Award Travel Tips for Weekend Getaways & Overnight Vacations
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Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available – Citi HHonors Hilton Reserve Card, The Hyatt Credit Card
I’m all about maximizing, and planning my award travel is a tradeoff between using my points or miles efficiently and getting where I want to go. Today, however, TPG Senior Points & Miles Correspondent Jason Steele presents scenarios where you should be willing to spend more in order to do more, as he looks at ways to maximize redemptions for shorter trips.
While many Europeans take a month off as part of their 8-10 weeks of vacations, Americans are forced to travel within the standard two weeks of paid vacation offered by employers. For travel enthusiasts, this means that many of their trips must be overnight or weekend excursions.
With that in mind, here are six tips to make the most of these quick trips.
1. Cut the lines. When you’re only going away for 48 hours or so, every minute counts. To shave travel time, sign up for Global Entry and TSA Pre-Check. Doing so saves time and hassle in screening, allowing you to arrive at the airport much closer to your departure time. There’s a $100 application fee for Global Entry, but several credit cards offer reimbursement for that fee.
If you have to rent a car, make sure to sign up for frequent renter programs, which sometimes allow you skip to lines at the counter altogether. Although many rental companies only offer that benefit to upper tier members, elite status is included as a benefit on some credit cards.
When it comes to hotels, again many credit cards come with some form of elite status that gives you priority check-in. Better yet, both Hilton and Starwood have announced plans to replace room keys with smartphone access so all guests will be able to bypass check-in altogether.
2. Skip rental cars altogether if possible. Even when you can skip the counter, renting a car often involves waiting for a shuttle to and from a distant lot, and taking responsibility for the car means extra time spent driving around and parking in urban areas. You can often save money by using alternate transportation, but even if you can’t, it’s worth paying a little extra to save time.
I often rely on public transportation when I travel, or free shuttles to nearby hotels when offered. Other options include cabs and car services like Uber (where you can get your first ride free up to $20), Lyft, and others, all of which are eligible for award redemptions using miles from the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard. There are also bicycle share programs that allow one way bike rentals in cities like New York, Washington, and Denver.
Likewise, Car2Go is a car sharing service that lets you pick up and drop off cars for one-way rentals throughout 15 major cities, paying only for the minutes you spend driving, with no gas, insurance, or parking charges (See 5 Cool Car Rentals).
3. Plan your trip more precisely. Spontaneity is a necessary casualty during a short vacation, yet you can make the most of your trip by researching the details in advance. I typically scan airport terminal maps before I leave, as well as local maps of my hotel and any other attractions I plan to visit. If I plan on eating at the airport, I’ll research options near my gate so I know exactly where I’m going. When taking public transportation, I’ll familiarize myself in advance with the schedules, fare options, and walking directions to my destination.
Before a short trip, I’ll even research restaurant options and make reservations, so I can be sure to enjoy a local favorite without spending precious time looking for a good meal. This level of detail might be too much for frequent business travelers and those taking long trips, but it allows occasional leisure travelers to enjoy the anticipation while planning a quick getaway.
4. Plan your flights surgically. When taking a long trip, it often makes sense to consider an alternate airport further from your destination, or to change planes along the way to save money or miles. On a quick trip, however, you’ll want to do the opposite. It’s worth spending a bit more to get a direct flight when you can.
When visiting a major city that has multiple airports, be careful to pick the one closest to your destination. For example, New York’s Laguardia airport is significantly closer to Times Square than Kennedy or Newark, and I love to use the Burbank airport as a much more convenient and less crowded alternative to LAX. And it should go without saying that you’ll want to avoid checking bags in order to get in and out of the airport more quickly and eliminate the chance of a lost bag.
Along those lines, I’ll drive as much as an hour or two farther to avoid changing planes. Connections add about the same amount to your travel time in each direction, while exponentially increasing your chances of interruptions due to flight delays, diversions, and cancellations. For this reason, I will not consider booking connecting flights for a short trip.
5. Build in some time for contingencies. Just because you’re planning a tight trip doesn’t mean you should risk losing hundreds of dollars or having your trip ruined if your flight arrives a few hours late. While you might book a quick trip to attend an event or see a show, you should avoid scheduling flights to arrive just beforehand.
I always schedule my arrival at least one day before any scheduled event that I can’t afford to miss, and I just make tentative (and cancelable) plans for the time immediately after my flight is scheduled to arrive.
6. Make hotel awards work for you. When taking short trips to major cities, hotel awards can be even more valuable than airline awards. In fact, you’ll also want to splurge a little bit in order to book a room in the best location.
There are several credit card benefits that seem tailor made for quick weekend getaways, such as the Hyatt Credit Card from Chase, which offers two free nights at any Hyatt property after you spend $2,000 within three months, and the Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve card, which offers two free weekend nights after you make $2,500 in purchases within four months.
Another amazing benefit is the last award night free from the Club Carlson Premier Rewards Visa. Using this feature, you can get a two night award stay for half price (or a three night stay for the price of two).
What are you strategies for maximizing short vacations?
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