4 Bucket List Travel Rewards to Book in 2021

If you've collected a ton of points during the pandemic, book high-end award travel while it's still available.
Sam KemmisApr 6, 2021

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As vaccines roll out, travelers are excited to, well, travel again.

And after more than a year of restrictions, cancellations and deferred plans, many are looking to go big and book bucket-list trips while the booking is good.

If you’re looking for a high-end redemption to burn through an accumulated stack of travel rewards, now is a good time to look for availability. Although plenty of uncertainty remains — such as when countries will once again open their borders — reward availability in the second half of the year won’t remain around for long.

Here are four travel reward redemptions to hop on for both flights and hotels, lifted straight from the bucket lists of many points nerds like me.

1. U.S. to the Middle East in Qatar business class Qsuites for 70K Alaska miles

Qatar Airway’s Qsuite business class lies near the top of many reward travelers’ must-fly lists. These suites, offered on many of Qatar’s long-haul flights across several aircraft, include lie-flat seats, privacy doors, and premium food and beverages.

Qatar is a partner to American Airlines, and using American miles to book Qsuites awards to the Middle East is a bargain: The American award chart lists business class flights between the contiguous U.S. and the Middle East at 70,000 miles each way.

Most impressively, these seats are widely available throughout the second half of 2021. We found Qsuite availability every day between Seattle and Doha in September.

70,000 miles might sound like a lot, and it is, but it’s a relative bargain for a 14-hour business class flight that costs $8,338 roundtrip for the same route and dates.

That works out to nearly 12 cents per mile in value, way above the 1.2 cents per mile baseline value NerdWallet give to American miles.

2. Andaz Costa Rica hotel stays for 20K Hyatt points

Andaz properties are some of Hyatt’s hippest and most luxurious hotels. In other words, they are expensive. Rooms at the Andaz Costa Rica Resort at Peninsula Papagayo ran $621 per night in November 2021 when we checked — well out of reach for most travelers.

And although Hyatt points are some of the most valuable rewards points out there (and should not be spent frivolously), this redemption still offers above-average value. The Andaz Costa Rica is “only” a Category 5 hotel, so regular award booking rates start at 20,000 points per night. Since Hyatt points are worth 1.9 cents, this redemption offers above-average value. What’s more, it was widely available when we searched.

The easiest way to get Hyatt points is by transferring them from Chase Ultimate Rewards®. Many Chase cards earn these points, including the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, the Chase Sapphire Reserve® and the Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card.

3. JAL business class or first class for 60-70K American miles

Japan Airlines (JAL) offers premium cabin experiences that travel experts drool over (literally — some of its lounges include all-you-can-eat sushi). It’s also another partner with American Airlines, which makes searching for and redeeming fares relatively easy.

We found widespread business class availability from New York to Tokyo throughout the fall for 60,000 American miles and a mere $5.60 in fees each way.

If you haven’t used American’s award search tool since before the pandemic, do yourself a favor and check out the new version. It features a faster, more customizable calendar view that makes it infinitely easier to find specific routes compared with the old version. For example, you can filter by “nonstop” to target specific airlines, such as JAL, and ignore other routes. This makes it easy to quickly see which days have availability.

In our experience, the upgrade from business to first class is well worth the 20,000 extra miles each way — if you can find availability.

4. West Coast to Singapore in Emirates first class for 180K Alaska miles

This one’s for the high rollers, especially those desperate to spend some quality time in the air. Emirates, which offers one of the most luxurious first class experiences in the world, is an Alaska partner. And although its award chart for redeeming Alaska miles isn’t the most generous, it has a few sweet spots for those looking to spend as much time as possible in the tip of the plane.

For example, Alaska will let you fly from the West Coast to Asia through Dubai. If you’re not a geography nerd: That’s the wrong direction. The flight from San Francisco to Dubai is over 15 hours, followed by another seven for Dubai to Singapore — all in first class suites. That’s a lot of champagne.

Alaska’s award search tool is far worse than American’s, so you’ll have to do some work to find availability on both legs. Start by searching for the first leg (e.g., San Francisco to Dubai), then search for the full itinerary on the date with first class availability.

Remember: Alaska allows free stopovers on its award bookings, so you can break a trip like this into two separate flights on separate days (to sleep off some of that champagne).

The bottom line

These are just a handful of the many ways to use your long-dormant points and miles in 2021. And, although premium redemptions are not as wide open as they were in the heart of the pandemic, there is still far more travel supply than demand, and thus plenty of opportunities to score once-in-a-lifetime bookings without spending a lot of cash.

How to maximize your rewards

You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2021, including those best for:

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