10 secrets to a perfect weekend getaway

It's all about picking the right time and destination – and taking advantage of card rewards and perks

Weekend getaway credit card guide

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It's the siren song that calls to you after one too many staff meetings or yet another brown-bag lunch at your desk: the weekend getaway. 

Whether you're going cross-country or just across town, it's the time to hit "pause" on daily life and recharge.

And you can make it even more affordable and relaxing with a few simple hacks. Four top traveler writers share some of their secrets for getting the most out of those two- and three-day escapes.

See related: Fall travel: Expert tips for planning the perfect getaway

1. Limit your travel time

Your entire getaway is going to be just 48 to 84 hours. You don't want to spend a big chunk of that traveling – especially if your goal is to relax.

Set a limit for travel time, ground or air. And it's going to be a different threshold for everyone.

For Chris Christensen, travel blogger and founder of AmateurTraveler.com, a quick getaway usually means a driving trip. And for his family, it often means a 150- to 200-mile maximum. "Otherwise, we're spending too much time driving."

A one-hour flight could also include another hour to the airport, a few hours to clear security and catch your plane, plus travel to your destination once you land. Be sure to include all of that when you calculate travel time.

Tip

Tip: If you fly, stick with a carry-on bag, and you can head straight for your destination – no waiting for luggage or worrying what you'll do if it doesn't arrive. Want to speed through security? Consider applying for a card that offers TSA Precheck/Global Entry credits. These include Chase Sapphire Reserve, United Explorer Card and Bank of America Premium Rewards credit card

2. Consider alternative accommodations

The biggest expense for a short nearby destination is often where to stay, says Matthew Kepnes, travel blogger and founder of Nomadic Matt.

"One of the things I do is try to find an Airbnb or bed-and-breakfast, as well as campgrounds, depending on your style," he says.

A few of his favorite sites to search include BedandBreakfast.com and Hostelworld. The latter "is not just for hostels anymore – they have a wide variety of accommodations," says Kepnes.

Another option if you're visiting Washington D.C. or New York City: The Pod Hotels, says Robert Firpo-Cappiello, editor-in-chief of BudgetTravel.com. The chain features micro-hotel rooms with more affordable price tags – as well as amenities like free continental breakfasts, free Wi-Fi and a concierge to link you to the local community.

Another opportunity: Hotels that cater to business travelers.

  • Sunday through Thursday night, business hotels are teaming with business people.
  • But on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights, they often have some empty rooms – which means you can get a deal, says Firpo-Cappiello.

You can also sign up for HotelTonight's "Daily Drop," he says. They send out a deal, and you have 15 minutes to decide if you want to book it or leave it. "It can be a cool way to inspire a trip."

Tip

Tip: Take advantage of your travel credit card to score major rewards when you book a hotel. Capital One Venture Rewards Card offers 10 points per dollar spent on hotels booked and paid through hotels.com/venture. The Platinum Card® from American Express gives 5 Membership Rewards points per dollar spent on eligible hotels booked on amextravel.com.

3. Opt for low or ‘shoulder’ season destinations

Travel anywhere during high season and you'll face crowds and higher prices.

  • Go during low season and you'll find shorter lines, cheaper hotel rooms and less competition for restaurants and venues.
  • Shoulder season, sandwiched between high and low seasons, usually gives you a lot of the good weather with a break in the prices and crowds, says AmateurTraveler’s Christensen.

One example: September is "shoulder season" in Europe, he says. You'll find "good weather and pay less," he says. Low season, in December, you'll find "bad weather and pay a lot less," he says.

Don't know what high or low seasons are in your target destination? Google it, says Christensen.

Tip

Tip: Take advantage of special airfares to redeem miles for low-season flight tickets, such as American Airlines MileSAAver awards and Southwest Airlines Wanna Get Away fares.

4. Skip the weekend!

"Everyone wants to leave on a Friday and come back on a Monday," says John DiScala, travel blogger and founder of JohnnyJet.

Looking for a deal? “If you can use a vacation day or pull a kid out of school, Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday are good days to fly."

The one exception: holidays and holiday weekends, where you may find high season price tags regardless of what day you travel.

5. Stay in your own time zone

Jet lag can sap the fun from a trip. And if you're only going to be gone a few days, you don't want to spend most of that feeling drained from crossing time zones.

Firpo-Cappiello discovered this last fall, during a trip to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland.

"I was surprised how happy I was not to have to deal with the time difference," he says. "It was like being in a car for 90 minutes."

Tip

Tip: If your getaway implies driving, make sure to stack rewards at the gas station by leveraging card rewards on gas, fuel rewards programs and gift cards.

6. See the sites in your own backyard

State parks are a great option. "Almost everyone lives relatively near a state park," says Firpo-Cappiello. "They're the hidden gems of travel."

And typically, state parks are free or cost a few dollars.

Another option: the staycation.

  • Check into a local hotel and see your own locale like a tourist, says Kepnes. 
  • Eat out, walk the quaint neighborhoods and nap when you please. 
  • This is your chance to see and do all the things you always promised yourself.

"Travel is really about going somewhere you've never been," says Kepnes. "If you live in a bigger city, chances are you’re so caught up in your life, you never explore what's in your own backyard."

See related: Staycation savings: Earn rewards on local entertainment

7. Visit a nearby small town

John Mellencamp got it right: You can have a ball in a small town.

  • Each year, BudgetTravel publishes a list of America's coolest small towns and most Americans are within an hour or two's drive of one, says Firpo-Cappiello.
  • Two of his favorites: Sonoma, about an hour's drive from the Bay Area, and Beacon, in upstate New York.

Another advantage: "There will be a lot of affordable hotels and difference experiences," he says.

Tip

Tip: Rewards points can cover more than flights and hotel stays – you can also redeem them for experiences such as wine tastings or private dinner with celebrity chefs. Rewards programs that offer experiences you can redeem for points include Chase Ultimate Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest.

8. Look out for last-minute flight deals

If you know when you want to go, but not where, check out Kayak.com/explorer, says Christensen. "I want to go someplace in September – what can I get? It might point out destinations you hadn't thought of."

  • A few other options: Google Flights, Kayak, SecretFlying and SkyScanner.
  • You also can use Yapta.com to alert you when a flight or route drops in price, says DiScala.

And an eleventh-hour getaway is a great time to cash in those card rewards and airline miles, he says. "Your best time to use reward points is the last minute. That's when airlines will also open up flights."

See related: Best airline credit cards

9. Stay close to what you want to see

One way a lot of inexperienced travelers try to save money is by booking accommodations farther out from their intended destination.

"They'll stay a half-hour outside the city to save $20 a night," Firpo-Cappiello says.

"But the savings disappears with transportation costs." And then there's the resentment of having to "commute" on your vacation, he adds.

"Better to find a reasonable hotel in the city center," he recommends.

See related: Avoid these 7 hotel rewards mistakes

10. Prioritize to make the most of your time

You've got a short time, so you're be allowed to be selfish. "It makes sense to do some prioritizing," says Firpo-Cappiello. And that means making time for the things you really want to do over the things you feel you "should" do.

On a recent short jaunt to Dublin that meant leaving time to kick back and enjoy the local scene, he recalls. "I'm coming to Dublin to talk to Dubliners, and see things I can't see anywhere else."

Tip

Tip: If you have a hotel card that offers a free night every year, a quick low-season getaway can be the perfect opportunity to cash it in as you may be able to find a high-end hotel for fewer points. Hotel cards that offer a free anniversary night include Marriott Rewards Premier Plus Credit Card, IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card, Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express and The World of Hyatt Credit Card.


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Updated: 12-18-2018