Jumpstart Your Vacation Planning and Redeem Your Loyalty Rewards Now

Here's how to make the most of reward travel

Thoughts of sun-filled vacations are what get me through those cooler, rainy days. Whether you dream of white sand beaches, a seaside cabin, or snapping selfies next to a famous landmark, you should always plan ahead – not only to get the best deals, but to maximize all the rewards available with the points and miles you’ve accumulated.

Beware of peak season

How you plan your holiday depends on your personality.

Some people are content just winging it, deciding on their destination shortly before it’s time to pack a suitcase and head out the door. But there are risks that come with that strategy.

Summer is peak season in many parts of the world, certainly for destinations in Europe and parts of the U.S. That means a high demand for hotel rooms, flights and rental cars. If you’re not picky about where you go or where you stay, an unplanned approach works. But if you have your heart set on strolling down the Champs-Elysées and bedding down at The Ritz (bookable through Marriott Rewards) in Paris, you’ll need to book far enough in advance.

Explore the points possibilities

The good news is that points can be redeemed on everything needed to make your holiday memorable. Not only can you book flights and hotel rooms, you can book rental cars, buy theme park passes and restaurant gift cards, or shop online for everything from camping gear to new luggage – without dipping into your bank account.

And don’t fret if you don’t have heaps of points to redeem on a trip to a far-flung destination. Consider a staycation, a short road trip, or traveling somewhere locally. Packing up the family and going somewhere nearby can be just as much fun as a more exotic vacation. Use your points and miles for a few days at a gorgeous lakeside resort with lots of activities, or for a weekender at a luxury hotel in a vibrant city like Chicago or Miami.

Booking reward flights

If you are heading further away, you should secure your flights first and then your hotel stay second. The number of award seats up for grabs may be limited on some flights. If you leave getting your tickets too late, you could find that they are not available, or that you have to take a convoluted route with multiple connections to get to your vacation spot.

When seats are scarce on flights to popular destinations, opt for plan B, a tactic that savvy fliers like to use – flying to alternate, less busy airports that serve major cities. For example, instead of London Heathrow, you can fly to Gatwick and Stansted with carriers like Delta, British Airways, or American Airlines. In New York, opt for Newark over JFK and LaGuardia. You are more likely to snag an award seat for flights to those hubs when booking last-minute.

Last-minute, anyone?

Some people love the thrill of traveling on the fly (... of which I am guilty!) If that’s you, you can also redeem points and miles for fabulous getaways. Airlines and hotels like to see empty seats and beds filled. To do so, they’ll offer great savings two or three weeks pre-fly or -stay dates to entice those waiting for that perfect window.

Adventure seekers should also check out online auctions (like those from Starwood or Hilton HHonors) to redeem points for YOLO experiences.

Check the websites of your preferred loyalty programs often and remember that the key to snagging a sweet deal is flexibility. Who knows? Maybe you’ll discover a fantastic new destination not on your radar. And really, isn’t the love of discovery what travel is about?