A trip to the Smoky Mountains is a great experience, whether you enjoy outdoor adventure, amusement parks, live entertainment or abundant shopping. But how can you reach this mountainous portion of the U.S. on points? I’ve got some tips.
In addition to an alpine setting with log cabins, wildlife and hiking, the area offers tons of activities in Tennessee towns like Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge and Sevierville, home of Dolly Parton.
You won’t be bored in the Smoky Mountains, whether you enjoy outdoor adventure, amusement parks like Dollywood, live entertainment like Dolly Parton’s Stampede or abundant shopping at venues like The Island at Pigeon Forge.
But how can you reach this mountainous portion of the U.S. on points? I’ve got some tips.
The closest airports are McGhee Tyson Airport in Knoxville or Asheville Regional Airport in North Carolina, both about 40 miles away from entrances to Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Other options include Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport (100 miles from a park entrance) in South Carolina or Charlotte Douglas International Airport (about 150 miles from a park entrance).
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One of the best deals going to fly using points on American Airlines is to take advantage of the airline’s Reduced Mileage Awards destinations. Each month, there are different destinations where you can fly for up to 7,500 miles less than a standard American award flight, which is 25,000 round-trip per person for destinations that are at least 500 miles apart.
You can book these discounted award flights by holding select American credit cards like the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard® or the CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® Mastercard®. There are different destinations available each month and American releases what those destinations will be three to four months ahead of schedule.
Currently, Knoxville is on American’s list of Reduced Mileage Awards destinations for January-March 2020.
Delta Air Lines
If you want to book a flight on Delta using miles, the flights vary according to the current fare price. Delta frequently has flash sales and fare sales on rewards flights, sometimes as low as 5,000 points per way, which is an amazing deal to fly anywhere and closer to what I often can find on Southwest Airlines.
So if you keep a close eye on Delta flights and sales, you might be able to snag a good deal on a rewards ticket to Knoxville or another nearby airport.
While Southwest Airlines unfortunately doesn’t fly into the closest airports in Knoxville or Asheville, it does fly into nearby Charlotte and Greenville-Spartanburg. But it will be roughly a two-hour drive to the nearest park entrance and further yet to Pigeon Forge or Gatlinburg.
If you frequently fly Southwest, hold a Southwest Companion Pass that lets one person fly free with you or have a bunch of Southwest points, it might be worth it to rent a car and drive from a more distant airport.
My family will sometimes fly into a nearby airport just to use our Southwest points and Companion Pass and then drive to our destination. We’ve done this flying into Orange County, California, and then driving down to San Diego (because it was fewer points to fly to Orange County), as well as flying into San Diego and driving to Palm Springs.
The cost of Southwest flights in points changes frequently, but I find you’re more likely to get a better fare deal on a Tuesday and during one of Southwest’s many sales. You’ll also save by flying on a Tuesday or Wednesday.
Keep in mind that Southwest does not charge change fees, so if the price of a ticket you purchased in points drops after you buy it, you can rebook for no fee and get the difference in points credited back to your Southwest frequent flyer account.
If you can’t find a great miles or points deal to fly to Knoxville, you might instead choose a car trip, since it’s within reach of much of the eastern U.S. Don’t forget to bring your favorite travel credit card to rack up some points on gas!
Where to stay in the Smoky Mountains on points
There are lots of fun hotels in the Smoky Mountains. My family has stayed at Margaritaville Island Hotel in Pigeon Forge, and there’s also the Margaritaville Resort in Gatlinburg. These are fun hotels with tropical themes set in the mountains. They offer pools, restaurants and even margarita makers in some rooms!
While these hotels aren’t part of a larger chain that you can book with points, you can use a flexible travel rewards card like the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card to redeem your rewards for a stay.
Finally, for a truly affordable option in the area, consider the Comfort Inn Apple Valley right at the border of Sevierville and Pigeon Forge. We stayed there recently and I was impressed with the quality and comfort of these rooms.
Each room was very spacious, with a sitting area and bed and its own balcony, and the price comes with a breakfast buffet each morning. Comfort Inn is part of Choice Hotels, which has its own rewards program, and you can stay at this property for just 20,000 points per night.