Fly-and-drive: Road trip options using rewards, points

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    Travel and cards writer
    Travel expert who writes the “Have Cards, Will Travel” column for CreditCards.com

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    Looking for a close-to-home option for a spring break
    getaway or starting to plan a summer adventure with rewards points? Consider
    exploring a new part of the U.S. on a fly-and-drive road trip!

    Fly-and-drive trips are a twist on the traditional road
    trip. Instead of getting in your own car and road-tripping from home, you fly
    to a further-afield destination as your starting point and then rent a car to go
    exploring.

    Fly-and-drive road trip options

    As a fly-and-driver, you can choose a one-way journey: Arrive
    and rent a car at one location, then return the car and depart from your second
    location. For example, fly into San Diego, adventure up the California coast
    and fly home from San Francisco.

    Alternatively, you can start and end a fly-and-drive road
    trip at the same point by booking a simple same location return on both your car rental and plane ticket.

    This type of trip allows you to explore a specific region – like
    flying in and out of Minneapolis and road tripping to explore Lake Superior and the Boundary Waters.

    I personally discovered the adventure possibility of fly-and-drive
    trips while working to visit all 50 states.

    While I’ve checked all the states off my list now, the
    experience showed me there are lots of places to discover that are a simple
    road trip away from some airport, so I’m still at it.

    My last fly-and-drive trip was just last month when
    my friend Jes and I scored cheap Alaska Airlines tickets to Albuquerque
    (ABQ). 

    We explored Southern New Mexico’s national monuments, space
    stations, hot springs and alien landing sites – using our credit
    card rewards points to get great deals on hotel stays.

    Here’s how we planned our fly-and-drive to New Mexico – and how
    you can use your rewards points to hit the road.

    How to plan a fly-and-drive road trip

    1. Arrive at your starting destination on points – or pick a cheap location 

    Some fly-and-drive trippers want to visit a special
    destination like a national park or historic landmark, others are willing to
    explore and find adventure in any location they can arrive to free or at a
    bargain.

    The first time I did a fly-and-drive road trip around New
    Mexico, I chose it because I had never been to the state and always wanted to
    see Santa Fe.

    The ticket from PDX-ABQ was expensive to purchase in peak
    season, so I “paid” for it with American Airline miles from my Citi
    AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard. The second time I went was
    simply because there was a $39 flight.

      • Watch for fare sales to discover possible
        locations. Airlines run sales in line with traditional shopping “holidays” and some offer reduced points sales on award
        tickets.
      • Use a booking tool to find options for the
        cheapest destinations to fly to from your starting point. I use Google Flights to search from my home airport to the “United States,” and Skiplagged to search to “anywhere.”
      • If you have Southwest
        Rapid Rewards points from the Southwest
        Rapids Rewards Premier Credit Card (or Chase
        Ultimate Rewards points transferrable to Rapid Rewards), search for a budget
        ticket on Southwest.
      • Southwest has domestic routes to 40 states, and
        the points cost will be low because it’s based on the dollar cost of your bargain
        ticket. Plus, if you’ve already scored the Companion
        Pass, you can take a friend along for free.

    2. Book your car

    Wheels are a requirement for a
    fly-and-drive trip, but they don’t have to cost a lot. Rental cars can be
    acquired using either points or cash. My personal preference is to always look
    for a cheap car first. If I can find a car
    rental for $25 a day or under, I’ll usually save my points and pay for the
    rental.

      • Use Autoslash to find the cheapest deals
        on car rentals.
      • Expect to pay more (cash or points) for a
        one-way rental (i.e., drop off in a different city). If you are flexible and
        traveling offseason, check out Transfer Car for nearly free
        rental relocation options.
      • Make a booking when you find a good deal but
        keep looking until you find a great one. Car rental reservations can be
        canceled without penalty (unless you’ve prepaid).
      • Pay with a card like the Chase
        Sapphire Reserve that offers primary insurance on the rental.

    Using Autoslash, I was able to find an unbelievably cheap,
    all-in rental while in New Mexico for three days which only cost me $76. The Budget
    rental (via Priceline) was $111 cheaper than anything I could find searching sites
    directly, and insurance was covered with my credit card.

    3. Book free accommodation – or use points to wing
    it

    Outside of big cities in the U.S., you’re likely to find roadside
    chain hotels in the lower to midrange category like the Holiday Inn Express (part
    of IHG),
    the Hampton Inn (part of Hilton
    Honors), or the Fairfield Inn (part of Marriott
    Bonvoy).

    These hotels are rarely at capacity (unless it’s a holiday or
    local event) and are prime locations for using credit card points earned on
    co-branded cards.

      • If your flight arrives in the evening, book your
        hotel for your first night in advance.
      • If you know exactly how far you’ll be traveling
        each day, you can book hotels in advance.
      • If a hotel is cheap – my rule is less than $80 –
        pay cash. Use your points for more expensive redemptions.
      • Budget 20,000 rewards points per night for any
        chain hotel program if you’re relying on last-minute bookings (you may find
        rooms for 5,000-10,000 points per night, if you’re lucky).

    For New Mexico, we pre-booked arrival and departure nights
    at the ABQ Hyatt Place using points – from the World
    of Hyatt Credit Card – as our flights arrived late and left early.

    We left our other nights to chance as there were plenty of Marriott,
    IHG and Hilton options in the small cities we’d pass through.

    The result was two nights at two different Holiday Inn
    Express properties for 15,000 points each  – from the IHG®
    Rewards Club Premier Credit Card.

    Where would you head on a fly-and-drive trip?
    Use your points to plan an adventure — the road awaits! 

     

     

    Airfarewatchdog

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