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Using credit card points for long weekend trips

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Summer is the perfect time for a long weekend getaway. That’s even more true this year because both the Fourth of July and Labor Day fall on Mondays, creating the perfect opportunity for a three-day weekend.

But inflation and rising travel costs are clouding the picture. If you’re discouraged by the high price of travel this summer, you’re not alone. In fact, 69 percent of Americans are changing travel plans due to inflation, according to a March 2022 Bankrate survey. With flights, hotels and even gas more expensive, travelers are taking fewer trips and traveling shorter distances to save money.

Dipping into your stash of points and miles can cut costs tremendously. Points and miles are the most valuable when cash rates are high, giving travelers the flexibility to travel even during expensive and busy holiday weekends.

Using your credit card points for a weekend getaway can help you save money, especially during summer or a holiday weekend when travel costs are high. It’s easy to use points for things like flights, hotel stays and rental cars. Here’s how you can best utilize your credit card points for a long weekend trip.

Take a credit card points inventory

One bright side to inflation (if there is one) is that because you’re spending more, you’re also earning more points each time you swipe. Check your credit card points balance for all cards in your wallet. You may be surprised to find that your points have slowly accumulated into a decent-sized balance.

Make sure to check all your accounts so you know exactly what you’re working with. Looking up your card’s transfer partners might also be useful at this stage, especially if you have a destination in mind already.

Once you’ve taken note of your points balance, you can select a destination and figure out how to best use your points to make it happen.

Pick a destination

Weekend getaways are usually just a couple days, so pick a destination that makes sense — one where you won’t have a layover or a long drive. Choosing a good destination can also depend on whether you’re traveling solo, with your family, as a couple or with friends. For example, you may want to hit those Las Vegas casinos with friends but prefer a theme park or national park vacation with the kids.

Ideal long weekend trips include national or state parks, big or capital cities, historical attractions, beaches, lakes, important landmarks/tourist attractions or theme parks.

The sky’s the limit when using your credit card points for a long weekend trip. Those able to grab an extra day or two may be inclined to go slightly further or even international, like a sunny break in Cancun or Bermuda or a city weekend in Toronto. East Coasters may even want to consider Europe for a long weekend.

But those that want to stay domestic should consider these popular destinations ideal for a weekend escape:

  • Northeast: New York City, Cape Cod, Acadia National Park, Martha’s Vineyard, Boston
  • Southeast: Disneyworld, Savannah, Florida Keys, Charleston, Gulf Shores
  • Midwest: Chicago, Branson, Milwaukee, Nashville, Hocking Hills State Park
  • Southcentral: New Orleans, San Antonio, South Padre Island, Hot Springs, Ozarks
  • Northwest: Bend, Sun Valley, Glacier National Park, Seattle, Napa Valley
  • Southwest: Sedona, Santa Fe, Moab, Las Vegas, Santa Barbara

Below, the section on transferring points and credit card portals may also help you decide on a destination based on your points inventory.

Hotels

If you have a hotel credit card like the World of Hyatt Credit Card, you may want to pick a destination based on a specific property you want to visit. Hotel websites often have lists of their properties by country, so check these out to see what makes sense and if you have enough points for a weekend stay.

General travel cards, like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, for example, often allow you to redeem points for hotel stays as well. This card in particular also gives cardholders a $50 credit toward hotel stays each year. To see what’s possible, log into your credit card travel portal.

Flights

If your destination is far away, you can use your points for flights. For example, anyone with the Delta Skymiles® Gold American Express Card will want to find destinations they can fly to nonstop via Delta.

Again, those with general-purpose travel credit cards — cards that aren’t affiliated with a particular airline or hotel brand — will have even more flexibility.

Transferring points vs. booking via credit card travel portal

Transferring your points

If you hold a credit card such as The Platinum Card® from American Express or the Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card, you’re earning flexible point currencies, unlike, say, Delta points that can only be used with one brand.

These flexible points allow you to book travel with a variety of brands. There are two ways to go about this. The first is transferring your points, which requires a partnership between your credit card issuer and a particular hotel or airline brand. When you transfer points, they move off your credit card account and go to your loyalty account with a hotel or airline. You would then book your flight or lodging through that loyalty account. This option sometimes yields more value per point

Choosing your destination may depend on the best deal you find for your particular credit card. For example, if you have Capital One rewards, Capital One’s only hotel partners are Wyndham and Choice Privileges. If you’re going to a destination that has no Wyndham or Choice hotels, the ability to transfer Capital One points to these brands won’t benefit you on this trip. Those with a large balance of Capital One points should instead pick a destination that has Wyndham or Choice hotels (and make sure the hotel you want has award availability before you transfer), or choose to use the travel portal instead of transferring points.

This works similarly with airline partners. If the only nonstop flight option from your home airport to your destination is on Delta, Chase isn’t a Delta partner, so you won’t be able to transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points for this particular flight. But knowing that Chase transfers to Southwest can help you find a destination you can fly nonstop to from your home on Southwest Airlines.

Check out our transfer partner guides for popular issuers to investigate your options.

Booking via a credit card travel portal

Booking through a travel portal is a bit more direct. To do this, you log into your credit card account and book your flight or lodging directly through the issuer — no moving points.

Chase, Amex and Capital One all have their own travel portals where you can book hotels and flights directly using your points. It may not always be the best value use for your points, but a perk is that you’ll earn points on these stays or flights since, technically, you’re “paying” the credit card company with your points. And sometimes, the best value means simply being able to use your points when you need them — like during a busy, expensive holiday weekend.

Another perk of booking travel via a credit card travel portal is that you can use your points for hotels that aren’t credit card transfer partners or even part of the points program. This offers more flexibility for travelers visiting more rural or obscure destinations that may not have big hotel programs/brands.

With the high price of rental cars, it may also make sense to use points and miles for car rentals, which can significantly reduce the price of your trip. Remember, though, you’ll still have to pay for gas.

Work PTO to your advantage to travel affordably

Holiday weekends are popular, peak times for travel, which means cash prices are often high, especially if you’re flying Friday night and coming back Monday. Traveling just one day earlier or later can help lower the price — and not just the cash price. Traveling on off-peak dates often means you’ll save on award redemptions for hotels, flights and car rentals.

Explore different dates for leaving and coming home to find the best rates (both points and cash fares). Traveling before and after peak holiday dates also means you may encounter less traffic and fewer crowds, which contributes to an all-around more positive holiday weekend travel experience.

The bottom line

There are lots of clever ways to use your points to save on travel. Credit card points offer the flexibility to book flights, rental cars or hotels at huge discounts or even for free, which can turn a dream weekend getaway into an affordable reality — even when travel prices are high on peak dates or holiday weekends.

Written by
Lori Zaino
Contributor
Lori Zaino is a contributor to Bankrate who is a freelance editor, writer and travel expert quoted in publications like Travel & Leisure and Time. Bilingual in Spanish, she's been living in Spain for more than a decade, but still prefers writing about topics like travel, finance, wellness, beauty and lifestyle in her native English.
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