A new year brings a fresh slate of sorts to plan new trips. And in our minds, any trip that can be redeemed (at least in part) with points or miles is a good one. Need ideas? Here are seven destinations that may not have been top of mind, but are certainly worth considering when redeeming points for maximum value.
» Learn more: How to plan your travel rewards strategy for 2020
Closer to home
1. Tampa Bay, Florida
Occasionally overlooked when compared with the flashy beaches of Miami, Fort Lauderdale or Palm Beach, the Tampa Bay area mixes beautiful beaches with lots of family fun. Cash in as few as 30,000-40,000 Marriott Bonvoy points for a night at Tampa Marriott Water Street, which boasts an outdoor pool and is located along the bustling waterfront.
The hotel sits along the city’s growing Riverwalk area, where people can walk or jog along the city’s waterfront periphery or hop on the Pirate Water Taxi. The hop-on, hop-off tour boat stops next to the hotel.
You can also earn points through the Marriott Bonvoy Tours & Activities portal, which has plenty of activities like The Florida Aquarium in Tampa Bay and Busch Gardens Tampa Bay.
2. Puerto Rico
Following reconstruction due to Hurricane Maria, resorts are looking better than ever. The El San Juan Hotel in the Isla Verde area was recently minted as a Fairmont property and can be booked using points from Accor Live Limitless (ALL). The points needed for redemptions vary based upon your travel dates, but the resort makes a great family destination with plenty of pools and spacious beachfront. This will be the first Accor property in Puerto Rico, giving members of the ALL program something new to try out — no passport needed.
3. Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
West Coast travelers often look to the Pacific coast of Mexico for a quick weekend getaway. The Fiesta Rewards program is a wonderful alternative for visitors to the country. Its brands include Live Aqua, Grand Fiesta Americana, Fiesta Americana, The Explorean, Fiesta Inn and Gamma and One Hotels. Members can earn AAdvantage miles during hotel stays and redeem Fiesta Rewards points for gift cards.
What sets this program apart is its all-inclusive amenities at properties like the Grand Fiesta Americana Puerto Vallarta, the adventure-meets-luxury Explorean in the Mayan jungle of Mexico and the Live Aqua San Miguel de Allende Urban Resort.
» Learn more: My 6 favorite off-the-beaten-path award redemptions
Farther from home
4. Southern Spain
Northern Europeans have been in on the secret for a long time, but Americans tend to favor the Caribbean when looking for sun and fun. If you have time to hop the pond, southern Spain’s beaches offer magnified doses of culture and sightseeing activities. Take advantage of American’s off-peak award chart pricing. Bookings made between Jan. 10 and March 14, 2020, require just 22,500 miles each way in economy class. Award flights to Europe normally require 30,000 miles each way, so an off-peak award saves you 7,500 miles.
Once there, use credit card points like Citi ThankYou points, Chase Ultimate Rewards®, or American Express Membership Rewards for a luxury experience at the Anantara Villa Padierna Palace. This is one of the newest (and least commercial) resorts to open in Marbella, the glitzy seaside town along Costa del Sol that draws big-name celebrities and yachts from across the Mediterranean.
What makes this spa and wellness resort unique is that it is tucked in the hillside, surrounded by a lush golf course. To reach the beach, where most other resorts are crowded together, guests can take a free shuttle that whisks them to the resort’s private beach club for dining and reserved lounge chairs and umbrellas.
5. Dubrovnik, Croatia
Once spring begins, visit the shimmering seafront city of Dubrovnik before the summer crowds arrive. Made more famous by "Game of Thrones," which filmed many of its scenes in the historic city, tourists will recognize many familiar landmarks and appreciate the old-meets-new atmosphere.
American Airlines will offer daily nonstop service to Dubrovnik from Philadelphia starting on June 7, 2020. Until then, easy connections are available through many European hubs.
There are many hotels that can be redeemed with points within close proximity to the historic center, including the Villa Orsula and Hilton Imperial Dubrovnik, which will reopen following renovations on March 1, 2020.
Hilton Honors rates can vary by date. Villa Orsula is a member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World, which means you can redeem 40,000 World of Hyatt points for a free night at a luxurious, intimate villa thanks to a relationship between the two brands.
6. Cape Town, South Africa
United’s recent launch of nonstop flights from Newark to Cape Town provides a fast way for Americans to reach the Mother City using MileagePlus miles. We’ve seen seats as low as 70,000 miles each way in economy class, although you can halve that cost by transiting through Europe on certain dates.
Once there, Marriott Bonvoy rules the roost when it comes to stateside loyalty programs with a variety of brands in the city center and popular areas along the waterfront. The homegrown Protea brand (now part of Marriott Bonvoy) has properties around town, but it is Autograph Collection’s 15 on Orange Hotel that is known to host local celebrities in its redesigned lobby.
A free night goes for at least 20,000-30,000 Marriott Bonvoy points per night. The AC Hotel Cape Town Waterfront, which goes for at least 15,000-20,000 points per night, is within walking distance of the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront area for shopping and dining.
The Westin Cape Town, a popular hotel with beautiful city and mountain views, can be booked for 30,000-40,000 points per night. The hotel has a rooftop indoor pool and a spa, complete with a panoramic window that can help ease away jet lag tension.
Marriott Bonvoy Tours & Activities has plenty of activities where you can earn Marriott Bonvoy points, like a trip to the Cape of Good Hope to visit the famous penguins.
7. Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Featured in several movies and television programs, this oasis in the desert is a must-see destination. Dubai offers a lot of glitz and glamor, with hotels as much part of the destination as the city itself. Americans can redeem Alaska Airlines miles for flights to Dubai thanks to a partnership with Alaska Mileage Plan.
A one-way, economy class award between North America and the Middle East requires 42,500 Alaska Mileage Plan miles. You can even build a stopover in Dubai and continue on to Mumbai without any extra cost or taxes.
Once there, there’s a lot to see and do. For example, Palm Island is host to a variety of destination resorts like the W Dubai – The Palm, which goes for 50,000-70,000 Marriott Bonvoy points per night.
Those with shopping to do may prefer the Renaissance Downtown Hotel, which goes for 30,000-40,000 Marriott Bonvoy points per night. The hotel is located within walking distance of Dubai Mall and Burj Khalifa, with its jaw-dropping observation decks.
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:
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
Planning a trip? Check out these articles for more inspiration and advice: The cheapest ways to fly to Dubai using points and miles Marriott Rewards program: The complete guide Find the best travel credit card for you