I believe it is safe to say that with nearly 2 million travelers moving through TSA checkpoints each day, summer is in full swing. Unfortunately, it’s sometimes hard to take advantage of it if you have a full-time job, not to mention cash prices for trips skyrocketing for popular locations. Not to fret though: There are a ton of fun daytrips out there to take advantage of with points and miles and for many, you don’t have to spend more than a few dollars on taxes.
Whether you’re from the East Coast, West Coast or the Midwest, flights are filling up — but there is still award space popping up if you know where to look. Even if you’re able to get flights, many popular destinations are experiencing rental car shortages, causing rates to go through the roof.
There are some ways around it, but the fix this summer may be simply looking at secondary cities you may not know as well. If you’re ready for some daytrips but don’t have a wallet deep enough to shell out a few hundred dollars for the day, these locations may have a seat waiting just for you.
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Best airline redemptions for daytrips
While there are plenty of award chart sweet spots for international travel with great availability as the world reopens, locating the sweet spots domestically is a little bit more challenging. That doesn’t mean you can’t still score a great deal, but you will more often than not find sweet spots by booking flights with partner carriers for fewer points. Here are some of our favorite domestic sweet spots.
American Airlines reduced mileage awards
American Airlines AAdvantage miles have seen devaluations the past few years but they still offer some solid redemptions with AA reduced mileage awards. For those who may not be familiar, there is a select list of cities where American has reduced mileage awards each month.
Currently, it has a cool 185 qualifying cities on the list for at least one month from June all the way through September. Of these, 55 are on the list for all four months, giving you plenty of options for your potential daytrips.
Current notable cities on the list for all four months include Austin, Texas (AUS), Flagstaff, Arizona (FLG), Nashville (BNA), New Haven, Connecticut (HVN), Pittsburg (PIT), St. Louis (STL) and West Palm Beach, Florida (PBI). Just remember that these flights must be booked by July 31. If you are unsure what your schedule holds, you can always book speculatively — American offers free cancellation if your plans end up changing.
If you have one of the following cards, you can save 3,750 miles on one-way award tickets:
- Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard®.
- Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard®.
- CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® Mastercard®.
- AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard.
- AAdvantage Aviator Silver Mastercard (closed to new applications).
- AAdvantage Aviator Business Mastercard.
You’re eligible for 2,500 miles off a one-way award ticket if you have the following:
- Citi® / AAdvantage® Gold World Elite™ Mastercard (closed to new applications).
The information for the Citi AAdvantage Platinum card, CitiBusiness AAdvantage Platinum card and the Aviator cards has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
More on AA reduced mileage awards for this summer can be found here.
Delta award sales
While Delta SkyMiles has been the target of some unfortunate devaluations the last few years, it does still offer some great ways to get away on daytrips through SkyMiles award sales. Many of the flights offered through award sales are nonstop, so you can more easily escape for the day and head somewhere fun.
Unlike American, these awards usually are only “flash sales,” meaning you have to be on top of it the day of or the deal is gone. You can find the current Delta award deals, including the eligible origin and destination cities, on Delta’s website. If you are short on SkyMiles, the program is a transfer partner of both American Express and Chase.
As just an example of a flash sale and the savings it can open up, earlier this year flights to Anchorage were available for 5,000-10,000 SkyMiles round-trip. When booking, remember that only main cabin awards offer the flexibility of changes and cancellations while basic economy fares do not.
Redeeming British Airways Avios for American Airlines flights
Booking and redeeming British Airways Avios for American Airlines flights may be one of our favorite domestic sweets spots available. It’s my go-to program when needing to book American Airlines flights nearly anywhere within the United States.
British Airways charges 7,500 Avios for nonstop flights within North America that cover up to 650 miles in distance, or 9,000 Avios for flights up to 1,151 miles. On the flip side, booking the award through AAdvantage will typically set you back 12,500 for all domestic awards covering more than 500 miles.
These great prices are also consistent upfront in American’s domestic first class. British Airways charges 15,000 Avios for flights that are up to 650 miles while AAdvantage will charge 25,000 miles. These flights are not typically worth nearly double the price, but it still offers great flexibility and award availability is quite good for the most part.
Using Avianca LifeMiles for short flights on United
Using Avianca LifeMiles to book Star Alliance rewards is one of the best ways to take advantage of American Express and Chase transfer partners for traveling domestically. With United having implemented dynamic pricing, finding good deals is, unfortunately, becoming harder and harder.
LifeMiles not only has some of the best domestic rewards on United metal but throughout the world on Star Alliance as well. Pricing out some domestic itineraries, you’ll typically find most flights from 10,000-12,000 miles one-way. We have seen flights like Newark-Los Angeles transcons as low as 10,000 miles, which is quite a steal compared to what you’d pay at United. If you search the right routes, you can find reward redemptions such Monterey, California (MRY)-Denver (DEN) for as low as 7,500 miles one-way.
Those living on the East Coast have access to some of the best daytrip options out there. Due to the fact that so many airlines have hubs along the Eastern Seaboard, there are nearly always award redemptions available at prices that are rather cheap. Traveling along the East Coast also means that shuttle services between airports allow for better timed-out flights, especially for daytrips.
Boston is great for quite a few reasons, but one of them is being within two hours of big cities like Chicago, New York, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. While award availability isn’t as easy to come by this summer, that only means you may have to look a bit further out on the award calendar. If you do have trouble finding award availability through transfer partners, you can always take a look at the travel portals from both American Express and Chase.
And if you do need ideas on what to do while in Boston, we have some great guides!
- Guide to Boston sightseeing with teens
- 5 charming New England towns you can drive to from Boston
- 11 must-do family activities for your next trip to Boston
Portland is one of the best uses for points on this list. As a city that often sees last-minute fares jumping well into the hundreds, it makes your points redemptions just that much more valuable. Portland is famous for its amazing seafood and proximity to some awesome beaches. It’s also one of the gateways to Acadia National Park. The city is just a two-hour flight from Chicago, a two-hour flight from Charlotte, a one-hour flight from Washington, D.C., and a 35-minute flight from Boston.
Flying to Portland means fewer mainline flights, but luckily flights are short hops. Airlines currently serving Portland International Jetport (PWM) on a daily basis are American, Cape Air, Delta, Frontier, JetBlue and Southwest.
Cape Air flights
A fair warning: Cape Air is not for those who don’t enjoy small airplanes and a little turbulence. That being said, some of my favorite flights have been on Cape Air. While Cape Air services a number of smaller communities around North America, the greatest selection of flights is up in the northeast United States.
Cape Air operates a fleet of 88 Cessna 402s and four Britten-Norman Islanders, and recently took delivery of revolutionary twin-engine electric motor Tecnam P2012 Traveller. The fleet is small but mighty, carrying between 8-12 passengers on routes no longer than an hour and a half.
Cape AIr operates out of airports that often have little or no other service. This sometimes means there are no chain hotels in these cities, so daytrips make more sense when looking to use points — especially out of a city like Boston when you can redeem SkyMiles for Cape Air flights.
Using points to fly Cape Air was previously relatively difficult but recently got a bit easier. Back in May, they announced that it is now possible to use Delta SkyMiles on Cape Air flights out of Boston for as little as 5,000 points round-trip. Cape Air flights are often pretty pricey so it is a stunningly great deal. I recently booked a daytrip to Provincetown, Massachusetts, from Boston for only 5,000 points round-trip, though you may have to do a bit of searching for reward availability.
Here are routes out of Boston that you can redeem with SkyMiles. Cape Air is currently operating 11 flights out of Boston:
- Augusta, Maine (AUG)
- Bar Harbor, Maine (BHB)
- Hyannis, Massachussetts (HYA)
- Lebanon, New Hampshire (LEB)
- Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts (MVY)
- Nantucket, Massachusetts (ACK)
- Portland, Maine (PWM)
- Provincetown, Massachusetts (PVC)
- Rockland, Maine (RKD)
- Rutland, Vermont (RUT)
- Saranac Lake, New York (SLK)
Even if you aren’t a gambler, Las Vegas is a great choice for a daytrip. Proximity to attractions like the Grand Canyon (a 2 1/2-hour drive), Hoover Dam (a 45-minute drive), Death Valley (a 2 1/2-hour drive), Zion National Park (a 2 1/2-hour drive) and Joshua Tree National Park (a 3 1/2-hour drive) allows for amazing daytrip options.
Las Vegas is perfect in that it is in a generally centralized location among the southwest United States and West Coast. Denver, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, San Diego and so many others are within a 2-hour flight to Las Vegas. There are also endless ways to get to Las Vegas on points. Given the fact that so many low-cost carriers fly through Vegas, I have found flights for as low as $32 one-way.
However, Southwest Airlines may be a great option since you can save some costs by checking a bag for free with all the food you need. That way, should you decide to do a road trip, you won’t have to stop for food. Just a little bit of research and you’ll find quite a bit of availability open from most places on the East Coast. Below is the award calendar for Southwest from Burbank, California (BUR) to Las Vegas (LAS) for the month of August.
Monterey is one of my favorite daytrips in the United States. To be fair, I did live in the Bay Area growing up, so I am biased but the beauty of Monterey is undeniable. You do have a few options for getting there. You can fly to San Francisco, Oakland or San Jose and drive over or you can fly directly into Monterey Regional Airport (MRY).
A word of warning: You may want to save this daytrip until fall or wait to book until the last minute. In the summer, the fog in Monterey often sticks around all day. If you do happen to catch it on a clear day though, you’ll see why it is one of my favorite daytrips in the United States.
Award availability is amazing throughout the fall through both American and United. Award redemptions aren’t the best through their native mileage programs so I would recommend jumping over to Avianca LifeMiles for United flights or British Airways Avios for American.
Both programs are transfer partners of American Express, Chase and Capital One. Award flights start at 7,500 points one-way for economy with awesome availability throughout the fall so start planning your daytrip!
San Luis Obispo, California
I would argue San Luis Obispo is one of the hidden gems on this list. My favorite beach town in California, Avila Beach, is only a short drive away and flights are very well priced. You’re also not far from Pismo Beach down to the south and Morro Bay just up north. San Luis Obispo originally caught the eye of TPG back in 2019 when they were paying the first 500 visitors $100 each to come to visit the city.
San Luis Obispo is a central coastal city located north of Los Angeles and only a few hours’ drive from most cities in California. It’s an awesome spot if you’re just looking for a summer daytrip or even a weekend getaway. The city has great hiking locations with relatively warm weather without rain most of the year.
Getting to the city is also very cheap right now with great award availability. Flights on American to Phoenix and Dallas; Alaska to Portland, Seattle and San Diego; and United to Denver and San Francisco make getting to San Luis Obispo from major cities on the West Coast relatively easy. Flights start at 7,500 points one-way through British Airways Avios on American or Alaska and Avianca LifeMiles on United.
Avelo (not on points)
While not on points and miles, it would be a crime not to mention one of the newest airlines serving passengers in the United States. The new low-cost carrier — the brainchild of former Allegiant Air executive Andrew Levy — is quickly ramping up operations from Hollywood Burbank Airport (BUR) in Southern California. With fares starting at only $19 each way, it’s hard to say no to such a deal.
As a low-cost carrier, Avelo does pinch every penny of your fare but a strategically planned daytrip for less than $100 full fare for two is quite the steal. By the end of the summer Avelo will operate 11 flights out of Burbank, with more expansion expected to take place. If you’re interested in a day in wine country or maybe a day in the Rockies out of Salt Lake City, it may be worth checking out Avelo despite points redemptions not being available.
Chicago is without a doubt one of my favorite daytrips that I have taken. The city is centrally located, within 2 hours from essentially the entirety of the Midwest, and has plenty of activities to choose from. Getting from O’Hare Airport (ORD) to the heart of the action is super easy to do in Chicago.
The Blue Line is only a few stops from downtown and it’s a great option if you’re on a tight budget. Personally, it has been a daytrip I have done a few times now and every single time has been a success. Just watch the weather, as summer thunderstorms can sneak up on you quickly.
Air travel to Chicago is stunningly easy with so many options. Flights to Chicago on every major carrier in the United States ensure that there is at least some availability every day of the year. You also have two airports, Chicago O’Hare (ORD) and Chicago Midway (MDW). Even with that, I would recommend avoiding holidays and possibly even weekends too. Finding a quiet day ensures you won’t be waiting in any lines.
Check out these guides for more ideas:
- What’s the fastest way to O’Hare in Chicago?
- 9 things no one tells you about Chicago
- 7 things to do in Chicago with kids
Jackson Hole, Wyoming
Jackson Hole is probably one of the harder daytrips for this summer especially if you’re looking to go on points and miles. Not to fear though — it is still possible. You may just have to do a little bit more homework. Jackson Hole is located right next to the Grand Tetons on the border of Wyoming and Idaho. It’s perfect if you’re looking for a day away from the heat of the Midwest or even the West Coast.
While Jackson Hole may be hard to visit this summer, it does not have a shortage of flights. Service on Alaska Airlines, Allegiant, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Frontier, Sun Country and United Airlines means there are lots of flights to go around.
Last-minute availability through transfer partners may be a little bit harder to come by, especially as the summer progresses, so you may want to check the Chase and American Express Travel portals. Unfortunately, the rental car shortage is making it harder to take daytrips to outdoor locations like Jackson Hole, so make sure to click here for some summer rental car tips.
For flights, I would again recommend booking through transfer partners like British Airways Avios or Avianca LifeMiles, or waiting for a web special for finding the best discounted tickets. However, if you’re still chasing elite status booking through the Chase or American Express Travel portals may help you chase that a little faster while using points.
Nashville has to be one of the most overlooked cities for a daytrip in the United States, especially from the Midwest. From Broadway plays to the Country Music Hall of Fame, there is pretty much something for everyone in Nashville. Another perk is the centralized location of downtown.
There are plenty of activities within walking distance if you’re not interested in renting a car. The airport unfortunately is not as centrally located, but it may be a great opportunity to use that annual Uber Cash if you’re a Platinum Card® from American Express cardholder. (Enrollment required)
Flights are easily available from a pretty good list of locations around the United States. Southwest also has a hub in Nashville (BNA), so low fares on points are readily available through the rest of the summer and well into the fall for only 4,909 points on some days, like this route from Kansas City, Missouri (MCI).
Earning points has never been so easy. There are tons of credit cards offering close to and over 100,000 points after completing minimum spending requirements. If you book smart, 100,000 points can be used for quite a few daytrips for you and even a lucky buddy. Let’s take a look at some of our favorites here at The Points Guy.
|Sign-up bonus/welcome offer
|Bonus value, based on TPG valuations (not provided by issuers)
|Chase Sapphire Preferred Card
|100,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening
|2x on travel and dining, one year of complimentary DashPass membership with DoorDash, robust array of travel protections
|Ink Business Preferred Credit Card
|100,000 points after you spend $15,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening
|Cellphone protection; purchase protection; 3x points on travel, shipping purchases, advertising with social media sites and search engines, and internet, cable and phone services
|Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
|Earn 60,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening.
|2 miles per dollar spent on almost everything, up to $100 every 4 years in TSA PreCheck/Global Entry application fee credit
|Iberia Visa Signature Card
|100,000 Avios after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening
|10% off Iberia flights booked through Iberia.com/Chase10 with your card,
discount voucher of $1,000 to use toward 2 tickets on the same flight each year you spend $30,000
|The Platinum Card® from American Express
|$695 (see rates & fees)
|100,000 points after you spend $6,000 on purchases in the first 6 months of card membership. Plus, earn 10x points on eligible purchases at restaurants worldwide and when you Shop Small in the U.S., on up to $25,000 in combined purchases, in your first 6 months.
|Up to $1,000 in annual credits, access to an extensive network of airport lounges worldwide (enrollment required)
|The Business Platinum Card® from American Express
|$595 (see rates & fees)
|125,000 points after you spend $15,000 on eligible purchases in the first 3 months of account opening
|Up to $200 in statement credits each year for any U.S. Dell technology purchases, access to the American Express Global Lounge Collection. Enrollment required for select benefits. Terms apply.
|American Express® Gold Card
|$250 (see rates & fees)
|60,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 6 months of card membership.
|Up to $120 in annual statement credits towards dining purchases ($10 monthly credits) at participating partners and up to $120 in Uber Cash* towards U.S. purchases (enrollment required) baggage insurance, trip delay reimbursement
*Card must be added in Uber account to receive this benefit
|New United Quest Card
|Up to 100,000 miles: 80,000 miles after you spend $5,000 in the first 3 months off account opening, plus another 20,000 miles after a total of $10,000 in spending in the first 6 months
|Up to $1,300
|$125 annual purchase credit that you can use toward United flights, 2 5,000-mile flight credits per year as a reward for redeeming miles, starting with your first cardmember anniversary
With restrictions for vaccinated travelers easing in many parts of the United States, daytrips are becoming easier and easier to plan and execute on points. My daytrips usually take a couple of hours of homework, but there is no better feeling than getting to escape for a day and only having minimal expenses.
As more vaccinated Americans are traveling, cash rates are spiking and the travel industry is struggling to keep up with demand. As the summer progresses though, expect to still see some last-minute award space to popular vacation spots. Happy travels!
Featured image by Ryan Patterson/The Points Guy.