Travel Free With Points: Great Destinations Using Credit Card Points
The pandemic may have forced us to reign in our travel desires, but the vaccine has freed us to again engage in some wanderlust. Where to go? That first trip should be somewhere amazing, somewhere that will help make up for lost time at home, somewhere to help us forget about life and be pampered. It’s time to vacation like a celebrity.
We—you—can do this without spending big money. While you may have cancelled or delayed trips over the last 16 months, your credit card spending continued, even if it’s been at a slower pace. That means your miles and points balances have grown. You may even have more points today than you’ve ever had.
That makes now the perfect time to plan an aspirational trip. Pick a time, pick an amazing destination and use those overflowing points accounts to book a trip that you will remember forever. Here are a few ideas to get you started.
The Maldives is almost always at the top of the list of aspirational travel destinations. There’s a good reason for that. Located in the Indian Ocean, this small archipelago is not only one of the more remote and beautiful locations on the planet, but it boasts several amazing luxury resorts. Each one provides easy access to the country’s unbelievable underwater world.
Even with its isolated location, the Maldives is somewhat of a celebrity hot spot. A-listers—including John Legend and Chrissy Tiegen, Gwyneth Paltrow and Justin Bieber— have holidayed in this paradise.
The Maldives is a dream destination for many, and due to the wide variety of lodging options and the large number of airlines that serve the capital city Malé, it is a place that you can easily use your points to visit.
For celebrity treatment at 40,000 feet, look no further than the big three Middle Eastern carriers: Emirates, Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways. All three airlines fly into Velana International Airport (MLE) in Malé.
Book Emirates flights from the U.S. with Emirates Skywards miles starting at 255,000 miles in first class, depending on your departure city. Expect to pay fuel surcharges when booking with Skywards miles, but the airline significantly reduced those charges recently.
You can book Etihad flights using American Airlines miles. Find roundtrip flights from the U.S. for 140,000 miles for business class and 230,000 miles for first class. You also can use Etihad Guest miles to book these flights, but you’ll need to pony up 300,000 miles for business class, so it isn’t the best option. Etihad also is a transfer partner of some of the most popular rewards programs.
Related: The Best Travel Credit Cards Of 2021
Qatar Airways Qsuites is technically a business class product, but many have flown in Qsuites compare it to first class on other airlines. You can book Qsuites from the U.S. to the Maldives for just 140,000 American Airlines miles. This is one of the best deals for travel to the Maldives when you consider the number of miles you are paying and the product you receive in return.
From the airport in Malé, transportation to your hotel is almost always via speedboat or floatplane and is usually set up through your hotel. The only way to pay for this part of the trip on points is by using a card that allows you to pay yourself back in points or by using points earned on a cashback card. Some of the most popular travel rewards credit cards will let you redeem points for travel expenses on your statement.
There are plenty of amazing hotel options in the Maldives. If you’re willing to spend some time searching for available award nights, you can book many of them with points.
St. Regis is one of the most impressive spots in the Maldives that allows you to book with points. Award nights cost between 85,000 and 100,000 Marriott Bonvoy points per night, depending on whether you travel during off-peak or peak dates. You may find a mix of prices if you are looking for several nights in a row. Award nights at this resort book into a Garden Villa with a private pool.
The Radisson Blu Resort Maldives is a new property and looks to be an amazing place to stay. You’ll pay just 70,000 Radisson points per night, which is a real bargain because Radisson Rewards points are typically not as valuable as points from other hotel programs. In addition to the comparatively low points cost, the base room for award nights at the Radisson Blu is an overwater villa with a private pool. This is one of the best values for an overwater villa anywhere in the world and will certainly give you that keeping-away-from-the-Paparazzi vibe.
Thailand is a diverse country with something for everyone—and at every price point. From the bustling metropolis of Bangkok to the laid back comfort of Chiang Mai, you are sure to find something you love. But for that celebrity travel experience, you should look to the Thai islands.
There are many islands in this southeast Asian country, and all of them are fairly easily accessible through the capital city of Bangkok. Here’s how you can make your way to the delicious food, friendly people and gorgeous scenery of Thailand, and how you can do it all with points.
You have several options for flights to Thailand, but all of them end in Bangkok. Once you reach that city, you will need to take a short connecting flight to get to the island of your choice. After that quick hop, you’ll pamper yourself at your hotel in no time.
Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan is one of the best programs to help get you to Bangkok. The airline charges just 70,000 miles each way to fly first class on Cathay Pacific. Connect through Hong Kong, and you have an amazingly cheap way to get to Thailand in luxury, and you can stopover in Hong Kong without sacrificing additional miles.
For your return flights, Thai Airways stands out above the rest due to the ground experience in Bangkok. Your first-class lounge experience includes an hour-long massage and impeccable service. Once in the air, you can expect that same fantastic service and a comfortable ride.
That doesn’t fly directly into the U.S. If you are willing to book within two weeks of your travel date, you may even be able to connect your Thai first-class ride to Frankfurt with a Lufthansa first-class flight back to the U.S. for one of the ultimate points redemptions. This dream trip is bookable using United Airlines miles from as low as 90,000 miles in business class or 140,000 miles in first.
With all of the different islands and the various hotel loyalty programs, you have almost an unlimited number of options for booking your lodging with points. Instead of taking a look at all of the luxury points properties, let’s look at a consistently amazing property from a program we know well, along with another option that requires thinking a bit out of the box.
One A-list spot is Koh Samui, which counts Richard Gere among its fans. The Conrad Koh Samui is well known in the points world as a bucket list hotel for its amazing rooms, the best in privacy and understated luxury. Costing 95,000 Hilton points per night, Hilton Honors premier members get the best value staying for five nights because the fifth night will be free. Rooms are nestled into a hillside overlooking the water, and each has its own private infinity pool. When you want to move around the resort, you call for a ride, and an employee in a golf cart arrives to whisk you away to your destination.
For extreme luxury, the Amanpuri Resort on the island of Phuket is hard to beat. Aman resorts are known worldwide for their service and facilities and attract numerous celebrities. Famous visitors include Angelina Jolie and her family and Lindsay Lohan.
Amanpuri, however, isn’t bookable with any hotel loyalty program, but that doesn’t mean you can’t use your points to book there. Several credit card rewards programs allow members to redeem points for travel charges. Amanpuri nightly rates range from the high hundreds of dollars to the low thousands. This isn’t a cheap redemption option, but you can actually stay at an Aman property using points.
For Americans, the Caribbean is a lot closer to home and easier to get to than Asia or the middle of the Indian Ocean. Time zone changes are less extreme, and the travel shouldn’t leave you jet-lagged.
Because it’s so close, you won’t find any flight options that are quite as amazing as the previous two destinations. You can pick pretty much any U.S.-based airline and use points to get to the Caribbean in business class. You are really looking for in the Caribbean is an amazing property that you can stay at with points.
Here are two options that allow you to use points to stay at private islands. Both are a bit unbelievable, the first because of the opportunity it presents and the high number of points, and the second because of the low number of points it takes for a luxury experience.
Necker Island is a private island owned by billionaire entrepreneur Richard Branson, but you can stay there using points. You have to redeem a whopping 1.5 million Virgin Atlantic points for a room for a week, but you are sure to have an incredible experience. Availability for individual rooms is limited to a few Celebration Weeks each year since the island is rented out in its entirety at other times.
You can live like actual royalty with our next spot: Calala Island, Nicaragua. Princess Eugenie celebrated her engagement on the island, where staff outnumbers guests by 3 to 1. Almost all of the available activities are included with your stay. The resort even provides transfers from the Managua airport for no additional cost.
Calala Island is on the other end of the spectrum for points cost, coming in at just 40,000 Hyatt points per night. There are only four rooms on this private-island SLH Resort off the coast of Nicaragua, and only three of them are bookable with points. This makes finding award availability quite a challenge, but if you can manage to string a few nights together, you are in for a treat.
Whether you’re looking for an exclusive stay on a mostly private island or your own suite in the sky with a pampering staff to look after you, you can take a celebrity-inspired trip with points.
Yes, the cost in points may be higher than other options. Yes, it can be a challenge to find the right combination of flight and hotel award availability. But if you have some patience and a huge balance of points that’s been building up as you didn’t travel over the past year, you may be able to make that first post-pandemic trip a true trip of a lifetime.