Want to travel for Memorial Day? Here are 4 ways to find a good deal using points and miles

May 11, 2021

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Memorial Day will be the first long weekend for many Americans since becoming fully vaccinated. With the long weekend quickly approaching, you may think it’s too late if you don’t have travel plans yet. That’s not the case, especially if you are flexible regarding your destination. Best of all, you can still book some great trips using points and miles.

TPG has recently published stories about Memorial Day trips you can still book with points and miles and hotels you can still book with points for a Memorial Day vacation. But today, I’ll walk you through four ways I’d personally book a last-minute Memorial Day trip using points and miles. I’m currently based in the Atlanta area while living out of an RV, so my examples use Atlanta as the origin. But, all of the methods I describe in this guide will work equally well for other origin cities.

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In This Post

Use American Airlines’ award map

If you have American Airlines miles but no specific destination in mind, you may want to use the American Airline Award Map to find one. You can access the map here. Simply enter your origin airport, trip dates, number of passengers and the total amount of miles you’re willing to use.

American Airlines award map
(Screenshot courtesy of American Airlines)

In my case, I searched from Atlanta for a quick Friday to Monday trip over Memorial Day weekend. I started with a query for non-stop or 1-stop round-trips using no more than 20,000 American Airlines miles. Here’s what I got:

American Airlines award map
(Screenshot courtesy of American Airlines)

You can click on the pin for a destination and then click “Book now” to see the results. I clicked on New York-JFK, which the award map says I can book for just 18,500 miles. Once you get to the results page, click the arrows next to “Main Cabin” to sort the pricing from low to high. After doing so, I discovered the least-expensive one-stop routing would let me leave after work on Friday.

American Airlines award results
(Screenshot courtesy of American Airlines)

I selected my departure and then found that the least expensive return lets me depart New York on Monday afternoon for a late return into Atlanta Monday night. For a long weekend where I’m looking to maximize my time at my destination, this itinerary is perfect.

American Airlines award results
(Screenshot courtesy of American Airlines)

The New York-JFK to Miami leg is on a 777 with premium economy seating, which American Airlines codes as main cabin extra seating on the seat map. As an Executive Platinum elite, I can select a premium economy seat when booking for no additional cost.

American Airlines 777 main cabin extra seating chart
(Screenshot courtesy of American Airlines)

There are plenty of hotels in New York City that are still bookable on points for Memorial Day weekend. My two go-to programs for New York City are Choice Privileges and IHG Rewards. I’ve found these two programs give me the best value in a city where I typically don’t spend much time in my room outside of sleeping. However, since I’m only planning to stay for three nights (and hence wouldn’t be eligible for a fourth night reward), I’d likely use Choice Privileges points for this trip.

I’d likely book the Cambria Hotel New York Chelsea for 70,000 points total since the rooms at this Cambria look larger than the ones at other Choice Hotels properties in Manhatten. Plus, I have yet to stay at a Cambria hotel.

I’d also consider booking The Paul Hotel NYC-Chelsea, part of the Ascend Hotel Collection for 20,000 points per night. The room types are interesting, with some of them featuring bunk beds, city views and patios).

Related: From budget to luxe: 9 New York City hotels where you can use points

Check Southwest destinations

I still have many Southwest points from signing up for the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card and Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Business Credit Card a few years ago. So if I wanted to book a Memorial Day trip, I’d check my Southwest flight options. I quickly found an itinerary to Austin, TX that would work well for a quick trip to get some tacos, see friends and perhaps go tubing in San Marcos.

Southwest flight on points for Memorial Day
(Screenshot courtesy of Southwest)

As I noted a few weeks ago, there are still ample hotels bookable on points during Memorial Day weekend in Austin, TX. Prices have increased some since I wrote that article. But, I could still pay 12,000 points or $249 per night to stay at the centrally-located Hyatt House Austin Downtown. These three nights would push me over the threshold for World of Hyatt Globalist status.

If you’re interested in this hotel but don’t have enough World of Hyatt points, you can transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points to Hyatt.

Hyatt House Austin Downtown Memorial Day weekend
(Screenshot courtesy of Hyatt)

If I could stretch my trip to four nights, I’d likely book a four-night stay at the Holiday Inn Austin Midtown for just 48,000 points. After all,  the fourth night would cost zero points due to the IHG Rewards Premier Credit Card‘s fourth night reward perk. Although this hotel’s location isn’t ideal for tourists who want to walk and use public transit, it’s located closer to my favorite kebab shop (Halal Corner) and other places I’d like to see as a former Austin resident.

Holiday Inn Austin Midtown over Memorial Day
(Screenshot courtesy of IHG)

Plus, by stretching my stay to four nights, I could snag less-expensive flights back to Atlanta after work on Tuesday.

Southwest flight on points for Memorial Day
(Screenshot courtesy of Southwest)

Of course, there are likely many other destinations you can still fly to inexpensively from your home airport. If you have Southwest travel funds or points, it’s worth checking the pricing for several destinations you’d want to visit. Although you’ll likely find that flights to some destinations are expensive, you may still find a good deal.

Related: 8 cool places you didn’t know you could fly on Southwest

Use Google flights’ Explore feature to check cash fares

If I didn’t find any appealing trips using Southwest points, travel credits or using American Airlines miles, my next stop would be the Explore feature through Google Flights. To search, go here and enter your origin and “United States” as your destination. Include travel dates, passengers and cabin class. Then click “Search.” Here’s what I got for a search from Atlanta for a Memorial Day trip.

Google Flights Explore Map
(Image courtesy of Google Flights)

Now, you can limit your search. For example, I dragged the price slider to $300 and limited airlines to Oneworld since I have Executive Platinum status with American Airlines and prefer flying Oneworld airlines. Doing so gave me the following results:

Google Flights Explore Map
(Image courtesy of Google Flights)

I decided to look at the Atlanta to Los Angeles round-trip bookable for $266. However, when I clicked through and selected flights, I found a main cabin fare connecting in Miami both ways for $237.

Google Flights itinerary
(Image courtesy of Google Flights)

Although American does fly direct from Atlanta to Los Angeles, I don’t mind connecting in Miami on this itinerary. After all, then I can fly the 777 between Miami and Los Angeles both ways. And as I mentioned in a previous section, American codes premium economy seats as main cabin extra on these flights.

Related: How I’m saving $4,600 with points and certificates this Memorial Day

I could book this cash fare through American Airlines or the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal. If I used my Chase Sapphire Preferred Card account, I could redeem 20,512 points for the $256.40 round-trip fare.

Booking flights through Chase Ultimate Rewards portal
(Screenshot courtesy of Chase Ultimate Rewards)

I typically prefer to save my Ultimate Rewards points to transfer to travel partners like World of Hyatt and Singapore KrisFlyer. But booking flights through the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal is one way to snag inexpensive cash fares using points.

I usually stay near the airport in Los Angeles since I’m typically just in town for a few nights between itineraries. Plus, I like plane spotting at the In-N-Out. So, I usually snag a cheap cash rate at the Sheraton Gateway Los Angeles Hotel, which has lots of suites (which is good for getting upgrades as an elite) and an executive lounge with runway views. But, there are also plenty of hotels bookable with points in Los Angeles if you want to see more than just the airport area.

Related: 6 sweet spots that get you more value for your Ultimate Rewards

Drive to a nearby destination

Person with a car, dog and bikes
(Photo by Peter Amend/Getty Images)

A final option I’d consider if I didn’t want to fly over Memorial Day weekend would be driving to a nearby destination. Within a few hours of Atlanta, there are many popular destinations, including Savannah, Charleston, Nashville, Chattanooga, Great Smokey Mountains National Park and many smaller towns in North Georgia.

All of these destinations have hotels that are bookable with points over Memorial Day weekend. However, points (and cash) rates are high in some destinations. So, after quickly checking rates, I’d likely drive up to Chattanooga for the long weekend.

I could stay at the Category 4 Chattanooga Marriott Downtown or Moxy Chattanooga Downtown for 30,000 points per night. Or, I could book a three-night stay at the Holiday Inn Express & Suites Chattanooga Downtown for 54,000 points. I could even tack on an extra night for no extra cost using the IHG Premier’s fourth night reward perk.

Related: 7 mistakes every road tripper makes at least once

Bottom line

It’s not too late to book a last-minute Memorial Day vacation. Even if you want to redeem points and miles for your trip, you still have time to book. Of course, your options will be different depending on whether you’re based, but hopefully, this inspires you to start looking. But if I was quickly looking to book a last-minute trip using points and miles, these are the first methods I’d try.

Featured image by Hinterhaus Productions/Getty Images.

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