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Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available – Citi Hilton Honors Reserve Card
Celebrating Mardi Gras in New Orleans definitely deserves a spot on your bucket list. From extravagant parades and costumes to traditions like king cake and colorful beads (FYI: gold beads stand for power, green for faith and purple for justice), there’s nothing quite like it. As the festivities come to a head the Tuesday before Lent — which is coming up on February 28, 2017, by the way — a trip to New Orleans is the perfect excuse to escape the winter blues up north.
While it’s well worth the trip, getting there can be a little tricky — and quite pricey. If you want to make sure you’ll be able to stay in the heart of the action in the French Quarter or along the main parade route on St. Charles Avenue, it’s best to start planning now even though Mardi Gras is still five months away.
Given the roughly 1.4 million people who visit the city each year for the event, flights to NOLA and hotels downtown will be in extremely high demand during the week leading up to Mardi Gras Day. If you fail to book your plans well in advance (read: by the end of September), you might end up paying inflated fares and higher rates for less desirable accommodations on the outskirts of town since award availability and reasonably priced hotels are virtually non-existent by the middle of October. This is especially problematic since traffic is especially horrendous during Mardi Gras parades and celebrations — if you’re not staying downtown, you’ll likely spend more time getting to and from the party than being at it.
While most visitors only come for the weekend preceding Mardi Gras Day, I recommend arriving the Friday before (February 24) and leaving on Wednesday, March 1, the day after Fat Tuesday. This timeframe will allow you to experience the height of the celebrations while also providing a glimpse into many local traditions, like the Mardi Gras Indians and Zulu Parade, and give you plenty of time to check out the rest of the city. You’ll also be getting a better bang for your buck since many downtown and French Quarter hotels require a minimum five-night stay or exponentially increase the cost per night if you’re only sticking around that weekend.
As of this writing, a quick search on Google Flights shows round-trip, nonstop flights from New York, Chicago and Los Angeles to New Orleans hover around the $450 mark for February 24 – March 1 travel dates. While this may require you to fly on a low-cost carrier such as Spirit Airlines, it’s a far better option than other airfares that will be upwards of $700 as Mardi Gras approaches. While there still is award availability for those travel dates at this time, you’re looking at 50,000 AAdvantage miles, 50,000 United MileagePlus miles or 57,500 Delta SkyMiles for a sample round-trip economy flight from New York to New Orleans (check each website to see how many miles are needed to fly from your city). Considering you’re cashing in your miles for a domestic round-trip flight, it’s really not a great redemption and paying-out-pocket for these flights may end up being your best bet.
As for accommodations, most hotels in the downtown New Orleans area between February 24 and March 1 start at about $200 per night, with stays for only that weekend hovering around $300 per night. If you’re planning on staying for five days, consider using the Citi Prestige card since you can alleviate some of the cost by taking advantage of its 4th Night Free benefit. Alternatively, if you can only stay the weekend before Mardi Gras Day and have the Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve Card, this would be a good opportunity to use your sign-up bonus of two free weekend nights.
Given the relatively high rates (which will only increase as we get closer to February), the main reason to book your Mardi Gras trip now is the large amount of award availability at major hotel chains like SPG, Hyatt, Marriott, Hilton and IHG. If, for instance, you’ve racked up a ton of IHG Rewards points, my personal favorite Mardi Gras award redemption is for either the Crowne Plaza New Orleans French Quarter or Hotel Indigo New Orleans Garden District. Both hotels are located along the main parade route and are within walking distance of some of the best bars and clubs in the city. For only 40,000 IHG Rewards points per night (or 200,000 IHG Rewards points for all five nights at either hotel), you can be in the center of all the action, for less.
Do you plan on celebrating Mardi Gras in New Orleans next year?
Featured Image Courtesy of Shutterstock.
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