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The best points and miles bucket list trips in the US

June 11, 2021
23 min read
Lounging chairs overlooking Hanalei Bay and the Na Pali coast Princeville Kauai Hawaii USA in the late afternoon sun
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After more than a year cooped up at home, Americans are hitting the roads and skies again in record numbers, even spurring the coinage of a new term for wanderlust: "Revenge travel."

But while many countries are beginning to reopen to travelers from the U.S., much of the world remains off-limits for the time being due to COVID-19. Instead of looking beyond borders, though, why not consider an over-the-top domestic jaunt?

The U.S. boasts some spectacular destinations, many of which are anxious to welcome back travelers. And since you probably haven't burned through many of your airline miles or hotel points in the last year, it's a prime opportunity to cash them in for truly incredible trips here at home.

You can gravitate toward the culinary or the beachy, an adrenaline-filled adventure or just a nice all-inclusive resort. No matter what your speed, there are bucket-list trips right at your doorstep (or at least within a manageable drive or flight).

Here are eight destinations in the United States that you should visit in your lifetime, where your points and miles will come in handy.

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New York City

(Photo by Luca Bravo / Unsplash)

The Big Apple has something for everyone: world-class museums, exciting Broadway shows (again soon, hopefully!) and historical sites like the Statue of Liberty and the Brooklyn Bridge.

There are plenty of ways to spend your time in New York City, so be sure to use a credit card whose points you can maximize on either earning or redeeming for transit, dining, tourist attractions and entertainment. For instance, the Chase Sapphire Reserve earns 3x points per dollar on travel purchases. This includes airfare, hotels and public transportation, such as rideshares and the Subway. The Citi Prestige® Card earns 5x points per dollar on dining, so you can max out your earnings at some of New York’s hottest restaurants. Meanwhile, the Capital One Savor Cash Rewards Credit Card earns 4% entertainment expenses, including live theater, sporting events, tourist attractions, and sporting events, among other possibilities.

The information for the Citi Prestige and the Capital One Savor Cash Rewards has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer

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Getting there

If you're coming from another East Coast hub like Boston (BOS), Philadelphia (PHL) or Washington, DC (DCA/IAD), your best bet is probably rail, including Amtrak. You could pay for your ticket with a card like the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card, which earns 2x miles per dollar on all purchases. Those miles can then be redeemed for travel expenses, including train tickets, at a rate of one cent apiece.

If you are coming from farther away, the city’s three main airports are New York JFK (JFK), LaGuardia (LGA) and Newark (EWR) in New Jersey, so you have plenty of choices. As for miles, Delta has been offering flash award sales with tickets for as low as 2,500 miles each way within the U.S., while United has dropped award prices to as low as 3,000 miles each way. Hopefully, there will be more deals like that in the days ahead.

Where to Stay

Although it's estimated that around 200 of New York City's hotels closed in the past year, there are still over 500 to choose from – and they need your business!

Each of the major chains is well represented here, so where you stay will depend on your cash or points budget and what part of town you prefer.

Among TPG’s top New York City hotel choices are The Times Square EDITION, which is going for around $700 or 60,000 Marriott Bonvoy points per night this summer, and the St. Regis New York for around $900 or 85,000 Marriott Bonvoy points per night.

The Conrad New York Downtown has rates that range from $400-$600 or 95,000 Hilton Honors points this summer, and the Park Hyatt New York is available for around $795 or 30,000 points. Of course, there are more wallet-friendly options, too.

Hawaii

(Photo by Luca Bravo / Unsplash)

Although the rules of traveling to and within Hawaii have been complicated for travelers to navigate during COVID-19, it looks like the state should reopen to fully vaccinated travelers with minimal restrictions soon.

Hawaii has adventures galore, including surfing lessons off Waikiki, airplane-wreck scuba diving, and many historical sites like the Pearl Harbor National Memorial, the Iolani Palace, and the Shangri La Museum of Islamic Art Culture and Design. You can spend your days kayaking with whales off Maui, diving with manta rays on Hawaii or hiking through Waimea Canyon on Kauai. The only question you'll have is: How fast can you get there?

Getting there

Airlines including Delta, United, and Southwest are trying to stay ahead of a booking crush by adding more flights to the islands and deploying their larger jets to carry even more would-be vacationers to this tropical paradise, so while airfares are on the rise, there are still award seats to be booked.

Among the many, many strategies for booking cheap awards to Hawaii is redeeming British Airways Avios – which transfer from Amex, Chase and Marriott – on either Alaska Airlines or American Airlines. It’ll only cost 13,000 Avios each way from the West Coast of the U.S., which is a big discount on flight awards that would otherwise be 15,000-22,500 each way.

East Coast travelers have plenty of nonstop options, including Hawaiian Airlines' Boston (BOS) to Honolulu (HNL) route, the longest domestic flight in the U.S. and its route from New York (JFK) to Honolulu.

United flies from Newark (EWR) to Honolulu. United MileagePlus is a Chase Ultimate Rewards transfer partner if you have a card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card or the Chase Sapphire Reserve. Alternatively, the United Quest Card is currently offering a bonus of 80,000 bonus miles after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first three months your account is open. That should nab you enough points for a round-trip flight in economy between the Mainland and Hawaii.

Where to stay

This will all come down to which island(s) you end up visiting. However, we have a few TPG Hawaiian hotel favorites.

Those include the Andaz Maui at Wailea, which is running around $600-$1,100, or 30,000 World of Hyatt points per night for the next few months; and The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua, also on Maui, where rooms start at $800-$1,000 or 85,000-100,000 Marriott Bonvoy points per night this summer.

At Koloa Landing at Poipu, Autograph Collection on Kauai, rates run around $600-$900 or 60,000-70,000 Marriott Bonvoy points per night.

The Westin Hapuna Beach Resort on the Island of Hawaii is around $700-$900, or 60,000 Marriott Bonvoy points per night, while the classic Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, Autograph Collection across the road is posting rates of $850-$950 or 70,000 Marriott Bonvoy points per night for the next few months.

Washington, DC

(Photo by Avinash Arunachalam A M / Unsplash)

Whether you make it there for cherry blossom season or not, the nation’s capital has an incredible array of museums, Michelin-starred restaurants and grand hotels.

Although taxis or rideshares can take you everywhere, you can also take advantage of the extensive Metro system to trek on the cheap. Just be sure you purchase your tickets using a card that earns a bonus on mass-transit purchases, such as the World of Hyatt Credit Card or the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card.

Although you could spend your days shopping in Georgetown or visiting national monuments, true #avgeeks should make time for two stops in particular. The first is the National Air & Space Museum, which contains treasures like Charles Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis and the world’s first airplane, the Wright Flyer. Equally interesting, the museum's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center is just five miles from Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD) and is home to other iconic aircraft like space shuttle Discovery, the Enola Gay and a Concorde jet.

Getting there

As with New York City, you might arrive in DC by train if you’re traveling from the East Coast.

The city is also served by three major airports: Reagan National (DCA), Dulles (IAD) and Baltimore/Washington (BWI). DCA is closest to the city and is just a quick Metro or taxi ride away from most sites. Dulles is farther out but is one of United’s hubs, so if you’re a Star Alliance flyer, look out for United award sales as low as 3,000 miles each way.

Baltimore/Washington, meanwhile, is a Southwest hub, which is great because the airline doesn’t charge change fees if you need to alter your dates of travel. Plus, you can bring up to two checked bags per passenger for free. All three personal Southwest credit cards – the Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card, the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card and the Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card – are currently offering new applicants 75,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening.

Where to stay

Points-proficient travelers have a wide choice of hotels in DC. If you have the IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card, take advantage of the opportunity to redeem your annual reward night award or earn bonus points at one of the area's five Kimpton hotels.

The tony Park Hyatt Washington DC is a refined redoubt in Georgetown that’s either $300-$350 or 20,000 World of Hyatt points per night. Marriott Bonvoy collectors, meanwhile, have many options, including the central W Washington DC for around $250-$410 or 50,000 points per night this summer.

Grand Canyon

(Photo by Peter Secan / Unsplash)

One of the world's seven natural wonders is located in the northwest corner of Arizona, just a three-hour drive from Phoenix or four hours from Las Vegas.

The Grand Canyon is one of the deepest gorges on earth, averaging one mile down and 10 miles across. It runs 277 miles and was carved by the Colorado River over millions of years. At over 100 years, the Grand Canyon is one of the oldest national parks in the U.S. Visitors can take multi-day mule treks, chug along a historic scenic railway and fly down a 2,100-foot-long zip line 1,000 feet above the ground.

Getting there

The two closest major hubs to the Grand Canyon are the Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX) and Las Vegas McCarran International (LAS). There are airfare deals aplenty to Las Vegas, and if you have The Platinum Card® from American Express, you can use it to access the recently expanded Centurion Lounge there.

Where to stay

There aren’t many points hotels near the Grand Canyon, but the Best Western Premier Grand Canyon Squire is not too far and costs around $250 or 36,000 Best Western points per night.

The Holiday Inn Express & Suites Grand Canyon is not far and costs about $285 or 30,000 IHG Rewards Club points per night, making it possible for the IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card's annual reward night.

You could consider camping at one of the many recommended campground and RV parks instead. They are included in the travel-merchant category for cards, including the Chase Sapphire Reserve, so you can earn bonus points on your rental fees. Alternatively, you could redeem miles from a card like the Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card for your campground charges to shave some dollars off your budget.

New Orleans

(Photo by Robson Hatsukami Morgan / Unsplash)

The Crescent City is over 300 years old, but its joie de vivre is still going strong. So laissez les bons temps rouler during a visit to this Southern stunner.

Hop aboard the iconic St. Charles Streetcar, stroll through Jackson Square and visit St. Louis Cathedral before having beignets at Café du Monde. You can jog or bike along the 2.6-mile Lafitte Greenway connecting Mid-City to the French Quarter. Skip the French Quarter’s crowds, though, and sightsee through the stately mansions of the Garden District instead. Bring your own picnic to Audubon Park and then dress up for an evening of live music on Frenchmen Street or a bar-hop through the funky Bywater neighborhood.

Getting there

Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport (MSY) opened a shiny new terminal in 2019, complete with a gorgeous Delta Sky Club.

According to the airport's most recent data, passengers can arrive on nonstop flights from 65 destinations aboard 19 airlines, including Alaska, American, Delta, JetBlue, Southwest, United and starting July 8, on the recently launched Breeze Airways.

How you fly to New Orleans depends on what kind of miles you want to earn or redeem. As for getting around, you can rack up bonus points on the streetcar by using a card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, or take advantage of the World of Hyatt Credit Card's 2x points bonus on local transit and commuting. There are always taxis and Uber, too.

Where to stay

There are many points properties in town, including the landmark Roosevelt New Orleans, a Waldorf Astoria Hotel, where nights range from $173-$307, or 42.000-70,000 Hilton Honors points.

The city will also celebrate the Four Seasons New Orleans opening in July if you're looking for a little luxury. Though Four Seasons doesn't have a loyalty program, many of its hotels participate in American Express Fine Hotels and Resorts, available to American Express card members with a Platinum or Centurion-branded card, including The Platinum Card® from American Express and The Business Platinum Card® from American Express. By booking through this channel, you open yourself up to extra benefits like space-available room upgrades, complimentary daily breakfast for two, and on-property credits, among other features.

Aspen

(Photo by Xsandra/Getty Images)

You might associate this Colorado mountain town with tony ski vacations (or brazen jewelry heists). Aside from being a winter playground, though, it’s a gorgeous destination year-round with summer and fall activities, including hiking and mountain biking, not to mention a full roster of film, art, and food festivals. And, despite its reputation as an uber-expensive village, there are still plenty of ways to save money on a trip to Aspen.

Getting there

Aspen/Pitkin County Airport (ASE) is three miles northwest of town. While flights can be expensive during the height of ski season and the summer, your best option is to fly into Denver (DEN) and drive for four hours. Just make sure you get a bargain on a car rental by using a site like AutoSlash. Especially this year when car rental prices are spiking.

You might have a card that offers rental elite status with expedited service and upgrade options, such as The Platinum Card® from American Express (enrollment required) or the Chase Sapphire Reserve. Also, be sure to look for any coupon codes or discounts that can save you money and score you thousands of bonus airline miles.

Where to stay

For a town with a population of only around 7,400, Aspen is chock-full of points hotels.

If you are sitting on a stash of Marriott Bonvoy points thanks to a recent welcome bonus from a card like the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card or Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant® American Express® Card, the St. Regis Aspen Resort has rates starting at around $590 or 100,000 Marriott Bonvoy points per night while the nearby W Aspen is posting rates of 85,000-100,000 points, or $440 and above per night this summer.

At the Hyatt Residence Club Grand Aspen, paid rates start at $500 and up, while award nights cost just 25,000 points per night.

If you have The Platinum Card® from American Express, you can book luxury properties like The Little Nell and Hotel Jerome, an Auberge Resort, through the Fine Hotels & Resorts program to enjoy benefits like food and beverage credits, room upgrades, late check-out and free daily breakfast.

Orlando

6000 Universal Blvd. Orlando. (Photo by Erasto Chavez / Unsplash)

Home to one of the densest collections of world-class theme parks on the planet, Orlando should be on every family’s bucket list.

Check out our Ultimate Guide to Walt Disney World Resort for tips on maximizing your time, money and miles while navigating this sprawling entertainment landmark. We also have advice on how to get the most out of a day at Universal Orlando, including how to use points to save money at the park and which rides are not to be missed.

Aside from the parks, Orlando itself is home to one of the country’s premier arts venues, the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts. There are also outdoor activities like kayaking Shingle Creek, hot-air ballooning with Orlando Balloon Rides and jetting through the Wild Florida Airboats & Gator Park in Kenansville. Or, you could spend a day learning about the U.S. space program at the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral.

Getting there

Orlando International Airport (MCO) is one of the busiest in the country, serving over 50 million passengers in a normal year and with nonstop flights to more than 90 US cities on all the major carriers.

Though you could consider using award miles to get here, there have been recent deals as low as $59 each way on airlines including American and United from cities like Chicago (ORD), Los Angeles (LAX), and Washington, DC (DCA), so you might want to pay cash or redeem fixed-value points like Capital One Venture miles instead.

Where to stay

If Disney World is your main goal, take a look at our rankings of accommodations near the park. There are many great points options, including the Hilton Orlando Lake Buena Vista-Disney Springs Area, which costs 44,000-50,000 points per night, or $133-$201.

Or, you could go for the luxurious Ritz-Carlton Orlando, Grande Lakes for $491-$450, or 60,000 Marriott Bonvoy points for the next few months.

On the value side, the Hyatt House across from Universal Orlando Resort has spacious suite-style rooms starting at $180 or 12,000 World of Hyatt points this summer. That also makes it a good choice for the World of Hyatt Credit Card’s annual reward night redemption.

For something different, the Staybridge Suites Orlando at SeaWorld is a family-oriented, all-suites hotel that's also a quick drive to Universal Studios or Disney. Since it is an “Official SeaWorld Hotel,” guests get extra benefits like FastPasses and discounts. Award nights this summer cost 37,000 IHG Rewards Club points, while paid rates start at $179. If you have the IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card, you can put your annual reward night to use here or get the fourth night reward on award stays.

Alaskan Cruise

(Photo by Tegra Stone Nuess / Getty Images)

An Alaskan cruise can combine the best of an adventure trip, a wildlife safari and a family vacation – and these might be some of the only cruises you'll be able to take this year before the industry gets back on course.

Cruises visit hard-to-reach corners of the enormous state with awe-inspiring scenery, from ice-filled fjords to pods of orcas on the hunt and bald eagles circling above coastal forests. Cruise itineraries often include extensive water and on-land touring with activities such as whale-watching, ziplining, scenic train rides, visits to Native American villages and panoramic helicopter tours.

During normal operations, the major cruise companies offer similar itineraries, so what you book will depend on the line you prefer, your budget and whether you want a large, family-friendly ship, a luxury experience like those aboard Cunard, or an expedition cruise like the ones National Geographic Expeditions offers. Cruise Critic has a great post with an overview of the best options for the 2021-2022 cruising season.

Getting there

Before you cruise, you have to get to the port of embarkation, of course. Typically, cruises leave from Anchorage (ANC), Juneau (JNU), San Francisco (SFO), Seattle (SEA), Sitka (SIT), or Vancouver (YVR). Canadian departures will depend on evolving COVID restrictions.

If your flight departs from somewhere in the Pacific Northwest or Alaska, you might consider flying Alaska Airlines. Flight awards start at 5,000 miles each way. If you have the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® credit card, you might be able to take advantage of its annual companion ticket benefit to fly for nearly half price.

Otherwise, we've seen some incredible airfare and award deals on both Alaska and Delta to various Alaskan destinations lately and prices are still relatively low given the amount of competition, so you could still find some bargains.

Maximizing your points

Although you won’t get a phenomenal return on your spending using a co-branded cruise credit card, there are other great ways to reap value from your points when booking a cruise.

First, make sure you pay with a credit card that earns multiple points per dollar on travel purchases, such as the Chase Sapphire Reserve or Citi Prestige. Also, double-dip on your purchase by booking through a portal like bookaacruises.com or cruises.mileageplus.com. These sites offer multiple American or United miles, respectively, per dollar spent on associated cruises as well as onboard credits. Likewise, CruisesOnly offers discounts and points bonuses with Marriott Bonvoy and Hilton Honors.

More interestingly, World of Hyatt partners with Lindblad Expeditions, which runs many upscale Alaskan adventure cruises. World of Hyatt members can count on the following benefits when booking through the Hyatt-Lindblad page:

  • Earn 5x base points per dollar plus standard elite bonuses
  • Qualifying nights count toward World of Hyatt elite status
  • Receive a $250 onboard credit
  • Purchase specially curated Lindblad Expeditions experiences through FIND

You can also redeem World of Hyatt points for cruises with a solid per-point value of 1.6 cents apiece, though this also means redemptions are sky-high given how expensive Lindblad's cruises can be. Still, it's an option.

You could pay for a cruise with a card like the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card, which earns 2 miles per dollar. Miles can then be redeemed at a rate of one cent each toward travel purchases, including cruises, so you can shave some of the cost off your fare.

Otherwise, you might consider paying with points via Citi ThankYou Travel or Chase Ultimate Rewards if you have either of those currencies. Amex Travel lets you redeem Membership Rewards points for cruises as well, but you only get 0.7 cents per point in value, so this might be one option to avoid.

One final note: Given the expense and time of a cruise, it’s often worth either purchasing travel insurance or paying for your voyage with a premium rewards credit card with comprehensive travel protections just in case your dream trip does go awry.

Featured image by Shutterstock
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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  • Limited high-bonus categories outside of travel
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    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
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Why We Chose It

It's hard to find a card that competes with the mile-long list of benefits that come with the Amex Business Platinum. While it's certainly not the card for the average consumer, a business owner with tons of expenses -- especially related to travel -- will find this card incredibly valuable. This card is similar to the consumer version that Amex offers, but with more business-oriented perks around statement credits and earning rates that are a better fit for business owners.

Pros

  • An up to $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee every four to five years
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Cons

  • Steep annual fee
  • Difficulty meeting $15,000 welcome offer for smaller businesses
  • Limited high-bonus categories outside of travel
  • The Points Guy Exclusive Offer: Earn 150,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $15,000 on eligible purchases with the Business Platinum Card® within the first 3 months of Card Membership.
  • Get 5X Membership Rewards® points on flights and prepaid hotels on amextravel.com, and 1X points for each dollar you spend on eligible purchases.
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  • Unlock over $1,000 in annual statement credits on a curation of business purchases, including select purchases made with Dell Technologies, Indeed, Adobe, and U.S. wireless service providers.
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  • $189 CLEAR® Credit: Use your Card and get up to $189 back per year on your CLEAR® membership. CLEAR® is available at more than 50 U.S. airports and stadiums.
  • The American Express Global Lounge Collection® can provide an escape at the airport. With more than 1,400 airport lounges across 140 countries and counting, you have more lounge location options than any other credit card on the market as of 9/2021.
  • $695 Annual Fee.
  • Terms Apply.