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According to Project: Time Off, Americans took an average of 17.2 vacation days in 2017 — a seven-year high. But 52% of American employees still ended the year with unused vacation, amounting to 705 million total untaken vacation days, 212 million of which were simply forfeited.
No more! It’s time to take back your vacation days, and your sanity. Many of us put off big trips with excuses like, “I’ll do it when I have more time,” or “We could never afford to go there.” But, as near-constant changes (and devaluations) to loyalty remind us, points and miles rarely gain in value. Better to put them to use now, while you still can. Especially because points and miles can help you get to some of the world’s most beautiful beaches flying premier airlines and staying at world-class resorts, all of which puts that bucket list beach vacation you’ve been holding off on within reach.
Before you start, you should an idea of where you want to go in mind, then put together your strategy for the specific destination from there. This is our way of helping you do so.
Here are six destinations that your points and miles can turn from bucket list destinations to vacation realities sooner than you think. Let’s start with the big ones…
Though remote, Maldives tops many travelers’ bucket lists thanks to near-perfect weather, gorgeous beach resorts spread across the nation’s 26 pristine atolls and phenomenal diving, surfing and fishing. While the political situation there has been somewhat unstable in the past few years, it generally has not affected tourism. However, if you’re concerned, it pays to stay up to date on the latest developments to make sure your plans won’t be disrupted.
Getting there: You can check out this post for a full rundown of ideas on getting to the Maldives using points and miles. While we won’t get into the finer details here, you do have some great options for flying from the US to the Maldives on over a dozen different carriers. Here are some top options.
You can use American Airlines AAdvantage miles to fly Cathay Pacific, Etihad or Qatar Airways via Hong Kong (HKG), Abu Dhabi (AUH) and Doha (DOH), respectively. It’ll cost you 80,000 miles round-trip in economy, 140,000 in business class, or 230,000 in first.
Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan will charge you:
- 60,000/100,000/140,000 to fly Cathay in economy/business/first
- 85,000/165,000/300,000 to fly Emirates in economy/business/first
- 100,000/120,000/140,000 miles in economy/premium economy/business on British Airways
If Emirates is your goal, you could also use Emirates’ own Skywards miles at a rate of 85,000-95,000 miles round-trip in economy, 170,000-180,000 in business, or 255,000-270,000 in first, depending on where you’re flying from in the US. Just beware of sky-high taxes and fees.
With Delta SkyMiles, you’ll need 80,000 miles round-trip for economy, or 195,000 in business class to fly partners including Aeroflot, Air France/KLM, China Airlines and China Eastern. If you can find anything close to saver-level award availability, that is. Alternatively, Flying Blue, the mileage program of Air France/KLM is a transfer partner of all four transferable points programs. The program underwent enormous changes recently. Now, the lowest awards I could find for the rest of the schedule were 92,000 miles round-trip in economy, 199,000 in premium economy and 230,000 miles in business class.
For Star Alliance flyers, your two best options are either to fly Turkish Airlines via Istanbul (IST), or via Singapore (SIN) on Singapore Airlines and/or United. United will charge you 85,000 miles round-trip in economy, or 150,000-170,000 in business class. Aeroplan charges 100,000/150,000 in economy/business.
If you want to fly Singapore Airlines itself, best to use Singapore’s own KrisFlyer miles. Depending on whether you’re coming from the East or West Coast, the program will charge:
- 92,000-110,000 in economy
- 167,000-177,000 in premium economy
- 196,000-220,000 in business
- 276,000-290,000 in first
Just beware that once you’re there, you might have to take an expensive seaplane flight to your final destination within the archipelago. There are ways to offset those costs with points, too, though.
Where to stay: While there are some resorts where it’s not worth redeeming points, the Maldives abounds with beautiful luxury hotels where your points can save you thousands of dollars (per night, in some cases!). Here are three of our favorites.
The St. Regis Maldives boasts a range of beach and overwater villas with expansive decks and private plunge pools, as well as amenities like a gorgeous overwater Iridium Spa, a zero-gravity yoga studio, fun fishing excursions, and one of TPG’s favorite breakfast buffets. After SPG and Marriott Rewards finally merge August 18, award nights are going down to 60,000 points per night. Until February 2019, that is, at which points they’ll shoot up to 85,000 points. Though it only has limited participation in SPG at this point, the W Maldives will also supposedly be bookable for 60,000 points per night later this month then 85,000 points starting in February 2019.
The Conrad Maldives features an overwater spa and an underwater restaurant, among other amenities. Awards starting at 95,000 points per night are plentiful.
The Park Hyatt Maldives Hadahaa has just 50 villas total, including 14 perched over the water and 30 beach villas with their own private plunge pools. It has a PADI dive center and a spa specializing in Maldivian holistic treatments.
The resort is also relative bargain, at just 25,000 World of Hyatt points per night
2. French Polynesia
Though South Pacific destinations, including the islands of French Polynesia, are among the most difficult to visit using airline miles, there are still some decent options. Plus, flights from the West Coast are less than nine hours, making it an easy journey for most US-based travelers.
Once you get there, the choice of resorts and islands, including Tahiti, Bora Bora and Moorea, is outstanding. It might be tempting to hop from island to island, but even though the distances are small, travel between destinations can take up a full day of your trip. So plan carefully and consider just staying in one place.
Getting there: The good news is, there are more ways than ever to fly directly to Papeete (PPT) from the US. The bad news is, it can still be expensive, both in terms of points and paid fares.
Air Tahiti Nui flies nonstop from Los Angeles (LAX) to Papeete up to twice daily. It will begin operating its new Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners three times weekly in November. You can redeem 80,000 American Airlines AAdvantage miles round-trip in economy, or 160,000 in business class. Use ExpertFlyer to search for award availability, then be ready to walk unprepared AAdvantage phone agents through the booking process.
Last year, United announced it would begin flying nonstop from San Francisco (SFO) to Papeete three times per week beginning in October 2018. Saver economy awards are available at 35,000 miles each way, but business-class saver awards at the 70,000-mile level are not available through the end of schedule for now. So if you want to cross the Pacific in a lie-flat, you’ll need to pay 175,000 miles in each direction. Don’t do that. Instead, look at what paid fares are going for and consider redeeming a points currency like Chase Ultimate Rewards points or Capital One Venture miles at a fixed rate to cover the cost.
Air France flies from Los Angeles to Papeete three times per week, on Tuesdays, Thursday and Saturday. Its mileage program, Flying Blue, has some reasonable award rates starting at 25,500 miles each way in economy…
And 73,500 in business class, which are available on dates sprinkled throughout the calendar.
New competition from low-cost start-up French Bee, which just started flying from San Francisco to Papeete three times weekly in May, seems to have pushed down airfares slightly. You can always redeem points or miles at fixed rates from card like the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card, Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard, or even the Chase Sapphire Reserve or Chase Sapphire Preferred Card when you go through the Chase travel portal.
Where to stay: For such a small destination spread out over a handful of islands, there are plenty of places to put your points to use in French Polynesia. Here are some of the best.
Hilton fields two properties in the region. If you land in Papeete, you can take a ferry across to Moorea to stay at the Hilton Moorea Lagoon and Spa. Many of its bungalows are perched above the turquoise waters of the South Pacific with postcard-worthy views of the island’s dramatic peaks. Award nights start at 80,000 points each, but are scarce. A better choice might be the Conrad Bora Bora Nui, which is a short flight from Papeete, and sits right on one of the world’s most beautiful (and famous) lagoons. Award nights there start at 80,000 points each.
If you have IHG Rewards points, there are four luxurious InterContinental properties in French Polynesia. Due to flight timing, you’ll probably have to spend at least one night at the InterContinental Tahiti Resort and Spa, where awards start at 50,000 points per night. The gorgeous InterContinental Resort and Spa Moorea also has award nights for 50,000 points each. Over on Bora Bora, meanwhile, the InterContinental Bora Bora Le Moana Resort starts at 70,000 points per night. For the moment, the InterContinental Bora Bora Resort and Thalasso Spa does not seem to have any award nights available.
Starwood Preferred Guest has two fantastic resorts on Bora Bora: the Le Méridien Bora Bora and the St. Regis Bora Bora. Both are Category 7 properties that should have cost 30,000-35,000 points per night under SPG’s current (old) system, but where, in reality, nights started at 40,000-90,000 points. Under the new Marriott system, award nights should cost 60,000 points for the rest of the year, then 85,000 points starting next year. You could also theoretically use 35,000 points to stay at Le Méridien Tahiti for a night on either side of your flight to/from the US, but no award nights were available online or via phone booking at time of writing, unfortunately.
Remember, even if there are not award nights, or if you want to stay at a non-points property like the Four Seasons Bora Bora, you can always take advantage of perks like the Citi Prestige‘s 4th Night Free benefit to score a serious discount on your stay.
Is climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro on your bucket list? How about a safari in Tanzania, or trekking with the gorillas in Rwanda? Why not combine them with a visit to one of the world’s premier and most exotic beach destinations, Zanzibar? Not only does the island boast beautiful beaches like Nyungwe and Kenda in the north and Paje and Jammbiani in the east, but there are also cultural riches to be found in the winding streets of UNESCO-listed Stone Town.
Getting there: You can take either a ferry or a flight from Dar Es Salaam (DAR), depending on your other plans. To get to Dar, though, you have numerous options via airports in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
You’ll need 95,000/240,000/400,000 Alaska miles to fly Emirates economy/business/first round-trip from the US to Tanzania via Dubai (DXB).
A better option might be redeeming 80,000/150,000/240,000 American AAdvantage miles to fly either Qatar Airways via Doha (DOH) or Etihad via Abu Dabi (AUH). The best place to search for Qatar Airways awards is on British Airways’ website.
In Star Alliance, Turkish Airlines flies to Dar Es Salaam via Istanbul (IST); South African Airways routes via Johannesburg (JNB) and Ethiopian will have you flying via Abidjan (ABJ) and Addis Ababa (ADD), and you can use 80,000 United miles round-trip in economy, or 160,000 for business class.
If SkyTeam is your primary alliance, you can fly a mix of Delta, Air France, KLM and Kenya Airways via Paris (CDG), Amsterdam (AMS) and Nairobi (NBO). Kenya Airways is also set to launch nonstop service from Nairobi to New York JFK in October. A quick search on Delta.com yielded plenty of days with cheap saver-level awards for just 40,000 miles each way in economy and 90,000 miles in business class, like this one on a mix of Delta and KLM flights.
Flying Blue also showed plenty of availability on KLM from the US to Amsterdam then on to Kilimanjaro and Dar Es Salaam for as few as 34,000 miles each way in economy.
Or 96,500 miles in business on KLM via Amsterdam (though there were other dates for 98,500 miles on Air France via Paris and Nairobi on Kenya Airways, and more dates available for 104,000-110,000 miles).
Where to stay: This destination makes the list primarily for one points property: the Park Hyatt Zanzibar. The hotel overlooks the Indian Ocean and Dhow Harbor and features a beachfront infinity pool, a tranquil spa and four on-property restaurants and bars to choose from.
What’s more, rooms awards at a relatively low 20,000 points per night, or 10,000 points + $125.
Marriott also fields the Protea Hotel Zanzibar Mbweni Ruins, which is in a historical complex about 10 minutes away from Stone Town on its own beach. A bit more on the budget side of the spectrum, award nights cost just 10,000 points per night.
Back to the South Pacific for this next bucket-list beach destination. Just the name Fiji conjures up images of sun-kissed beaches, welcoming people, reefs teaming with marine life, lush jungles and rustic-chic resorts just waiting to be explored.
Getting there: You could go in a rather circuitous fashion via Australia, Korea or New Zealand (or Hawaii), but let’s focus on the most direct routes from the continental US: nonstop from Los Angeles (LAX) or San Francisco (SFO) to Nadi (NAN) on Fiji Airways.
Fiji Airways is a Oneworld Connect member, so you use American Airlines AAdvantage miles to book awards on the carrier. You’ll need 80,000 miles round-trip in economy or 160,000 in business class…and the patience to deal with American AAdvantage phone agents.
Fiji Airways is also partners with Alaska Airlines (whose site is also the best for searching Fiji Airways award space). Alaska Mileage Plan charges 80,000 miles round-trip in economy and 110,000 miles round-trip in business and award availability is decent if you can be a little flexible with your travel dates.
Where to stay: Fiji has seen a boom of new luxury resorts in the past year, including Kokomo Private Island and Six Senses Fiji. But if you want to use points to play in paradise, you’ve got some great choices.
The Fiji Marriott Resort Momi Bay requires just 40,000 points per night (35,000 after August 18) and is near Nadi, so you won’t have to take an expensive seaplane flight or spend too much more time in transit once you land.
SPG members are in luck, since there are four points properties in Fiji. Here’s how much each will cost after the August 18 merger date with Marriott Rewards:
- The Sheraton Denarau Villas: 60,000
- Sheraton Fiji Resort: 35,000
- Sheraton Resort & Spa Tokoriki Island: 35,000
- The Westin Denarau Island Resort & Spa: 35,000
As you can tell by the pricing, the Sheraton Denarau Villas is probably the nicest of the bunch. It is quite near the Sheraton Fiji Resort and the Westin Denarau, but made up of two- and three-bedroom villas, which accounts for the price difference.
Those with Radisson Rewards points can book the Radisson Blu Resort Fiji Denarau Island for just 50,000 points per night for a standard room or 75,000 points for a premium room.
The Hilton Fiji Beach Resort & Spa offers guest rooms for 38,000-60,000 points depending on your dates. Finally, the InterContinental Fiji Golf Resort & Spa looks like a traditional Fijian village, including coconut groves and a sandy beach fronting a coral reef…just with an 18-hole golf course as well. Award nights there start at 40,000 points per night.
This undiscovered European gem is harder to get to than many of the Old World’s best beaches, but well worth the effort when you see the aquamarine waters and forested mountains (not to mention some of the best food and wine in the Mediterranean). Plus, you won’t be contending with tourist hordes like on the French or Italian Rivieras, or the Greek islands.
Getting there: We tend to cover a lot of different options for flying to Europe, including some jaw-dropping deals on discount airfares and transfer-bonus promos alike, so I won’t go into an in-depth strategy session. For more ideas about how to fly in style, check out these posts on the Best Ways to Cross the Atlantic Using Miles, the Top 10 Ways to Fly Business Class to Europe and the Top Ways to Fly First Class to Europe.
To Alghero (AHO), Ryanair flies nonstop from London Stansted (STN), Alitalia flies from Rome (FCO) and Milan (MXP) and Easyjet flies from Milan and Berlin (TXL). You might instead want to fly Easyjet from Paris (both CDG and ORY) to Olbia (OLB), Vueling via Barcelona (BCN), Iberia via Madrid (MAD), or Norwegian from Copenhagen (CPH) or Oslo (OSL), among other options.
Where to stay: Now we get to it. What sets Sardinia apart from other European beach destinations is the fact that there are four, yes four, phenomenal Starwood Preferred Guest properties in the exclusive enclave of Porto Cervo, three of which are part of the Luxury Collection. Here’s how many points you’ll need at each.
- Cervo Hotel, Costa Smeralda Resort: 60,000
- Hotel Cala di Volpe: 60,000 (up to 85,000 in 2019)
- Hotel Pitrizza: 60,000 (up to 85,000 in 2019)
- Hotel Romazzino: 60,000 (up to 85,000 in 2019)
Have the points? Why not hop around and decide which one you like best among them?
Nothing much seemed to be happening in this African island idyll for a while, but the opening of the Four Seasons Seychelles Resort at Desroches Island in March reminded everyone of just what a spectacular destination it is. Even if you can’t afford to stay at the Four Seasons, there are other hotels where you can take advantage of points redemptions.
Getting there: The mileage options, including redemption rates, are much the same as to Zanzibar above, though you can add flights to Mahé (SEZ) on British Airways from London (LHR) twice a week and on Air France’s new Joon subsidiary from Paris (CDG) three times a week into the mix.
Where to stay: There are not a ton of options here, but there are some, including SPG’s Le Méridien Fisherman’s Cove. Set amidst carefully tended gardens, the resort’s rooms overlook Beau-Vallon Beach. Guests can dine alongside the water at Le Cardinal Restaurant, Le Cocoloba Bar and Sunset Bar. The hotel’s Zen Spa features treatments with Elemis products. Award nights under the new system will cost 60,000 points each.
Hilton fields three properties in the Seychelles. The Hilton Seychelles Northolme Resort & Spa is supposedly an homage to James Bond creator Ian Fleming with villas perched on stilts in the rainforest and over the ocean, some of which have private infinity pools. Award nights cost 95,000 points per night. The Hilton Seychelles Labriz Resort & Spa is a bit off the beaten path on the Seychelles’ third-largest island, a 90-minute drive and boat transfer from the international airport. It has an eforea Spa, seven restaurants and is located within a Marine National Park where guests can hike, scuba and snorkel. Award nights cost 80,000 points per night. Finally, DoubleTree Resort & Spa by Hilton Hotel Seychelles – Allamanda is the bargain of the bunch at just 70,000 points per night.
Those are just a few of the bucket list-worthy beach destinations your points and miles can take you. Have more ideas for us to explore and write about in future posts? Feel free to share them in the comments below.
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