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How to Use Points and Miles to Attend the Best Music Festivals of 2018

April 25, 2018
20 min read
Cory Henry At Pickathon Festival
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Festivals barely count as concerts anymore — they're travel experiences with costs to match. A ticket that covers all days could cost around $300. Add hotel, flight, and all the food and drink you'll consume at the event, and the bill is well beyond what you'd pay to see a concert at a local amphitheater.

Fortunately, you can use points to make the festival trip more affordable, and even though Coachella has passed, there are still plenty worth hitting up this year. The best festivals are either in major markets or cities that are big enough to have many nonstop flights and plenty of hotel choices.

Here's a list of the best music festivals occurring through the end of 2018, with tips on how to book award flights and hotel stays:

1. New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival

Jazz Fest, a legendary, multi-genre event, has been hosted in the Big Easy since 1970. This year’s lineup is a who’s who of legends and possibly the most diverse of any festival this year: Aerosmith, Jack White, Sting, Beck, Lionel Richie, Anita Baker, LL Cool J, Bonnie Raitt, Toots & the Maytals, Archie Shepp Quartet, Buddy Guy, Preservation Hall Jazz Band and dozens more.

Location: New Orleans, Louisiana

Dates: April 27 to May 6

Flights: Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport (MSY) is served by the major three US carriers (American, Delta and United) as well as JetBlue, Southwest and a handful of other smaller airlines. American is showing saver-level award availability for most days of the festival, meaning you could book a round-trip flight for 25,000 AAdvantage miles. Availability is also solid on United, with 25,000-mile round-trip awards available from Houston and Newark among other destinations. Delta awards are currently pricing out at 36,500 miles or more one-way, so the SkyMiles program probably isn't your best option unless you're in a pinch.

Hotels: New Orleans is known for its boutique hotels. Book boutique properties on Venture using a Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card or Capital VentureOne Rewards Credit Card and receive 10x miles on your stay (ends Jan. 31, 2020).

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Buddy Guy performs during the 2017 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival at Fair Grounds Race Course on May 7, 2017 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Tim Mosenfelder/WireImage)
Buddy Guy performs during the 2017 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival at Fair Grounds Race Course on May 7, 2017 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Tim Mosenfelder/WireImage)

2. Beale Street Music Festival

Held on the banks of the Mississippi River, the Beale Street Music Festival is an overlooked, no-frills gem with affordable prices and a quality lineup. This year the big-name performers include Jack White, Queens of the Stone Age, Post Malone, Erykah Badu, David Byrne and Memphis native Juicy J. The blues get a stage, too; this year’s performers include Delbert McClinton, Robert Randolph and the Family Band and Marcia Ball. Historic Beale Street, a stretch of road lined with blues clubs, is a few minutes away.

A three-day pass is just $125 (about a third of some other festivals) and a VIP three-day experience goes from $595 to $695 (viewing platforms, five alcoholic drinks per day, private restrooms and in/our privileges). Single-day tickets are $55, or $249 to $299 for single-day VIP.

Location: Memphis, Tennessee

Dates: May 4 to 6

Flights: You can fly nonstop to Memphis Airport (MEM) on all three major carries. American flies nonstop from Charlotte, Chicago, Dallas and Phoenix, and award availability is decent, though hit or miss at the lowest level (12,500 miles one-way). Delta flies nonstop from Atlanta, Detroit, Los Angeles and Minneapolis, and you're looking at a minimum of 31,000 miles one-way for awards. United offers nonstops from Chicago, Denver, Houston and Newark, though saver awards for dates around the festival are scarce for all cities except Newark.

Hotels: There are a few good options downtown near the festival, though availability is scarce since this festival's just around the corner. The Hampton Inn and Suites costs $333 (with a Hilton Honors discount) per night, though unfortunately no award availability was showing as of publish time. The centrally located Westin Memphis Beale Street is available from 10,000 Starpoints or $302 per night. Hotel Napoleon, an Ascend property in the Choice Hotels portfolio, has rooms from $339, which equates to $256 if you buy points at the current 30% off rate.

3. Electric Daisy Carnival

The king of dance music festivals is just another reason to visit Las Vegas. This year’s headliners are Diplo, Kaskade, Zedd, and Martin Garrix. EDC has unusual camping that offers daytime pool parties, a swimming pool with drinks and DJs, yoga, wellness shops and everyday services like barbershops and massages. A standard pass costs $355. Camping costs $329. If you stay at a hotel, EDC charges $90 for a three-day shuttle pass.

Location: Las Vegas, Nevada

Dates: May 18 to 20

Flights: Because of its huge tourism industry, Vegas has an abundance of available flights from many major cities. If award availability isn't popping up on your route, you might be able to score a cheapish paid flight, such as $268 round-trip from Chicago on Spirit arriving the first day of the festival. Access to the Las Vegas airport's Centurion Lounge is complimentary for holders of the American Express Centurion Card, The Platinum Card® from American Express, or The Business Platinum Card® from American Express

Hotels: Starwood has six properties in Vegas, but at most of them points redemptions aren't available the weekend of the festival. The Four Points By Sheraton Las Vegas East Flamingo starts at 7,000 Starpoints per night, with award nights currently available for festival dates. Marriott has a few hotels that take points for the dates around the festival: The Renaissance Las Vegas and Marriott’s Grand Chateau both have rooms starting at 30,000 points per night. South of the Strip, the Fairfield Inn & Suites Las Vegas South starts at 20,000 Marriott points per night.

LAS VEGAS, NV - JUNE 18: A general view shows the 21st annual Electric Daisy Carnival at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on June 18, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Steven Lawton/Getty Images)
A general view shows the 21st annual Electric Daisy Carnival at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on June 18, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Steven Lawton/Getty Images)

4. The Governors Ball Music Festival

The three-day Governors Ball Music Festival has the same acts as other festivals (Jack White, Eminem) but with a heavy hip-hop bent (Post Malone, The Glitch Mob, 2 Chainz, Lil Uzi Vert). And best of all it's in New York City. Visitors staying in Manhattan will have easy access to the show at Randall’s Island to the north. Tickets are $105 for a one-day pass and $305 for a three-day pass. VIP packages are available ($255 to $1,950 ), as are luxury suites and cabanas.

Location: New York, New York

Dates: June 1 to 3

Flights: Chicago has nonstop, round-trip flights from Delta ($327 or 18,00 miles) and United ($271 or 32,500 miles). Los Angeles flyers have affordable nonstop flights on Alaska ($347 or 40,000 miles) Delta ($357 or 38,000 miles), JetBlue ($358 or 28,000 points) and United ($328 or 40,000 miles).

Hotels: The Points Guy has previously recommended the Andaz 5th Avenue (25,000 Hyatt Rewards points per night) and TRYP by Windham (15,000 Wyndam Rewards points per night). Starwood has a handful of hotels in Manhattan. The St. Regis New York and Gramercy Park Hotel each cost 30,000 Starwood points per night. The Chatwal goes for 35,000 points per night on May 30 and June 1 and 30,000 on the following days (a peak-season period goes through June 1). Thanks to the promotion is running with Capital One, you can get 10x miles if you book a room through with a Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card or the Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card.

5 & 6. Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival and the CMA Music Festival

Each year in early June, Middle Tennessee goes from music-heavy to music-crazy. The long-running Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival, an hour southeast of Nashville, will have Eminem, The Killers and Muse as headliners, with dozens of other acts including Dua Lipa, Nile Rodgers & Chic, Bassnector and Sturgill Simpson.

The CMA Festival hits downtown Nashville with dozens of free shows that give fans the ability to discover new artists and see familiar ones. The nightly stadium shows have most of country music’s biggest names. This year's marquee acts include Carrie Underwood, Keith Urban, Chris Stapleton and Blake Shelton. A four-day pass for $222 will get you admission to each night’s stadium show (upper level seats, and a few mid-level areas) admission to the Fan Fair gathering (get autographs from many favorite country artists), and free CMA shuttles. A standalone stadium concert costs Fair Fair as a standalone costs $25 for a four-day pass or $10 for a single-day pass.

Locations: Manchester, Tennessee (Bonnaroo) and Nashville, TN (CMA Festival)

Dates: June 7 to 10

Flights: American’s nonstop flights out of Chicago O’Hare start at $311 (or you could score a low-level award for 7,500 miles on the return flight, but not on the way out). United's nonstops from Chicago start at $402 round-trip or 32,500 miles one-way. If you have some flexibility with dates, you could book AA awards from New York for 12,500 miles each way, though you'll need to leave on the 5th and return on the 12th.

Hotels: There’s not much going on in Manchester (population 10,000) and hotels fill up way in advance — many people camp outside the festival grounds in sweltering heat and humidity. But Bonnaroo is only an hour drive from downtown Nashville, and shuttle services are available. Plan on staying in Nashville or Murfreesboro, a suburb about halfway to the festival. The closest Starwood property is the Aloft Nashville-Cool Springs for 7,000 Starpoints per night. A bit closer to Nashville is the Four Points by Sheraton Nashville-Brentwood for 5,600 Starpoints per night. In Nashville, the Westin starts at 12,800 Starpoints per night.

Bonnaroo. (Photo by @rcassetty1 via Twenty20)
Bonnaroo. (Photo by @rcassetty1 via Twenty20)

7 & 8. Pitchfork Music Festival and Lollapalooza

Location: Chicago, Illinois

Dates: Pitchfork is July 20 to 22; Lollapalooza is August 2 to 5.

Pitchfork Music Festival is the annual Chicago event of indie music website Pitchfork. The well-curated lineup gathers underground gems, indie celebrities, and cult favorites The 2018 edition, once again located a few miles west of downtown in Union Park, has 14 artists on each of its three days. Headliners include Ms. Lauryn Hill, Fleet Foxes and Tame Impala. Lesser-known standouts Courtney Barnett and The War on Drugs are joined by R&B legend Chaka Khan and Raphael Saadiq. One-day tickets are $75 and three-day tickets are just $175. The Pitchfork Plus tier provides VIP treatment for a $375 three-day pass.

The eclectic, four-day Lollapalooza is one of the granddaddies of U.S. music festivals. Roughly 40 artists perform each day. The four headliners are Bruno Mars, Jack White, The Weeknd and Arctic Monkeys. The lineup is heavy on rock but also has numerous rappers (Lil Uzi Vert, Post Malone, Logic, A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie, Tyler the Creator) and dance (Zedd, ODESZA).The location, Grant Park in the central downtown district, provides easy access to many major hotels and easy-to-use public transport. Saturday and four-day passes are sold out, but you can still buy single-day passes for Thursday or Sunday for $120. All VIP ($511 one-day, $2,200 four-day) and Platinum ($938 one-day, $4,200 four-day) tickets are available.

Flights: Delta is good option from New York, with nonstop flights out of La Guardia to O’Hare for $219 or 18,000 miles round-trip during Pitchfork and from $298 or 180,000 miles during Lollapalooza. On American, round-trips start at $264 or 25,000 miles for dates during both festivals. From Denver, Frontier and Spirit both have nonstop flights to O’Hare for $154-$185 during Pitchfork and from $154-$226 during Lollapalooza; United has nonstop flights from DEN from $333 or 25,000 miles during both festivals.

Hotels: Some Starwood properties available for 12,000 points per night include the W Chicago - City Center, the Westin Chicago River North and the Sheraton Grand Chicago. The Ace Hotel Chicago, a TPG favorite, starts at $185 per night.

9. Electric Forest

The Electric Forest festival mixes jam bands — The String Cheese Incident headlines each night — hip-hop and EDM ranging from bass-heavy Bassnector to Washed Out (known for the music in the opening credits of the TV show “Portlandia”). The forest setting creates some surreal ways to experience music, enjoy art installations and basically revel in the psychedelic atmosphere. General admission wristbands and a camping pass start at $309.75. A VIP package is available starting at $699. Parking an RV will cost $255 and up.

Location: Rothbury, Michigan

Dates: June 21 to 24 and June 28 to July 1

Flights: Rothbury is on the western side of Michigan just miles from Lake Michigan. Grand Rapids is the closest city at 61 miles away. A less desirable option is a flight into Chicago and 205-mile drive to Rothbury. There are a few nonstop flights to Grand Rapids, starting at $256 or 18,000 miles round-trip from New York on Delta and $275 or 30,000 miles round-trip on United. From Los Angeles you can get connecting flights from United (from $368 or 40,000 miles), American (from $368 or a whopping 60,000 miles), Frontier ($466) and Delta (from $368 or 48,500 miles). From Dallas, American offers a nonstop flight (from $426 or 25,000 miles) while Delta ($419 or 33,000 miles) and United ($419 or 50,000 miles) have connecting flights.

Hotels: If you’re not into camping, there are two hotel options about 10 miles south of the festival site: the Comfort Inn ($80 per night) and Days Inn ($59 per night).

10. Newport Jazz Festival

One of the most important festivals in US history, the Newport Jazz Festival has hosted world-famous musicians. The 1969 Newport Jazz Festival was a who's who of music legends: James Brown, Miles Davis, Led Zeppelin, Muddy Waters, Dave Brubeck, Sly & The Family Stone and Jeff Beck...amazing!

The 2018 lineup includes Charles Lloyd (with a different group of musicians each of the three nights), Pat Metheny, George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic, Jon Batiste, Gregory Porter, Living Colour, Matthew Shipp Trio and dozens more.

The Newport Jazz Festival is held in Newport, Rhode Island. (The sister event, Newport Folk Festival, is held the preceding week but has already sold out.) A three-day pass costs $170. The two-day pass goes for $125. Single-day passes range from $65-70 in advance and $75 to $89 at the gate. Students and kids pay only $20 and $15 respectively for day passes.

Location: Newport, Rhode Island

Dates: August 3 to 5

Flights: Los Angeles flyers can get nonstop flights to Providence (PVD) on Delta for $385 or 47,500 miles. Spirit’s one-stop flights start at $337. Southwest has only connecting flights, and they range from $242 to $278 one-way and go for about 47,000 points and up round-trip. Out of Chicago, American and United have round-trip, nonstop flights for around $260, and Southwest has nonstop flights starting at $406 or 27,396 points round-trip.

Hotels: Marriott properties include the Newport Marriott, within spitting distance of Fort Adams, starting at $617 or 40,000 points a night. Unfortunately, though, most other points hotels in the area aren't showing any award availability during the festival, so booking with the Venture Card to earn 10x miles through (or using points through a portal like Amex Travel, Citi ThankYou Travel or Chase Ultimate Rewards Travel) could be a solid option.

Roy "Futureman" Wooten, Bela Fleck, Victor Wooten and Howard Levy of Bela Fleck and the Flectones perform during the Newport Jazz Festival. (Photo by Douglas Mason/Getty Images)
Roy "Futureman" Wooten, Bela Fleck, Victor Wooten and Howard Levy of Bela Fleck and the Flectones perform during the Newport Jazz Festival. (Photo by Douglas Mason/Getty Images)

11. Pickathon

Pickathon is a unique, Pacific Northwest take on a music festival. Other than Burning Man, there are few other music events where fan lives in harmony with nature. The lineup is characteristically heavy on indie rock (Built to Spill, Broken Social Scene, current buzz band Sunflower Bean) and the Americana umbrella of styles — from the soulful R&B of Blind Boys of Alabama to the ramblin’, psychedelic folk music of Shakey Graves and the all-star trio I’m With Her. Malian desert blues legends Tinariwen from Mali, Japanese group Kikagaku Moyo and Ethiopian singer Hailu Mergia help create a more global event.

The organizers encourage attendees not to fly in and drive to the festival site. Instead, take the light rail from the airport to an eco-shuttle that will go the festival site. In fact, organizers have purposefully made bicycling the only free method of transport to the festival site.

Location: Pendarvis Farm (outside of Portland, Oregon)

Dates: August 3 to 5

Flights: Out of Los Angeles, you can fly Alaska (from 17,500 miles), American (from 25,000 miles), Delta (from 14,500) and Southwest (from 15,642 points) nonstop to Portland (PDX), with cash prices starting at $197 round-trip. From San Francisco, Alaska, American, Southwest and United have flights starting at $145. Denver flyers have their choice of Frontier from $249 and United from $325.

Hotels: Pickathon is all about camping. With downtown Portland an 18-mile drive away, attendees have few hotel options nearby. Two hotels located on nearby I-205 are the closest options. The Clarion Inn and Suites is already sold out from August 2 to 6. Courtyard by Marriott Southeast/Clackamas has rooms starting at $224 or 80,000 points.

12. Outside Lands Music & Arts Festival

San Francisco’s beautiful Golden Gate Park hosts the Outside Lands concert, the largest music festival in the Bay Area. This year’s lineup includes Beck, Florence + the Machine, Odesza, Janet Jackson, Bon Iver, Future, Portugal. The Man, N.E.R.D., Chvrches and S.F. natives Huey Lewis and the News, along with dozens more mostly indie rock and hip-hop artists. There’s art, too — usually street art that captures the outsider vibe of the city and surrounding areas. A standard three-day pass costs $375. A VIP pass grants better seating and better views, among other benefits, for $795.

Location: San Francisco, CA

Dates: August 10 to 12

Flights: Getting to San Francisco on a nonstop flight is easy from many US cities. Los Angeles has nonstop flights from Alaska, American, Delta, Southwest and a few other smaller carriers. From New York, you're looking at round-trip nonstop prices around $358-400, with saver-level economy award availability on American and United.

Hotels: You’ll want to stay in San Francisco since a shuttle pass costs $48 and a parking pass goes for $255. Many hotels near the shuttle pick-up point can be booked with points. Starwood properties include The Westin St. Francis on Union Square (from 20,000 points per night) and the St. Regis San Francisco (from 30,000 points per night). Centrally located Marriott properties include the Courtyard Marriott Union Square for $293 or 40,000 points per night and the JW Marriott at Union Square for $417 and up or 45,000 points per night. Parc 55, part of the Hilton Hotels family, goes for $383 for Hilton Honors members, and points rates start at an absurd 130,000 per night.

13. Austin City Limits

The long-running Austin City Limits festival now runs two weekends. The lineup hasn’t been announced but it’s sure to be excellent. In 2017, the festival hosted Jay-Z, Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Killers, Chance the Rapper, Gorillaz and Ice Cube, among others. Further down the bill are local rock band The Band of Heathens, country act Midland and singer-songwriter Luke Combs. ACL offers standard and VIP tickets that cover three days for either weekend. October is a great time to visit Austin, as the heat and humidity will have subsided.

Location: Austin, Texas

Dates: October 5 to 7 and October 12 to 14

Flights: Out of Chicago, United has nonstop flights starting at $363 or 55,000 miles round-trip. American has a few nonstop flights for $546 or 25,000 miles round-trip (award rates skyrocket to 50,000 miles each way on October 4 and 8). Southwest nonstop flights cost about $565 or about 39,000 points round-trip. From Los Angeles, American offers nonstop flights for $425 and from 37,500 miles; United has a nonstop flight for $469 or 65,000 miles round-trip; Delta’s nonstop flights start at $371 or 31,000 miles; and Southwest has nonstop flights from LAX from $428 or about 29,000 miles round-trip.

Hotels: The festival takes place just across the Colorado River from downtown Austin (a long walk or quick pedicab trip away). You can redeem points at a handful of downtown SPG hotels: Aloft Austin Downtown (from 12,000 points per night), the Element Austin Downtown (from 10,000 points per night), the Westin Austin Downtown (from 12,000 points per night), the W Austin (from 20,000 points per night) and the Sheraton Austin Hotel at the Capitol (from 10,000 points per night). Marriott has the Residence Inn Austin Downtown/Convention Center (from 35,000 points per night) the Courtyard Austin Downtown/Convention Center (from 35,000 points per night) and the JW Marriott Austin (from 40,000 points per night).

Austin City Limits. (Photo by @brianfbenton via Twenty20)
Austin City Limits. (Photo by @brianfbenton via Twenty20)
Featured image by Redferns