally, there are some discount programs worth considering, including:
- Gems Card — Although not an unlimited ski pass, it does offer a 2-for-1 discount at eight of the smaller Colorado ski areas for just $20, so it pays for itself after a just a single use. Use it at Arapahoe Basin, Cooper, Eldora, Loveland, Monarch, Powderhorn, Ski Granby Ranch and Sunlight.
- Kids Ski Free at Keystone — When you stay two nights in Keystone at any Vail Resorts lodging properties, kids 12 and under ski or ride free.
Other tricks to score discounted tickets include searching on Craigslist and Ebay, as well as visiting local supermarkets and even Costco.
Are you planning a ski trip this year? What are your tips for using points and miles or saving money in other ways?