Grand Canyon to Bavaria: Here are 7 fall trips to take on points and miles
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Back-to-school shopping and pumpkin spice drinks at Starbucks mean one thing: fall is officially around the corner.
If you’ve been thinking about taking a trip using your hard-earned points and miles this fall, now is the time to book. Cash prices are likely to rise and award availability is likely to only diminish.
Today, we’ll take a look at some of the top destinations to visit this fall and how to book flights and hotels using points and miles. We’ll cover options close to home and some across the ocean, with a focus on more outdoors-oriented destinations.
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Explore the Grand Canyon
If outdoors-focused travel is on your radar, you might be considering a trip to the Grand Canyon.
Fall is an ideal time to visit the Grand Canyon because it’s less crowded and the weather isn’t as hot as during those brutal summer months. Although you usually don’t picture its trees, the Grand Canyon is full of them, and they’re full of color in the fall. Just keep in mind that while Grand Canyon West and the South Rim are open year-round, the North Rim is open seasonally from mid-May through mid-October.
The closest major international airport to the South Rim is Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport (PHX). It’s a hub for American Airlines and Southwest but is served by most major U.S. carriers, including Alaska, Delta, Frontier, JetBlue, Spirit, Sun Country and United, as well as the semiprivate jet airline JSX. Meanwhile, Las Vegas McCarran Airport (LAS) is about 4 1/2 hours to the South Rim.
Most awards are dynamically priced but it’s not uncommon to find shorter flights for as low as 2,700 points one-way on an airline like Southwest depending on your origin city.
When you visit the Grand Canyon, you have a choice of staying inside the park or in a neighboring community. None of the options inside the park belong to a major hotel program so you’ll need to redeem your points through a portal like the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal if you want to stay there.
Outside of the park, points options include:
- Holiday Inn Express & Suites Williams: From 16,000 IHG Rewards Club points per night.
- Holiday Inn Express & Suites Grand Canyon: From 26,000 IHG Rewards Club points per night.
- Travelodge by Wyndham Williams Grand Canyon: 15,000 Wyndham Rewards points per night.
- Best Western Plus Inn of Williams: From 24,000 Best Western Rewards points per night.
- Best Western Premier Grand Canyon Squire Inn: From 28,000 Best Western Rewards points per night.
- Courtyard Page at Lake Powell: 30,000 to 40,000 Marriott Bonvoy points per night or a 35,000-point free-night certificate on off-peak or standard dates.
Visit a reopened Montreal
With Canada’s borders officially reopened to vaccinated Americans, this fall may be the perfect time to pay a visit to our northern neighbor. Montreal, in particular, is a lovely destination to see fall foliage. The trees usually start changing color in mid-September and reach their peak in early October. While you’ll need to pack a coat, the temperatures are relatively mild and the crowds of tourists have mostly cleared out.
Montreal (YUL) is a major travel hub with nonstop flights from major cities across the U.S., such as Atlanta (ATL), Chicago (ORD), New York (JFK, LGA and EWR), Los Angeles (LAX), Philadelphia (PHL), Miami (MIA) and Washington, D.C. (IAD). The possibilities for booking these flights with points and miles are endless.
Air Canada Aeroplan offers extra-low rates for short-haul routes under 500 miles, charging just 6,000 to 10,000 miles each way in economy or 15,000 to 25,000 miles in business class. Meanwhile, other domestic flights can range from 10,000 to 17,500 miles in economy or 20,000 to 60,000 miles in business class. That said, you can also book Air Canada (or United) awards for cheap through Avianca LifeMiles.
Saver economy awards cost 7,500 to 12,500 miles each way with American Airlines AAdvantage, but you may be able to score a better deal if you find discounted Web Special award space. Delta prices its awards dynamically but they typically start at 9,500 miles one-way.
Once there, you’ll have plenty of options for hotels. For example, if you’re looking to stay downtown, you can book the W Montreal for 40,000 to 60,000 points per night or an up to 50,000-point free-night award, which is an annual perk of the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card, on off-peak or standard dates. Or, for more classic luxury, you could splurge on the Ritz-Carlton, Montreal for 50,000 to 70,000 points per night.
IHG fields the InterContinental Montreal, where award nights can cost as little as 29,000 IHG points. Meanwhile, Hilton offers members 15 different properties in and around the city. Some of Hilton’s top options include:
- Vogue Hotel Montreal Downtown: 60,000 Hilton Honors points per night.
- Homewood Suites by Hilton Montreal Downtown: 44,000 Hilton Honors points per night.
- Embassy Suites by Hilton Montreal: From 34,000 Hilton Honors points per night.
- DoubleTree by Hilton Montreal: 49,000 Hilton Honors points per night.
- Hilton Garden Inn Montreal Centre-Ville: From 31,000 Hilton Honors points per night.
Explore the Texas Hill Country
Fall is the perfect time to visit the Texas Hill Country. After all, you can enjoy cooler evenings and more moderate days in Austin or San Antonio before venturing out to smaller towns such as Fredericksburg, New Braunfels and San Marcos. When visiting the Texas Hill Country, it’s probably still warm enough to enjoy river tubing in San Marcos, wine tasting in Fredericksburg, leaf-peeping in Lost Maples State Natural Area and even see a rodeo in a small town such as Bandera.
Wimberley is another great Central Texas destination with cabins on the river, natural swimming holes and more. Just keep in mind that the turning of the leaves comes later in the south, so time the trip accordingly if you are after fall colors instead of late-season swimming.
You’ll probably want to fly into Austin (AUS) or San Antonio (SAT) and then rent a car. Check out our guide to domestic sweet spots for ideas on how to best book your flights using points and miles. I also recommend checking out Southwest to see what types of fares it currently offers from your origin. You can also redeem points and miles for a car rental, but I recommend checking for low car rental rates through AutoSlash.
I recommend spending a few days in Austin at the start of your trip (check out our favorite Austin hotels) and then using Fredricksburg as a base for exploring the Hill Country. If you’re able to snag a reasonably priced one-way car rental, you could end your trip in San Antonio. Here are a few lodging options in Fredericksburg:
- Fairfield Inn & Suites Fredericksburg: Marriott Bonvoy Category 5, but currently on the PointSavers list.
- Holiday Inn Express & Suites Fredericksburg: Uses variable award pricing, but I found some nights bookable for 26,000 IHG Rewards Club points.
- Hampton Inn & Suites Fredericksburg: Uses variable award pricing, but most standard award nights cost between 33,000 and 50,000 Hilton Honors points.
Regardless of which of these hotels you choose, consider staying four or five nights if you’re eligible to get a free night when redeeming points. For more ideas on what to do in Texas, check out unique road trips you can take from Houston, road trips from Austin and road trips from San Antonio.
Drive the Blue Ridge Parkway
If you drive the Blue Ridge Parkway in the fall when the leaves are changing — usually late October to mid-November — you’ll have a beautiful drive and moderate temperatures.
The Blue Ridge Parkway is one of TPG’s most epic road trips across America. This parkway runs for 469 miles, linking Shenandoah National Park to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. And you can extend your journey slightly by also driving Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park.
If you want to drive the Blue Ridge Parkway this fall, a one-way car rental will let you maximize your time. But, if you can’t find any inexpensive one-way rentals — or want to spend more time exploring the area — consider driving the Blue Ridge Parkway one-way and then returning to your origin via another route.
I recommend flying into Asheville, North Carolina. But you could also consider flying into other cities on or near your route, including Roanoke or Harrisonburg in Virginia. There are many domestic points and miles sweet spots you can use to book your flight. For example, book through Turkish Miles&Smiles or Avianca LifeMiles to fly United domestically. Or book through British Airways for one-way, nonstop flights of less than 1,151 miles operated by American Airlines or Alaska Airlines. It’s also worth checking Delta and Southwest awards since these programs often offer good sales.
Finally, your lodging needs will ultimately depend on your routing. You could book a bunch of one-night hotel stays in different towns. Or you could stay for longer in several cities and then take daytrips from your base.
The options are far too broad for me to recommend specific options. But, although you should start your search with your hotel loyalty program of choice, you may also want to book some independent hotels through an online travel agency rewards program like Hotels.com Rewards. Additionally, you’ll find that programs like IHG Rewards and Choice Privileges offer more options than other popular loyalty programs in smaller towns along the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Visit Bavaria in Germany
Before the coronavirus pandemic, a visit to Munich for Oktoberfest would undoubtedly be high on this list. But, even though Oktoberfest isn’t happening in Munich this year, fall is still a great time to visit the German state of Bavaria. Bavaria’s main cities are Munich, Nuremberg and Augsburg — but I also recommend venturing to Garmisch-Partenkirchen and Fussen, located in the Alps along Germany’s border with Switzerland.
There are many ways to use points and miles to get to Europe. However, one top choice is to redeem ANA Mileage Club miles for Star Alliance flights. You’ll need to redeem 55,000 miles for a round-trip economy award or 88,000 miles for a round-trip business award. You can add a free stopover and use a mixture of Star Alliance carriers, but beware of high fuel surcharges with some operating carriers.
Alternatively, you could book American Airlines-operated awards through Etihad Guest. These awards will start at 20,000 Etihad miles one-way in economy, 50,000 miles one-way in business and 62,500 one-way in Flagship First.
I recommend staying in Munich and then taking trains or buses to other destinations within Bavaria for daytrips. Here’s a list of hotels we’ve recommended for Oktoberfest in the past. But to facilitate easy daytrips, I recommend redeeming points to stay at one of the following hotels:
- Andaz Munich Schwabinger Tor: World of Hyatt Category 5, centrally located in Munich.
- Moxy Munich Ostbahnhof: Marriott Bonvoy Category 3, near Ostbanhof train station.
- Comfort Hotel Am Medienpark: Variable pricing of 10,000 to 16,000 points per night, near Unterfohring S-Bahn station.
I’d likely pick the Moxy Munich Ostbahnhof for its location near the Ostbanhof train station, relatively low Category 3 pricing and fun vibe. I’d stay either five or even 10 nights to maximize Marriott’s fifth night free when using points.
Walk the Chicago lakefront
Chicago in the fall means moderate weather, outdoor dining and brisk walks along Lake Michigan. TPG senior reporter Andrew Kunesh is a Chicago native and thinks it’s the best time of year to visit the city — you miss the extreme cold and heat, and can see all the sights in a sweater and jeans.
One of the best things to do in Chicago is walking Lake Michigan and exploring the city’s vast selection of neighborhoods. The Lakefront Trail spans the length of the city and is lined with parks, cafes and museums. The fall is the perfect time to walk or bike the trail and see all that Chicago has to offer.
It’s easy to get to Chicago with points and miles too. Delta frequently offers discounted SkyMiles award tickets from its hubs. Sometimes you can find tickets from Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP) and Detroit (DTW) for as little as 4,500 SkyMiles in basic economy.
Alternatively, you can use Avianca LifeMiles to book United tickets and British Airways Avios to book American tickets. Both offer attractive pricing on short-haul flights and award space to Chicago O’Hare (ORD) is plentiful from most U.S. airports.
Chicago is home to a slew of great points hotels — here are a few good options downtown:
- Chicago Athletic Association: World of Hyatt Category 4; centrally located in downtown Chicago.
- W Chicago – Lakeshore: Marriott Bonvoy Category 5; located right on the lakefront.
- Kimpton Gray Hotel: Dynamic pricing with most dates costing 45,000 IHG Rewards points per night this fall; hip hotel near downtown.
Personally, I’d book the Chicago Athletic Association. It’s a bargain at just 15,000 World of Hyatt points per night and is situated right across from Millennium Park. It’s an easy walk to the lakefront too. Plus, the hotel is ultra-hip and has three amazing on-site bars.
Hike the mountains in Salt Lake City
Utah‘s capital is growing fast, but the surrounding nature is just as beautiful as ever. You can walk along the famous Salt Lake, hike nearby mountains and have reasonable access to Zion, Arches and other major national parks with a rental car.
Plus, there is no shortage of things to do right in the city. Foodies will love the Sugar House district, packed with restaurants, breweries and bakeries that are sure to quench any appetite. You’ll also find great places to eat and drink scattered throughout the large downtown area.
Delta has a hub in Salt Lake City (SLC), so you’ll want to look for reasonably priced SkyMiles award tickets first. I was able to find basic economy awards from San Francisco (SFO) to Salt Lake City starting at just 4,500 SkyMiles this fall, which is an excellent deal for this flight.
Some of the best hotel options in downtown Salt Lake City include the following:
- Hyatt Place Salt Lake City/Downtown/The Gateway: World of Hyatt Category 2; centrally located no-frills hotel.
- AC Hotel Salt Lake City Downtown: Marriott Bonvoy Category 4; new hotel located in downtown Salt Lake City.
- The Peery Salt Lake City Downtown, Tapestry Collection: Dynamic pricing with most dates costing 50,000 Hilton Honors points per night this fall; classic hotel near downtown.
We recommend staying at the Hyatt Place in downtown Salt Lake City. It has a stellar location with easy access to transit and local eateries. Plus, it’s only 8,000 points per night, so you can book a long stay for relatively few points. If you do make the trek out to Zion, we’re big fans of using Marriott points to stay at the Springhill Suites Zion.
Now’s the time to book your fall travel. From the Grand Canyon to Texas Hill Country to Bavaria and beyond, you’ve got lots of terrific options for places to visit. Keep in mind, if the COVID-19 situation fails to improve (or heaven forbid, gets worse), most airlines will let you change or cancel your bookings for free, including awards. Just be sure to book lodging that is also refundable until close to your date of travel and you should be all set.
Additional reporting by Andrew Kunesh and Katie Genter.
Featured photo by Mint Images/Getty Images.
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