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Whether you’re planning an unforgettable experience with your family at the famous San Diego Zoo and Safari Park, taking a stroll through the nearly 1,200-acre Balboa Park or exploring the city’s historic Gaslamp Quarter, San Diego offers numerous attractions for visitors of all ages and interests.
But with the average domestic airfare to San Diego at $249.87 (according to the most recent data from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics), the cost of traveling to this popular Southern California destination can add up. To help you save money, this guide shows you step-by-step how to travel to San Diego on points and miles.
Getting to San Diego
Wherever you depart from, you’ll find a runway in San Diego to welcome your arriving flight.
The airports serving the San Diego area include:
San Diego International (SAN) Airport (2.4 miles from downtown).
Montgomery-Gibbs Executive Airport (8.3 miles from downtown).
Brown Field Municipal Airport (19.1 miles from downtown).
The San Diego International Airport is located in the heart of the city, making it quick to get from the baggage claim to your hotel. The airport houses two terminals and hosts domestic and international carriers like American Airlines, Southwest, Lufthansa, Japan Airlines and more.
Traveling to and from San Diego International Airport is made easy with rideshare drop-off and pickup locations at both terminals. Travelers staying at a hotel that partners with the airport can also choose to ride in a taxi or a shuttle van.
» Learn more: How to find cheap things to do in any city
Major airlines flying to San Diego
An essential part of planning your San Diego trip with points and miles is knowing which major airlines fly into the city. Here’s a full list of airlines flying through SAN to help you determine which is the best loyalty program for award flights to San Diego from your home airport.
Alaska Airlines (San Diego is a focus city, with an average of 48 daily departures.).
Delta Air Lines.
Sun Country Airlines.
Flying to San Diego on points and miles
Alaska Airlines’ Mileage Plan program offers its members main cabin award flights starting at 5,000 miles each way. And with some of its partner airlines, like American, British Airways and Japan Airlines also flying to San Diego, you’ll have more travel flexibility with Alaska miles.
For example, a one-way flight from Chicago-O'Hare to Seattle, and then from Seattle to San Diego, can cost as low as 20,000 award miles for main cabin seating.
Similarly, a nonstop, one-way award flight from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to San Diego is only 12,500 miles through Alaska’s MileagePlan program.
» Learn more: How to earn miles with Alaska Airlines
Using miles and points to book an affordable San Diego trip is even easier if you’re a flexible traveler. For example, if you don’t mind Southwest’s unassigned seating policy, it offers many lucrative award flight options into San Diego.
A one-way, nonstop flight from Houston-Hobby to San Diego can be as low as 3,380 points through Southwest’s Rapid Rewards program. That’s worth $54 based on NerdWallet’s Southwest points valuation. Just make sure you pay attention to the type of fare you choose — Southwest’s "Wanna Get Away" airfare is nonrefundable (though eligible for a flight credit) and doesn’t allow same-day changes or standby.
» Learn more: How much are travel points and miles worth in 2021?
Hotels on points in San Diego
Flying to San Diego for cheap is the first step, but the next is to book your hotel with points. First-time visitors might want to stay close to the city center for easy access to all of San Diego’s best-known activities and nightlife.
Those who want to enjoy a quieter pace during their trip can take a 15 to 25 minute drive north to La Jolla. It offers coastal views, boutique shopping and water activities including snorkeling.
Here are a few hotels to book with points in San Diego if you’re looking for an affordable stay on your next visit.
San Diego Marriott hotels
Marriott Gaslamp Quarter
Located within the historic Gaslamp Quarter, this Marriott hotel is in the perfect spot for those who want to explore on foot. You can find a great cup of coffee at Roast Coach Coffee Car on the same block as the hotel or enjoy happy hour and music at The Field Irish Pub just a few streets away. If you prefer to spend the evening looking out at a great view, the hotel’s rooftop bar, Altitude Sky Lounge, has you covered.
Cost to book in points: Rooms are generally around 40,000 to 60,000 points per night. NerdWallet values Marriott Bonvoy points at 0.7 cent per point.
How to earn Marriott Bonvoy points: The Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant® American Express® Card rewards members with a free night award every year after your card renewal month that’s worth up to 85,000 Bonvoy points.
If you want status, but don’t want to commit to a Marriott Bonvoy-branded credit card, there are options for you. By holding The Platinum Card® from American Express, you'll get built-in Marriott Gold Status. Those points can typically be transferred to the Bonvoy program at a 1:1 ratio. Terms apply.
San Diego Hilton hotels
Hotel Del Coronado
When it comes to Hilton hotels to book with points in San Diego, look no further than the Hotel del Coronado. It’s the famous location of the film “Some Like it Hot,” starring Marilyn Monroe, and some even believe it’s haunted by a resident ghost. Today, it’s still one of the top luxury accommodations on the Coronado peninsula, and it's currently undergoing enhancements that will likely open by summer 2021.
Cost to book in points: Hilton doesn’t have a set award chart, but rooms tend to start from 78,000 points. NerdWallet values Hilton points at 0.6 cent per point. The Hotel del Coronado also charges a $35 resort fee per night, plus tax. Remember, Hilton generally waives resort fees on award stays, so you get more value by booking with points.
How to earn Hilton Honors points: Consider earning points through the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card, which also comes with a weekend night certificate. Terms apply.
If you want status or the ability to redeem points for free stays, but don’t want to commit to a Hilton-branded credit card, consider The Platinum Card® from American Express, which also comes with automatic Hilton Gold Status. Those points can typically be transferred to the Hilton Honors program at a 1:2 ratio. Terms apply.
San Diego Hyatt hotels
Manchester Grand Hyatt
The Manchester Grand Hyatt hotel sits right at the edge of the marina, directly west of the Gaslamp Quarter. You’ll have easy access to waterfront views and all that San Diego’s nightlife has to offer, while also offering poolside cabanas for guests to enjoy.
Cost to book in points: As a Category 4 stay, off-peak rooms start at 12,000 points per night. NerdWallet values World of Hyatt points at 2.8 cents each.
How to earn Hyatt points: Planning your San Diego trip with points can be faster with a World of Hyatt Credit Card.
If you’d rather not commit to a hotel-specific rewards credit card, consider Hyatt’s transfer partners, like Chase. The Chase Sapphire Reserve® is currently running this bonus incentive for new cardholders: Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $900 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
» Learn more: The best hotel credit cards right now
The bottom line
These cheap and simple ways to get to San Diego using points and miles can help you put your rewards to good use in this city. Alaska Mileage plan members can particularly benefit from the many award flights available at good value. And whether you decide to stay in Coronado or in downtown San Diego, you’re bound to find a hotel that’s close to the city’s culture and attractions.
Bookmark this points and miles guide to San Diego in 2021 and take advantage of the many ways to be a points-savvy traveler this year.
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 2023, including those best for:
Flexibility, point transfers and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Flat-rate travel rewards: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Bonus travel rewards and high-end perks: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card