How I Booked a Trip to Yellowstone and Grand Teton on Points

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This summer is shaping up to be the busiest ever for the U.S. National Park Service, and travelers looking to book a trip to some of the most popular sites, like Yellowstone National Park, are seeing that demand reflected in sky-high travel costs.

Luckily, if you’d rather keep your money in your pocket instead of shelling out the thousands of dollars it could require to pull off a park trip, there’s another way to book—and that’s with credit card points.

In putting together a trip to both Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Park for later this summer, I’ve found plenty of ways to use points to cover flights, hotels, and rental cars to take the sting out of what would otherwise be an extremely pricey trip. Even better news? You can replicate them yourself no matter which park you’re looking to visit.

Use airline partners for flights

Since I’m based in Portland, Oregon, I may drive at least one way out to my trip’s home bases of Jackson, Wyoming, and Bozeman, Montana. But I’m also still debating a nonstop from Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport on Alaska Airlines.

Alaska’s miles are notoriously difficult to earn thanks to the airline’s dearth of transferable points partnerships, so for many people, the best way to book domestic Alaska awards is through fellow Oneworld carrier British Airways.

You can transfer points from programs like Chase Ultimate Rewards—earned with cards like the Chase Sapphire Reserve or Chase Sapphire Preferred—or American Express Membership Rewards, earned with cards such as the Gold Card from American Express and the Platinum Card from American Express—to British Airways to book your Alaska Airlines flight.

The best part? Because British Airways uses a distance-based award chart, you’ll often find you can do it for fewer miles than you’d need to book the exact same flight on Alaska’s own website.

Of course, if your journey doesn’t involve a West Coast origin or destination, Alaska likely won’t be a great option. You can also book American Airlines awards through British Airways, and for flights on Delta, you can try searching though Virgin Atlantic, another transfer partner of both Chase and AmEx. Looking for a low-cost United award? Check out Avianca LifeMiles, a program to which you can transfer your Citi, AmEx, or CapitalOne points.

How to splurge on hotels

For some of my first hotel stays since the pandemic began, I haven’t been willing to compromise on quality; lodging, therefore, would have been the costliest part of my trip if not for points.

For the first portion of the trip, I’ll be using 80,000 Marriott Bonvoy points per night—earned with the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Card from American Express—to save me close to $1,000 per night at the just-opened Cloudveil, a member of Marriott’s Autograph Collection located in downtown Jackson.

In Bozeman, meanwhile, I currently have a cash reservation for two nights at the Kimpton Armory Hotel, part of IHG’s portfolio. But I’m contemplating taking out the IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card for a chance to earn a 150,000-point welcome bonus—enough to cover my stay and then some.

The card does bear an annual fee of $89, but it’s waived the first year, meaning I could offset close to $1,000 in room charges without paying a fee until 2022. It also comes with IHG Platinum Elite Status, which could help score me an upgrade if space is available.

Be strategic with your rental car

With many people still gravitating toward road trips rather than returning to air travel, U.S. rental cars have been in short supply lately. While I won’t need one for this trip if I wind up driving from Portland, if I did, I would look to the Chase travel portal to cover my costs.

With my Chase Sapphire Reserve, I can use points to book a rental car at a rate of 1.5 cents per point—meaning a car priced at $100 per day would set me back just over 6,600 points per day. And there’s no points transfer required: The Chase portal automatically uses your Chase Ultimate Rewards points to offset the price of whatever you’re booking.

One thing to note: When booking through the Chase portal, the value you’ll get from your Ultimate Rewards points depends on which credit card you have. When booking with the Chase Sapphire Preferred, for example—the Reserve’s more affordable sister card—you’ll get 1.25 cents per point.

Condé Nast Traveler has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Condé Nast Traveler and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers.

See rates and fees for the American Express cards listed: The Platinum Card; The Gold Card; Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Card from American Express

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