5 Fun Girls’ Weekends on Points
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The busy summer travel season has drawn to a close. Kids are back in school. The crush of the holidays is still several months away. We are currently in that blissful part of the year where things go back to normal for a little while and the idea of just taking a trip with your friends seems like such a good idea. Luckily, there are plenty of destinations where your points and miles will come in handy both for saving money and experiencing great flights and hotels.
Here are five ideas for fun girls’ weekends this fall, all within a short flight of much of the continental US so you can spend more time on the ground enjoying yourself and catching up with pals.
1. Nashville, Tennessee
Music City has something for everyone. It’s also convenient for folks meeting up from different corners of the country. You can catch concerts at Ryman Auditorium and the Grand Ole Opry or a more intimate show at the legendary Bluebird Café. Visit the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, stroll around the Parthenon and visit Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage. Spend an evening bar hopping along 2nd Avenue, and go for either finger-licking hot chicken at Hattie B.’s or a fabulous fine-dining feast at the Catbird Seat.
Nashville International Airport (BNA) is served by almost all the major US airlines, so how you fly really just depends on the type of miles you have and want to use.
While most domestic award tickets used to be a plain old 12,500 miles each way, airlines have been tinkering with these redemptions levels as they’ve shifted from distance- to revenue-based earning formulas. As an example, here’s a round-trip award flight from Minneapolis (MSP) to Nashville for just 13,000 miles on Delta.
Alaska will charge you 10,000 miles each way from either Seattle (SEA) or San Francisco (SFO).
If you’re looking to fly on Southwest, the carrier’s Rapid Rewards program is a Chase Ultimate Rewards transfer partner, though award pricing is dynamic and based on the cost of the ticket, so be sure to check both the paid and award rates to see if it’s worth using points for your trip. Remember too that you can always rebook your Southwest award flights if the price drops and get a refund in points!
American Airlines will still charge you the standard 12,500 miles each way for most flights (those under 500 miles in distance are just 7,500 miles each way), while United might charge you as few as 10,000 miles, depending on your departure airport.
Where to Stay
Among the hotel choices where your points might get you a free night is the JW Marriott Nashville, which is right across the street from the Music City Center and also near Bridgestone Arena. Award nights at the hotel, which just opened in July, cost 60,000 points each.
Another Marriott option is the historic Union Station Hotel, part of the Autograph Collection, where free nights will also set you back 60,000 points.
The Holston House belongs to Hyatt’s Unbound Collection and is located in a nearly 200-year-old building across the street from both Bridgestone Arena and the Ryman Auditorium. Rates there can top $600 per night, so using 20,000 World of Hyatt points for an award night can represent a terrific value.
The Hilton Nashville Downtown, meanwhile, costs 70,000 Hilton Honors points per night this fall.
2. Riviera Maya, Mexico
Perhaps better known for the spring break shenanigans and nonstop parties of Cancún (no judgment), there are plenty of other great things to see and do along Mexico’s Riviera Maya. Plan on staying somewhere farther down the coast like in pleasant Playa del Carmen or tranquil Tulum. Among the activities on hand, visitors can tour the ancient ruins of Chichen Itza, dive in the vast underwater cave systems of cenotes, snorkel alongside mammoth whale sharks, take a yoga class on the beach or simply chill by the pool…margarita in hand, of course.
The major airport in the area is Cancún International Airport (CUN), which is a 20-minute drive from the city. But more importantly, it’s just 45 minutes from Playa del Carmen and 90 minutes from Tulum. Even better, you can get there within a matter of hours from pretty much any corner of the US. Among the major hubs with nonstop service are:
- Atlanta (ATL): Delta
- Baltimore (BWI): Southwest
- Charlotte (CLT): American
- Chicago (ORD): American, Frontier, United
- Dallas-Ft. Worth (DFW): American, Spirit, Sun Country
- Denver (DEN): Southwest, United
- Houston (IAH): Spirit, United
- Los Angeles (LAX): Alaska, Delta, Southwest, United
- Miami (MIA): American
- Newark (EWR): United
- New York (JFK): American, Delta, JetBlue
- Orlando (MCO): JetBlue
- Phoenix (PHX): American
- San Francisco (SFO): United
- Seattle (SEA): Alaska
- Washington Dulles (IAD): United
In short, you have options galore, and award availability tends to be good (except around major holidays and prime spring break time).
In economy, American will charge you 25,000-30,000 miles round-trip, while United will charge you 35,000 miles. As noted above, Delta uses dynamic pricing, though I did find awards as low as 20,000 miles round-trip. Here’s an example of one with outbound flights via Mexico City (MEX) on Delta’s SkyTeam partner, Aeromexico, and return flights home via New York (JFK).
If you have British Airways Avios (or American Express Membership Rewards points or Chase Ultimate Rewards to transfer to BA), consider using them to book flights on American. Thanks to the carrier’s distance-based award chart, you can get from either Dallas or Miami to Cancun for a mere 7,500 Avios each way.
Where to Stay
Eschew the tourist-packed hotels of Cancún’s zona hotelera for quieter enclaves down the coast. World of Hyatt members (or those with Chase Ultimate Rewards points to transfer to the program) have their choice of the Grand Hyatt Playa del Carmen or the swanky Andaz Mayakoba, both of which cost just 20,000 points per night.
With Marriott points, there are plenty of options in and around Cancún, including the Ritz-Carlton Cancún and the Westin Lagunamar. But head south to the beachy chic Papaya Project, Tulum, which is a member of Design hotels, for just 50,000 points.
Finally, the Fives Downtown Hotel & Residences is a Hilton Curio Collection property right in the town of Playa del Carmen that you can book for a mere 32,000 points per night (though paid rates are also rather cheap).
3. Park City, Utah
Before ski season gets underway and Park City sees an influx of Hollywood A-listers for the Sundance Film Festival, take advantage of all this beautiful mountain town has to offer. Main Street is home to great shops, restaurants and bars, and while the weather remains good, visitors can enjoy activities like hiking and mountain biking, river rafting, golfing, horseback riding and even hot-air ballooning.
Park City is about an hour-long drive from the Salt Lake City Airport (SLC), which happens to be one of Delta’s hubs with incoming flights from cities all over the western US. However, you can also catch flights here from various cities on other carriers including Alaska, American, JetBlue, Southwest and United.
Here’s a sample round-trip award on Delta from Los Angeles (LAX) for just 15,000 miles and $11.20.
Here’s one on Alaska from Portland (PDX) for just 15,000 miles and $11.20 round-trip.
And one on United from San Francisco (SFO) for 20,000 miles plus $11.20 round-trip.
Where to Stay
There are plenty of luxurious points options in and around town. For those with hefty Marriott balances from the SPG integration or a welcome bonus from the Starwood Preferred Guest® American Express Luxury Card, the St. Regis Deer Valley is a short drive away and features a Remède Spa and the J&G Grill from celebrity chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten. Award nights there are 60,000 points each. Closer to town, the all-suite Hotel Park City is a member of the Autograph Collection and charges 50,000 points per night.
Prefer the World of Hyatt program (or sitting on Chase points to transfer)? You might consider staying at the Hyatt Centric Park City (the former Hyatt Escala) near the Canyons recreational area for 20,000 points per night.
Hilton’s sumptuous Waldorf Astoria Park City has one of the town’s best spas and a restaurant called Powder that serves “elevated comfort food” in a comfortable setting. Award nights cost 61,000 points on weeknights and 63,000 points on weekends this fall.
4. Montréal, Canada
One of the largest French-speaking cities in the world (it used to be #2, just behind Paris, but the rankings have recently shifted) is right at our doorstep. Montréal is just a short flight from most East Coast cities, and (slightly) faster to get to than New York from the West Coast. It combines a certain European flair with all the offerings of a North American city.
The restaurant scene is one of the most exciting on the continent. There are plenty of activities from museums to hiking and biking both within the city and in parks just outside it, and Montréal fields a robust roster of festivals – over 100 throughout the year. Plus, the exchange rate remains good for American travelers, at about $1 USD to $1.30 CAD, so a visit here does not have to break the bank.
Montréal-Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport (YUL) is served by Canada’s largest airline, Air Canada, which currently flies nonstop from Montreal (YUL) to the 23 following US airports:
- Baltimore (BWI)
- Boston (BOS)
- Chicago (ORD)
- Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW)
- Denver (DEN)
- Fort Lauderdale (FLL)
- Fort Myers (RSW)
- Hartford (BDL)
- Houston (IAH)
- Las Vegas (LAS)
- Los Angeles (LAX)
- Miami (MIA)
- Newark (EWR)
- New York LaGuardia (LGA)
- Orlando (MCO)
- Philadelphia (PHL)
- Phoenix (PHX)
- Pittsburgh (PIT)
- San Francisco (SFO)
- Tampa (TPA)
- Washington Dulles (IAD)
- Washington National (DCA)
- West Palm Beach (PBI)
If you do go that route, you might want to consider paying cash since airfares tend to range between $200-$500 round-trip from most US origins, while award tickets using Air Canada’s own Aeroplan miles (an Amex transfer partner) tend to rack up fees that are nearly as high. That being said, mileage rates are relatively low (between 15,000-25,000 round-trip in economy). Here’s an example that illustrates both these phenomena.
You might consider using United MileagePlus miles to book an Air Canada award instead since MileagePlus is a 1:1 transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards, charges 25,000 miles round-trip and imposes more reasonable fees (around $60 round-trip).
In addition, United will actually charge you as few as 10,000 miles each way in economy on its own flights, like in this example from Newark to Montreal.
American Airlines flies to Montreal from several cities including Charlotte (CLT), Chicago (ORD), Miami (MIA) and Philadelphia (PHL), among others. American AAdvantage charges 15,000 miles each way in economy. However, if you’re coming from New York or Philadelphia in particular, you should consider using British Airways Avios instead. The program is a transfer partner of Amex and Chase, and thanks to its distance-based award chart, awards would only cost 7,500 Avios each way on these short-hauls. Just beware that there still seem to be issues booking American awards on the BA site, so you might have to call in.
Delta flies to Montreal from Atlanta (ATL), Minneapolis (MSP) and New York (LGA). The lowest round-trip awards I could find were 24,000 miles plus $58.
Where to Stay
As a major city, Montréal’s hotel options are myriad. The Hyatt Regency Montréal seems to have ongoing construction, but award rates are decent at 12,000 points per night. Just beware that the hotel is leaving Hyatt in December.
If you have Marriott points to burn, you have your choice of excellent hotels including the Renaissance Montréal Downtown for 35,000 points per night, the W Montréal for 50,000 points per night, or the Ritz-Carlton, Montréal for 60,000 points per night.
The InterContinental Montréal is a staid alternative for just 45,000 points per night.
5. The Island of Hawaii
The Island of Hawaii has had a stressful year. First, there were volcanic eruptions, then came Hurricane Lane and Tropical Storm Olivia. The impact of eruptions from Kilauea seems to be limited to the southeast coast, well away from the airport in Kona and the resorts of the Kohala Coast. The storms, meanwhile, did inflict some damage and flooding on the island, but residents are hard at work getting back to normal, the hotels are opening, and they can use the visitors. Plus, all these natural events might just have scared off enough other tourists to keep airfares and hotel rates relatively low, making it a better time to visit than ever.
The island’s main airport is Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport at Keahole (KOA). Here are the airports in the US with nonstop flights there:
- Denver (DEN): United
- Los Angeles (LAX): American, Delta, Hawaiian, United
- Phoenix (PHX): American
- San Diego (SAN): Alaska
- San Francisco (SFO): Alaska, United
- Seattle (SEA): Alaska, Delta
We have a few posts for mileage strategies to get to Hawaii, so instead of rehashing the various options, let’s just focus on what is probably the best: using British Airways Avios to fly either Alaska or American from the West Coast. That’s because these flights fall within the distance band that requires just 12,500 Avios each way. Compare that to the 15,000+ miles Alaska would charge you each way or the 20,000-22,500 American AAdvantage charges and you’re looking at some substantial savings.
Here’s a sample award from Los Angeles to Kona for just 25,000 miles and $11.20 in taxes/fees.
Where to Stay
The island’s high-end choices include the Four Seasons Hualalai and the Fairmont Orchid, but if you want to use points to save some cash, you still have plenty of possibilities, especially if you’re sitting on a stash of Marriott points.
The Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort & Spa has rooms starting at 50,000 points per night (you can upgrade from there with a mix of points and cash), the Sheraton Kona Resort & Spa at Keauhou Bay is 35,000 points per night and the Courtyard by Marriott King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel is 22,500 points per night.
More intriguing, the historic Mauna Kea Beach Hotel is now part of Autograph Collection and has rooms starting at 50,000 points per night. Finally, the Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel has reopened as the Westin Hapuna Beach Resort after a $46 million renovation that overhauled all the guestrooms and public spaces (including the pools) and added a new CrossFit studio. Free nights there start at a reasonable 35,000 points.
For Hilton loyalists, the classic Hilton Waikoloa Village has rooms for 55,000-60,000 points per night. Just beware that there is some construction currently taking place at the hotel.
These were just five ideas to inspire you for your next girls’ weekend, but there are a plethora of other destinations as well as other possible payment options. If you don’t have the types of points listed above, or you find that it’s not worth redeeming points and miles for what you want since prices are low, you can also consider using fixed-rate points. Those are the kind you earn with cards such as the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card or the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard. The former is particularly attractive for paid stays thanks to the new 10x miles you’d earn by booking and paying for a room at Hotels.com through Jan. 31, 2020. You also have the option of booking directly through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal or Amex Travel.
As part of the so-called “shoulder season” for many destinations, fall is a great time to travel. Airfares and hotel rates tend to dip between the summer and the holidays. People have more time on their hands as the regular school and work years get underway. You won’t have to brave the high-season crowds at airports or popular attractions. And most importantly, it’s a great time to catch up with friends you may not have seen in a while. So what are you waiting for? Book your girlfriends’ getaway this fall.
Featured image via Getty Images.
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