Redeeming miles, points for a 'free' spring break trip
Summer Hull writes the weekly "Get to the Points" column for CreditCards.com
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If you have school-age kids, spring break is the perfect excuse to load up the crew and head out of town for a few days. Winter break is well in the rearview mirror and summertime is not yet within reach. Whether you want to spend the week in sand, snow, mountains or exploring a new city, using miles and points for a whole family during a peak travel time can present some unique challenges.
Let flight availability be your guide
Since spring break isn’t that far off, you are best served letting airline award availability guide your destination selection, to a point. Airline awards at the lower level can be tough to get on a peak travel week, so make a list of several destinations you would like to check out as opposed to zeroing in on just one spot.
To increase your chances of finding affordable airline awards during spring break, check alternate nearby airports or consider flying on slightly less peak days to get the flights you want.
For example, our family is heading to Grand Cayman using miles and points for our spring break, but even though we booked long in advance, we still needed to fly out a day before school actually lets out to get the best flights.
After five nights in an island paradise, we will then fly back in the middle of the spring break week before airline award availability plummets on the final weekend of spring break. Use the airline flexible date calendars to quickly spot the cheapest award travel dates.
Road trip it
If you simply can’t find any good award flights for your family, this may be the time to save the miles and load up the car for an old-fashioned road trip.
If you have a full week to work with, it isn’t that bad spending a day on the front and back end of the trip cruising a few hours across the country. Doing so will allow you to save miles or dollars on transportation costs and focus on using points at the hotel of your choice.
If you are driving, you will want to set your sights on somewhere you can easily reach by vehicle, such as the Hyatt Hill Country with its 5-acre water park in San Antonio for 15,000 Hyatt points per night, the Radisson Hotel Suites Oceanfront in Florida for 44,000 Club Carlson points per night, the Grand Residences by Marriott Lake Tahoe for 40,000 Marriott points per night, or the Equinox Luxury Collection Resort in Vermont for 12,000 Starwood points per night.
Lock in your hotel plans now
Speaking of hotels, you will want to book one right away if you haven’t already. Most hotel points programs require their hotels to have standard rooms available on points as long as they are still for sale with cash.
However, once those standard rooms sell out, you are out of luck using your points.
If you are still looking for spring break inspiration, consider the Grand Hyatt Washington D.C., available for 15,000 Hyatt points per night. This hotel is on top of a Metro stop and is within walking distance to many D.C. attractions. If you are short on Hyatt points, you can transfer them to Hyatt at a 1:1 ratio from the Chase Sapphire Reserve or Chase Sapphire Preferred.
There are literally hundreds of points-friendly hotels in the Orlando area, but one that is very kind to your points budget is the Sheraton Lake Buena Vista Resort that is 4,000 Starwood Preferred Guest points per night during the week, and 3,000 points per night on the weekends. The hotel is near the major theme parks and has on-site zero-entry pools with cascading waterfalls! If you received the 25,000-point sign-up bonus from the SPG AmEx, you would have plenty of points for a spring break trip to this resort.
Check for non-standard rooms
If you aren’t finding standard hotel rooms available using your hotel points, try calling the hotel program directly to see if there are any larger non-standard rooms available for additional points. These options are not always displayed on websites, but programs such as Starwood, Hyatt and Hilton do sometimes make larger rooms or even suites available for additional points if you ask.
Use points for an all-inclusive resort
If you really want to de-stress on spring break and not worry about the cost of each drink and activity, then forget everything else I have said and set your sights on all-inclusive resorts you can enjoy using points.
Two years ago, we spent our spring break at the family-friendly Hyatt Ziva Resort in Cancun where everything from the margarita bar, shrimp tacos on the beach to the kid’s club was included. We stayed there on points and it was one of our most enjoyable family trips yet. You can book these top-notch Hyatt all-inclusive resorts located in Cancun, Jamaica, Los Cabos or Puerto Vallarta starting at 20,000 – 25,000 Hyatt points per night for double occupancy. Each child age 3 and up will increase the points total.
For 70,000 Hilton Honors points per night you can book the all-inclusive Hilton Rose Hall in Jamaica and splash around in the newly remodeled Sugar Mill Falls Waterpark. If you want to stretch your Hilton points, you can head to Costa Rica and spend as few as 43,000 Hilton points per night to stay at the beachfront DoubleTree Resort by Hilton Costa Rica.
If you have Wyndham Rewards points burning a hole in your pocket, you can find the all-inclusive resorts available for 15,000 points per night. Be aware these programs may require copays beyond double occupancy once your children hit a certain age, so check directly with the properties for specifics.
A family spring break to remember doesn’t have to cost thousands of dollars, as it can be done largely using miles and points.
A pro tip that has helped my family tremendously is to not only secure this spring break as soon as possible, but also start making a wish list for next year’s spring break. Getting a jump-start will broaden your destination options significantly when using those hard-earned miles and points!
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