Use miles, points for last-minute Northeast fall foliage trip

Go 'leaf peeping' to see the colors, without going into the red

Summer Hull
Personal Finance Writer
Summer Hull writes the weekly "Get to the Points" column for CreditCards.com

Get to the Points

The end of the warm, long and carefree days of summer can be a bit sad, but fortunately Mother Nature has something beautiful in store as the warm summer days transition into brisk fall evenings.

The annual explosion of red, yellow and orange leaves is an absolutely breathtaking event in some parts of the country, and experiencing the fiery beauty of fall foliage in the Northeast firsthand can turn into a memorable family excursion.

Some people may save and plan all year to head to states such as Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont in the fall, but if you know how to work your miles and points, you can actually still make the trip this year and see the fall colors without going into the red financially.

Time your fall foliage trip to the Northeast
The biggest challenge when planning a trip to see the fall foliage is that you can’t predict in advance exactly when the leaves will be at their peak. This means planning your trip at the last minute can actually turn out to be to your advantage since you will have a better idea how the change from green to yellow to orange to red is progressing.

This year, the word is that the peak will happen earlier than normal, but there will also be a “prolonged color period.” As usual, the further north you travel, and the higher in elevation you go, the sooner the leaves start to turn. Depending on where you visit in the Northeast, the peak time varies from late September to mid-October.

You can check out current information on when the leaves will be at their peaks, as well as an interactive map

fall foliage trip

Photo courtesy of Summer Hull.

Use deals and miles to fly north
In terms of planning an affordable, last-minute fall foliage trip to the Northeast, the best airport to target for flights is Boston Logan. This airport is served by JetBlue, Spirit, Southwest, United, American, Delta and more. So, there are a lot of options to fly for under $200 per person round trip during the peak fall foliage weeks from cities across the United States.

I like to search for the best airfare prices using Google Flights, and then you can purchase your tickets with fixed value credit card points, such as those from Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard at a rate of 1 point = 1 cent. At that rate, a $200 last-minute ticket to Boston would cost you 20,000 credit card points without having to worry about blackout dates or award availability.

Flights into smaller airports in the Northeast are usually priced higher if you are paying with cash, but if you are using traditional airline miles from United, American or Delta, you may be able to fly right into Manchester, New Hampshire (MHT), Bangor, Maine (BGR), or Portland, Maine (PWM), for just 25,000 miles round trip per person with some date flexibility. I recommend using a flexible date calendar on the airlines’ websites to spot the dates available when you can travel for the fewest number of miles.

Where to go and where to stay on points
In terms of hotels, you could start your trip from Boston with a roughly two-hour drive up the coast on U.S. Route 1 to Portland, Maine, where you can stay at the Hyatt Place Portland for just 12,000 Hyatt points per night. From there, you could continue your scenic trek north a few more hours and find yourself at beautiful Acadia National Park where you can stay at the ocean-front Holiday Inn Resort Bar Harbor for 40,000 IHG points per night. This is a great deal considering that paid rates during peak fall foliage weekends can go north of $300 per night!

Experienced Northeast fall foliage travelers will tell you that a trip along the Kancamagus Highway in New Hampshire is an absolute must-do, so a great place to stop before or after that journey is in North Conway, New Hampshire, where you can redeem 35,000 IHG points per night to stay at the Holiday Inn Express and Suites North Conway.

About 30 minutes north of North Conway, up scenic Route 16 is the Mount Washington Auto Road. You can drive or take a guided tour up to the summit of Mount Washington where you can view all the colors of the Great Gulf Wilderness and the Presidential Mountain Range.

While enjoying the natural beauty that autumn brings to the Northeast, also be sure to drop in on one of the dozens of fall festivals that take place all over New England during autumn.

Whether you get to work planning a last-minute fall foliage trip to the Northeast this year, or you simply make this a goal for next year, it is a trip that miles and points can make possible, and one you are likely to remember fondly for years to come.

See related: Scare up rewards miles, cash back on Halloween expenses, Tips for football fans on maximizing hotel rewards points


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Updated: 11-22-2017