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One of the best features of miles and points is being able to explore destinations around the world without spending a lot of cash. Using miles and points when booking trips is a little like spending fake money for real vacations. With that in mind, I love planning trips to uncommon destinations to experience new food, cultures and attractions. These are my six favorite off-the-beaten-path award redemptions that you should reserve before they become too mainstream.
1. Winter escape to the Caribbean islands
The Caribbean is a perfect destination to get away from the winter blues and thaw out from the snow. Although many of these islands are separate countries, travelers can book trips to the U.S. territories of Puerto Rico or the Virgin Islands without needing a passport.
American Airlines makes these getaways affordable and easy to book with its award chart. Flights are as low as 12,500 miles each way when booking off-peak MileSAAver awards. My family saved over $850 per person on our round-trip flights to St. Kitts last summer by paying 30,000 AAdvantage miles each.
2. Flying Blue business class to Europe
Last fall, I flew business class from Chicago to Brussels with my 4-year-old daughter for only 39,750 Flying Blue miles each way. We explored Gothic cathedrals, the Grand-Place and the home of the European Union while indulging in delicious Belgian waffles and chocolate all week.
Air France-KLM Flying Blue is a transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards, Capital One Venture miles, Chase Ultimate Rewards® and Citi ThankYou points. So no matter which flexible points program is your favorite, you can convert your points into miles. Flying Blue has regular promotions offering 25% to 50% off award tickets to reduce the cost of your flights even further.
3. Hunt gnomes in Wrocław, Poland
This former Soviet bloc country is a hidden gem for travelers, especially if you're interested in history. Poland has many affordable options in Warsaw, Gdansk, Krakow and Wrocław. Plus, Americans do not need a visa if they're visiting for less than 90 days. You can try pierogies (a local delicacy) and go on a hunt to find the famous gnome statues in Wrocław. These gnomes represent an anti-Soviet resistance movement that helped topple the communist regime in the 1980s.
Despite United Airlines removing its award chart, you can find flights from New York to Wrocław for a predictable 30,000 miles each way in economy or 70,000 miles in business. United has its own co-branded credit cards and is a 1:1 transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards®, so there are plenty of opportunities to earn these miles.
4. Annual red crab migration on Christmas Island
Miles and points can take you to far-off locations to witness nature like you cannot see anywhere else in the world. Christmas Island is an Australian territory in the Indian Ocean south of Indonesia. The island is famous for its annual red crab migration, when millions of red crabs emerge from the forest and crawl to the ocean to breed. This phenomenon begins with the first rainfall of the wet season and is truly remarkable to witness firsthand.
Virgin Australia flights from Perth, Australia, can be booked using 22,500 Delta SkyMiles each way. Delta Air Lines has several personal and small business credit cards and is a 1:1 transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards.
5. Free stopover in Fiji using Alaska miles
Alaska Airlines miles have a lot of value when redeeming for award flights, since the airline has numerous partners and allows for a free stopover on each ticket booked. Travelers can maximize this benefit to enjoy two free stopovers by booking two one-way tickets. From the U.S., you can book a stopover in Fiji on the way to Australia, then book a stopover in Hawaii on the way home to receive three vacations for the price of one.
6. Visit the relaxed beaches of Búzios, Brazil
Brazil is widely known for Carnival and Rio de Janeiro. However, drive east for a few hours to find the upscale vacation destination of Armação dos Búzios (or just Búzios). This collection of three beach towns is set on an ocean peninsula with 17 beaches to choose from. The resort offers a laid-back luxury vibe, with no car traffic allowed in certain areas — so prepare to explore the locale on foot.
American Airlines MileSAAver flights to Rio de Janeiro from the U.S. can normally be had for 30,000 AAdvantage miles each way on many dates, but cheaper round-trip tickets can also be found if you put in the effort in your search.
The bottom line
You don't have to settle for the same vacation destinations time and time again. Using the power of your miles and points, you can explore off-the-radar destinations that will be the envy of all your friends.
When redeeming miles and points to book your vacation, flexibility is key to finding award ticket availability. Mixing rewards from different programs provides more options to find ideal flight times and lower-priced deals on the dates you want to travel. And you can always use flexible rewards like Chase Ultimate Rewards® points or Capital One Venture miles in lieu of cash to book flights and accommodations. These redemptions are a great option when the airlines and hotels want too many miles and points to book an award reservation.
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 credit card
Premium travel rewards: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card