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As a born-and-bred Miamian who now lives abroad, I’ve made it my mission to navigate through mileage award charts to snag the best deals home. And with a slew of new points-hotels opening right in the heart of South Beach — and five new airlines joining MIA’s ever-growing roster — a trip to The Magic City just got even easier. Whether you’re traveling from across the US or looking to visit one of the nearby Caribbean islands — Miami is known as the “Gateway to the Caribbean and Latin America,” after all — there are plenty of ways to snag flights and hotel rooms on the cheap (or for free) if you know how to work your points and miles the right way. Here are a few tips to help get the planning process started.
Miami International Airport (MIA) is one of America’s busiest airports for international passengers, with more than 44 million passengers passing through in 2016 — over the past five years alone, the airport has tacked on 43 new destinations, 36 of which are international. In 2017, five new airlines started flying into the city, including Icelandic favorite WOW Air, known for its $99 flights to Reykjavik. WOW became the 106th airline flying out of MIA, the highest number of airlines flying from a US airport. It’s no surprise then that the airport has put a $1.1 billion 10-year plan in place to spruce up the Central Terminal, upgrading concourses E, F and G in 2017.
The American Airlines hub offers flights from MIA across the US to cities like Atlanta (ATL), Chicago (ORD) and San Francisco (SFO), as well as European locales like Amsterdam (AMS), Barcelona (BCN) and Paris (CDG). If you’re using MileSAAver Awards, flights throughout the US start at 12,500 miles one-way in economy or 25,000 in business/first. Flights to Europe, meanwhile, start at 30,000 miles one-way in economy or 57,500 in business/first.
Delta also flies from MIA to cities like Atlanta (ATL), Detroit (DTW), New York (LGA and JFK) and Orlando (MCO), with one-way fares starting at 10,000 SkyMiles. You’ll also find a number of low-cost carriers like Frontier Airlines, which flies from MIA to Chicago (ORD), Denver (DEN), Las Vegas (LAS) and New York (LGA), with rates as low as $29 each way.
From the airport, taxis to South Beach are a flat rate of $32, while Lyft starts at $17 and Uber starts at $19. The Airport Flyer express bus service runs every 30 minutes from 6:00am to 11:00pm between MIA and Miami Beach, with tickets costing $2.35 each way. For a 24/7 option, the shared SuperShuttle runs from the airport into town for around $22 each way.
The easiest way to get around town is with Uber or Lyft — taxis are expensive and hard to find — but for a more cost-efficient option, the Metrobus starts at $2.25 per trip. You can purchase tickets online or at the station, and it operates on more than 90 routes throughout Miami Beach, Key Biscayne and farther north to Fort Lauderdale. Even better, Miami has a free trolley that loops around South Beach, Downtown, Coconut Grove, Coral Gables, Brickell and the Design District.
Where to Stay
It seems as though a new hotel pops up on Miami’s skyline almost daily. From internationally known brands to charming boutique hotels, the city has something to suit any type of traveler’s style. On Miami Beach, the two-year-old AC Hotel is a great pick for younger travelers who want to soak up the best of South Beach without worrying about shelling out too much for a room. While it’s not directly on the beach, the 150-room hotel features a rooftop pool overlooking the Atlantic. Swing by the hotel’s Spanish-inspired bar, Gin + Collins, whose cocktail list serves up creative spins on the classic gin and tonic and features tonic crafted exclusively for AC Hotels. Rates at the Marriott Category 7 hotel start at $183 or 35,000 Marriott Rewards points per night.
Just across the street, the oceanfront Miami Beach Edition is also part of Marriott, but it’s on the swankier side with private bungalows and a rooftop penthouse. Dine in style at the hotel’s 1940s supper club-inspired restaurant, Matador Room, helmed by celeb chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten. Rates at the Tier 5 hotel start at $313 or 70,000 Marriott Rewards points per night.
Formerly the Thompson, Hyatt recently took over the 1940s Art Deco hotel and transformed it into The Confidante Miami Beach, a colorful beach house-inspired spot nestled in Mid-Beach. Part of the new Unbound Collection brand, the waterfront property is home to everything from a Warren-Tricomi Studio salon and 10th floor rooftop spa with air-conditioned cabanas to the 1930s-inspired Nina’s House, where you can sip on craft cocktails and nibble on street tacos while catching live acts and DJs. If you’re traveling with pets, this spot is perfect since you can bring pups weighing 50 pounds or less. Rates start at $149 or 25,000 World of Hyatt points per night.
If you’re looking for a more secluded and luxurious stay, book a room farther north at The St. Regis Bal Harbour Resort. The Forbes five-star and AAA five-diamond hotel is a destination in itself, with two infinity pools and the haute Remède Spa, where you can indulge in the exclusive Bal Harbour 24-Karat Designer Facial. If you’d rather take your designers in fashion form, pop across the street to the Bal Harbour Shops, where you’ll find boutiques on par with those in Paris. Rates at the SPG Category 7 resort start at $539 or 30,000 Starpoints per night.
Things to Do
Soak up the Culture
Miami wasn’t considered a museum city until recently. If you only have time to visit a few, pop in two favorites: the Herzog & de Meuron-designed Pérez Art Museum Miami, filled with modern and contemporary art collections — plus stunning views of Biscayne Bay — and the new Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science in Downtown Miami. If you’d rather a more casual look at Miami’s artwork, take a stroll through the Wynwood Walls, with more than 80,000 square feet of walls covered by some of the best names in street art. If you’re in town on the second Saturday of the month, the neighborhood transforms into a block party during the Wynwood Art Walk.
Eat Your Way Around Town
The problem in Miami isn’t finding somewhere to eat, it’s deciding where to go. From The Salty Donut’s artisanal treats — think Tahitian vanilla bean cake and maple bacon-glazed brioche donuts — to Coyo Taco’s twist on Mexican street fare, you can find any type of cuisine at any hour of the day or night. For a tasting menu minus the fuss, reserve a seat at the industrial chic Alter in Wynwood, where F&W Best New Chef Brad Kilgore is behind the locally influenced fare that changes seasonally, but never fails to impress.
Hit the Shops
Whether you’re after couture or locally crafted finds, Miami’s many neighborhoods are sure to have exactly what you’re searching for.
Designer Fashion: The Design District features flagships from almost any major fashion brand you can name, from Hermès to Valentino. Even if you’re not in the market for a new handbag, these architecturally beautiful buildings are worth a window shopping trip.
Bargains: Head west and you’ll come across Miami’s largest outlet mall, Dolphin Mall, with more than 300 shops from Neiman Marcus Last Call to Michael Kors.
One-of-a-Kind Finds: Tucked between perpetually cool brands like Aesop and Warby Parker, Wynwood’s art-lined streets are also home to some of the city’s most off-the-wall boutiques, such as the terrarium-filled Plant the Future and Mexican-inspired Malaquita.
What are some of your favorite things to see and do in Miami? Share with us in the comments below.
Featured image by Roberto Schmidt/Getty Images.
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