At NerdWallet, we strive to help you make financial decisions with confidence. To do this, many or all of the products featured here are from our partners. However, this doesn’t influence our evaluations. Our opinions are our own.
With the kids in school and Halloween just around the corner, it’s a great time to book a winter getaway. January and February are the best months to travel to the mountains to guarantee you’ll get some good powder on the slopes. Plus, the Christmas and New Year holidays are behind you, you’ve probably got some vacation days and there are a few long holiday weekends that make for a perfect ski break.
Whether you're eyeing Vermont, Tahoe, Montana or anywhere else in the States, here's how you can use airline miles to get there — saving your cash for resort stays, lift tickets and apres-ski activities.
First, a caveat
One thing to know upfront: The major legacy U.S. airlines (American, Delta and United) are moving toward dynamic pricing for award travel if they're not there already, which means the number of miles needed for an award ticket will vary based on the cash cost of a ticket and demand. That, in turn, means you'll likely pay a premium to book with miles during peak travel times like holiday weekends, while there may be bargains midweek.
Not all ski destinations are created equal. And it’s not just the size of the mountains or the number of trails. American Airlines recommends Breckenridge, Colorado, for families because it has great beginner slopes to get started and long trails to master skills. The closest major airport is Denver, which American serves from several of its hubs.
For flights between Dallas-Fort Worth and Denver, we checked dates around Martin Luther King Jr. Day — the first big holiday weekend of the new year — and flights were available for 12,500 miles each way departing on Jan. 17 and returning Jan. 19. However, if you try to depart on Jan. 16 instead, that flight would cost 20,000 miles one-way. If you want to stay in Denver through Monday, Jan. 21, the flight home will cost 30,000 miles one way.
» Learn more: Which American Airlines credit card should you choose?
Delta Air Lines
Aspen Snowmass is one of the most glamorous ski destinations, popular among the Hollywood elite. Delta has daily nonstop flights from Atlanta, Los Angeles and Salt Lake City to the Aspen airport.
Basic economy award flights between Atlanta and Aspen can be booked for as low as 22,500 miles round-trip in January.
Like American and Delta, United flies to many major ski destinations. You can get from its hub in Chicago-O'Hare to Bozeman, Montana, during Valentine’s Day weekend for 50,000 miles each way per person in first class.
That’s a lot of miles. But if you leave the Tuesday before Valentine’s Day, you could fly economy for 12,500 miles one-way. You can then book a return flight for the following week at the same rate, or choose to leave later for 27,000 miles one-way.
If a week is too much time to spend skiing, you could build in a trip to Yellowstone or Glacier National Park. Or you can travel during off-peak dates and redeem fewer miles.
The bottom line
As we noted, this is just a sampling of award rates to ski destinations. There are a lot of factors to consider when picking a winter ski destination, including where you're based, how long you're willing to travel, which mountains you favor, which miles you have and how flexible your travel dates are. Also, keep in mind that you can mix and match one-way fares on different carriers.
One last tip: If you bring your own gear, check the airline’s website to see what you can bring and what it will cost. For example, American Airlines considers a pair of skis or a snowboard and an equipment bag as a single checked item. Standard baggage fees apply, but keep in mind that you get a free checked bag with several airline credit cards.
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 2020, including those best for:
Airline miles and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card
Flat-rate rewards with no annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards Visa® credit card
Premium travel rewards: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card
Planning a trip? Check out these articles for more inspiration and advice: Find the best travel credit card for you The cheapest ways to fly with skis and snowboards Why Park City, Utah should be your next ski vacation