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In the first installment of our new “Points and Miles Destination Guide” series, TPG Contributor Whitney Magnuson explores the many different ways to maximize a trip to New York City using points and miles.
Gotham. The Big Apple. The City That Never Sleeps. Yet an even better nickname for New York City might be the “Points and Miles Capital of the World,” as the locale serves as a common jumping off point for both domestic and international travel, as well as a destination in and of itself.
With just about every airline and hotel brand represented in New York, sorting through all your options can be a bit daunting. In this post, I’ll outline what I consider the best deals for flights, hotels and ground transportation using your travel rewards.
With three international airports serving the city, the challenge of visiting New York isn’t finding a way there, it’s finding the itinerary that best fits your needs. LaGuardia International Airport (LGA) is the closest to Manhattan, and serves as one of the area’s two Delta hubs. John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) also serves as a hub for Delta, as well as for American Airlines and JetBlue. Meanwhile, United Airlines calls Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) its hub for the region.
Still, the “hub” moniker is somewhat misleading. All three major domestic carriers (as well as many international and budget carriers) operate flights out of all three airports, so if you wish to simplify your search, try entering the three letter code “NYC” in any airline’s flight search tool to see your options for all three airports.
The next major consideration is where you’re coming from.
Travelers flying nonstop from other East Coast cities such as Boston, DC, Toronto and Montreal may find the sweetest deal: British Airways’ distance-based award chart makes booking partner flights into the City with Avios a real bargain. One-way flights from any of these cities on American, US Airways, or Alaska Airlines will run you a mere 4,500 Avios in economy, 9,000 Avios in business class, or 18,000 Avios in first class. Best of all, these award flights won’t get hit with British Airways’ notoriously high fuel surcharges.
The British Airways Visa Signature Card offers a sign-up bonus of 50,000 bonus Avios after spending $3,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening. Plus, earn an additional 25,000 Avios after you spend $10,000 total in the first year. Plus, an additional 25,000 Avios after spending $20,000 total in the first year. A savvy traveler could easily use that single bonus to finance up to 11 economy flights. To put it another way, that’s enough for a family of five to travel round-trip together and still have a few miles leftover — quite a deal.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that transcon passengers are out of luck. With 20+ nonstop flights daily out of both LA and San Francisco (not to mention several more from Seattle, San Diego and Phoenix), United is happy to brag that it serves the most destinations out of the New York area of any carrier. American is sharp on United’s heels with upwards of 15 nonstops from the West Coast to New York daily.
The result of all this competition is that saver level award flights are plentiful as long as you’re flexible about arrival and departure times. Saver Awards on United will run you 12,500 miles each way in economy, 25,000 miles in business, or 35,000 in first (on three-cabin aircraft, which are rarely used on domestic flights these days). American’s MileSAAver awards are priced similarly except at the first class level, where you’ll only need 32,500 miles each way.
Since United and American’s charts are zone-based, adding in connecting flights from other US cities won’t change the total cost of your redemption, making these options great for travelers coming from smaller regional airports. With the Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard currently offering a bonus of 50,000 miles (after spending $5,000 in the first three months), first class transcon round-trips are in reach with the help of this card bonus.
The rest of the major domestic carriers (Delta, Southwest, JetBlue and Virgin America) base their awards in varying degrees on the cash price of the ticket. This means you might get lucky and score a great deal, or you might not. Still, there are ways to maximize redemptions even on these carriers: Jetblue’s Mint business class service is often competitively priced, while Southwest Companion Pass holders can effectively double the value of award redemptions by bringing a friend along for the ride.
Finally, for the Europeans in the crowd, the real question is, “How baller do you wanna be?” Singapore Airlines’ A380 Suites from Frankfurt to JFK remain the gold standard for long-haul travel. For just 57,375 miles at the saver level or 110,500 miles at the standard level, you can immerse yourself in absolute luxury as you sail the skies into the Big Apple. Since the Singapore KrisFlyer program partners with all four of the major transferable loyalty currencies (Chase Ultimate Rewards, Amex Membership Rewards, Starwood Preferred Guest and Citi ThankYou Rewards) there are myriad ways to make this memorable award booking a reality.
Where to Stay
Once you’ve made it into the City, the next question is where to lay your head — and New York has no shortage of hotel options.
Starwood in particular has several properties that offer good value. The Westin Times Square is a category 6 property, requiring between 20,000 and 25,000 points per night, while the equally nice Westin Grand Central is a category 5 property, meaning you’ll only need between 12,000 and 16,000 points per night. With nightly rates that start around $243, but can quickly spike to well over $500 per night, you’re looking at a redemption value of 2-4 cents per point. That’s favorable given TPG’s latest valuation of 2.4 cents apiece for Starpoints.
Luxury lovers can also find an award sweet spot at the St. Regis New York. As a category 7 property, award nights go for 30,000 points. However, given that daily rates through the end of the year hover around $1,075 per night, this property offers roughly 3.6 cents per point in value. Plus, with the sign-up bonus on the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express, this high-brow hotel is easily within reach.
For fans of Chase Ultimate Rewards, Hyatt also offers great value in New York. While the chain offers six different category 6 hotels in Manhattan (each requiring 25,000 points per night), the best value can be found at the Andaz 5th Avenue. With rates through this fall starting around $525 a night, transferring Chase Ultimate Rewards to Hyatt (at a 1:1 ratio) will get you a redemption value of 2.1 cents per point.
Alternately, if you’re looking to redeem your two free nights earned from the Hyatt Credit Card, the Park Hyatt New York is a great option. Since the property is less than two years old and features stunning views of Midtown, nightly rates start around $973, but can frequently spike into the stratosphere.
Finally, Wyndham also deserves a look thanks to recent changes in its loyalty program. With award nights at any Wyndham hotel costing just 15,000 points, you can maximize your redemption value at higher end properties such as The New Yorker, a Wyndham Hotel (with rates from $330 per night) or The Wyndham Midtown 45 (with rates from $375 per night). The Wyndham Rewards Visa Card, offering a sign-up bonus of 30,000 points (15,000 after your first purchase, and 15,000 more after you spend $1,000 within the first 90 days), so a two-night stay at one of these four-star hotels is well within reach.
So you’ve made it to New York, and now it’s time to get to your hotel. You’ll just mosey over to the car rental counter, right? Try again — a personal car in New York will only be an expensive hassle to you throughout your trip. Considering the time and cost of dealing with parking and traffic, there are better options.
The most popular ways to get around are the subway, cabs, rideshare services, or of course, simply walking. All are relatively simple. The train (the A or E line if you’re coming from JFK, the Airtrain and NJTransit if you’re coming from Newark) will both get you into the heart of NYC for less than $10 and will take about 40 minutes, depending on what part of town you’re going to. There’s currently no direct train service from LaGuardia, but it sounds like that might be changing in the next few years.
All of the airports offer taxi lines just outside the baggage claim area (and by the way, in New York, you stand “on line” not “in line”). A cab from LaGuardia to Midtown will run you about $30-$40, depending on traffic. Cabbing it from Newark will cost more than $60, as the transit authority imposes a $17.50 surcharge. JFK has the advantage of a flat rate ($52 plus tolls) for a taxi to or from Manhattan, but beware, that flat rate pricing means cabbies may refuse to take you to JFK if it’s anywhere near rush hour or shift change.
I (like TPG) prefer to use Uber in the city, though similar ridesharing services like Lyft, Via and Sidecar abound. All will collect you in the passenger pickup areas of the respective airports, and since there are normally a number of drivers waiting at any given moment, the wait time is negligible. While these services are sometimes more expensive than a traditional cab, I like that I can earn Starwood points along the way.
Now that you know how to get to New York, where to stay in New York, and how to get around New York, the only question is what adventures will you choose to have there? Enjoy, and tell us your own favorite points and miles redemptions for NYC in the comments below.