Once you start to dabble with travel rewards, you’ll see the term “sweet spot” mentioned. That means a particular flight or hotel stay is a really good deal in terms of points and miles.
Here’s a short list of great “sweet spot” international award redemptions to show you how you can optimize your points and miles. These are a couple of gems I found through my travels and my research.
Vietnam tends to be far less popular with US travelers than other Southeast Asia destinations, like Thailand or Bali. But that is part of why it's a great destination! My husband and I traveled to Vietnam in February of 2018 and we absolutely loved it! The food, the culture, the people, everything was absolutely amazing. Vietnam has it all; beautiful beaches, jungle, history, wonderful people, amazing culture, and delicious food.
It is a long flight from the US and there are no nonstop options; you will have to connect somewhere in Asia. However, there are many routes to Asia and lots of options to book with travel rewards and paid flights. It’s a short hop from Cambodia, Thailand and Hong Kong; so if you have time, you can fit another country or two into your itinerary. You can often find a good cash fare to Asia, especially from the West Coast. You can fly to Bangkok or Hong Kong, and Vietnam is just a short flight from there.
It is very easy and inexpensive to travel within Vietnam. There are a few low cost carriers and the ticket prices are fairly low. One way fares can be as inexpensive as $30-$50 and you can easily cover 3-4 destinations if you go for two weeks.
Food in Vietnam is fresh, delicious, and very affordable. You can get a can of beer for 30c-50c! You are not stuck to just eating street food to get these prices, either; even nice restaurants are inexpensive.
There are lots of great hotels you can book for about $70/night. So if your travel plans include a destination that does not have a chain hotel easily booked with travel rewards, use the Chase travel portal.
I love Hyatt because of their very reasonable redemption rates. It is also fairly easy to earn Hyatt points. You can transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points to your Hyatt account. The transfer takes just a few seconds.
Park Hyatt Saigon in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam is an incredible redemption. The room rates at this beautiful property start at $340 but because it’s a category four hotel you will only need 15,000 points to stay there. Park Hyatt is Hyatt’s top brand, you can’t get a better experience than at a Park Hyatt. My stay at this beautiful hotel was absolutely wonderful.
In Hanoi, you can stay at a beautiful Sheraton Hanoi Hotel for just 17,500 Marriott points.
Or you can stay at a luxurious JW Marriott Hanoi also for 17,500 Marriott points. You won’t find those kinds of rates outside of Southeast Asia!
Remember, when you use points to book a Marriott stay, you can book four nights and get fifth night free. That means you'll be paying just 14,000 points/night for one of these very upscale hotels.
You can earn Marriott points by opening Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Visa Signature Credit Card.
Vietnam is such a beautiful country that is still relatively undiscovered by American tourists. So put Vietnam on your list before the secret gets out and the prices go up.
Another country US travelers should consider is Turkey. There's so much to see and do. There is interesting history, amazing scenery, and culture. And let's not forget the food! Turkish people are very generous and kind, and if you have never tried authentic Turkish food, you are in for a treat! Right now the exchange rate of Turkish lira to USD is extremely favorable.
It is still fairly safe for American travelers. Just exercise normal caution when you are there, be aware of your surroundings, and if you don't want to travel alone, hire a local guide when you get there.
It's easy to get to Turkey on points and miles. There are many routes with connections in Europe that are fairly easy to book with award miles via various programs. Use awardhacker.com to find who flies to Turkey and which reward programs you can use.
You can stay at amazing hotels without spending a lot of cash or points. For example, you can stay at Nish Palas Istanbul, a boutique hotel that's part of Hyatt for only 8,000 World of Hyatt points. Grand Hyatt Istanbul is only 15,000 points/night. You can get Hyatt points by transferring Ultimate Rewards points to World of Hyatt program. You can also earn Hyatt points by opening The World of Hyatt Credit Card.
Another inexpensive option is to spend 12,500 Marriott points for a very nice Sheraton in Istanbul. You can earn Marriott points by opening Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Visa Signature Credit Card. Don't forget, when you book four nights award stay, you get a fifth night free.
You can also use Chase Ultimate Rewards portal to book any non-chain hotel. If you have Chase Sapphire Preferred Card or Ink Business Preferred Credit Card, your points are worth 1.25 cents each. If you have Chase Sapphire Reserve, your points are worth 1.5 cents each. Cash rates are also very low for such an amazing destination, so you can save your points for more expensive redemptions.
I will be going to Istanbul in June for a few days, and I can't wait! I haven't decided where I am staying yet, but it'll be fun to research different options.
Spanish flagship carrier, Iberia Airlines, has a distance based award chart. The best redemptions are during off peak dates which are generously defined, but, are also somewhat random.
To find Iberia’s calendar you will have to create an Iberia account first. After you have logged in, hover your computer mouse over Iberia Plus tab on the upper right and click on Using My Avios.
Iberia uses Avios points and is a Chase Ultimate Rewards transfer partner; the transfer is almost instant.
You can fly to Madrid
- From New York JFK, Chicago and Boston for 17,000 off peak and 20,000 during peak season in economy or 34,000 off peak and 50,000 in business during peak season
- From Miami, Boston and San Francisco for 21,250 off peak and 25,000 during peak season in economy or 42,000 off peak and 62,500 in business during peak season
Taxes and fees for round trip economy fares should be around $200, and $300 for a round trip in business. Because the number of miles required is significantly lower than on other airlines, I don’t mind paying slightly higher taxes.
I booked a one way flight from Madrid to Chicago for May during off peak days for 34,000 Avios and about $135 in taxes and fees. For comparison, you will need 30,000 United miles for a one way economy flight to Europe and 60,000 one way for business. My 34,000 Iberia Avios redemption for a business class award ticket is definitely a huge bargain!
Even if you don’t want to go to Spain, with so many low cost carriers in Europe, getting to another European destination is very easy. But who wouldn’t want to spend some time in Spain? Spain has wonderful food and great public transportation. Spain’s high speed trains are a great way to get between different cities.
Spain is a definitely a family-friendly destination. You have beautiful beaches, great culture and history, fun museums, and delicious, affordable food.
Around the World with an ANA ticket
I realize that this might be somewhat of an aspirational redemption, not everyone can spend weeks or months at a time traveling around the globe. But wouldn’t that be an epic trip to take once you reach financial independence?
Japanese carrier, All Nippon Airways reward program called ANA Mileage Club offers the best value for around the world tickets. Book your around the world ticket with ANA miles and fly on ANA and other Star Alliance carriers. You will save tens of thousands of award miles compared to booking the same itinerary segment by segment. You are allowed eight stopovers and can only travel in one direction, east or west, and you can’t return to your departure airport within 10 days.
ANA uses a distance-based award chart, so for a trip shorter than 18,000 miles you will need just 65,000 miles in economy and 105,000 in business class!
You can transfer American Express Membership Rewards Points at a 1 to 1 ration to ANA. You can earn Membership Rewards points with a number of personal and business American Express cards.
I hope this article inspires you to start thinking about the places around the world you can visit with points and miles. Let us know in the comments what hidden gems you have found.
What international “sweet spots” you have found?
- Travel Rewards Credit Cards FAQs
- Travel Reward Mistakes and How to Avoid Them
- Podcast episode: Travel Rewards With Marla Taner