I’ve thought for a long time that United States often gets ignored in this hobby. Many are so focused on jetting off to exotic locales for a weekend, they forget to stop and “smell the roses” back at home. But the truth is, America has so much to offer nature and culture-wise. We have such a diversity of landscapes and architecture. It’s almost like there are 50 little countries all speaking their own language, sometimes, quite literally!
Of course, visiting national parks is something not to be missed if you have kids. There are quite a few I haven’t been to yet (Grand Canyon, I promise, I’m coming to see you), but they are definitely on the list. So far, Denali in Alaska and Haleakala Crater national park in Maui are my favorites.
Here is the photo of the last one. Not how you think of Hawaii, right?
But you don’t have to go that far. There are quite a few in the Lower 48 States you can easily reach by car. Sure, it may take a day or two, but that’s part of the adventure. In fact, some of my husband’s favorite memories are of taking a 3-week road trip visiting major landmarks out West with his family when he was 14. Among them were Yellowstone and Glacier National park.
This was another post request from a reader. She wanted to know what credit card bonuses would be a good fit for lodging inside those two parks. As I’ve mentioned in my previous post, if you want to stay in non-chain hotels, your best bet will be to go after cash back and travel rebate bonuses. In case you haven’t read it, here are some offers to consider: Barclaycard Arrival Plus, Capital One Venture Rewards (points can be redeemed for gift cards), Wells Fargo Propel (now requires a checking account or in-branch application). You can read more on these cards in my page “Best credit card deals for family.”
But what if you don’t mind staying outside of the parks? Well, you have some options. First, I recommend you start at AwardMapper and type in your destination. In this case, it’s Glacier National Park. Here are some of the results:
To me, there are 4 options that could be a good fit. One of them is Comfort Inn Big Sky. I checked the reviews at Trip Advisor, and they are mostly OK. As you can see, the award price varies according to season. In the summer (their peak time), rates hover round $139 per night. While I wouldn’t purchase Choice currency at a full price of 1.1 cent per point (obviously, makes no sense), you may want to keep an eye on DailyGetaways promotion, which should return next spring.
If you can purchase points for 0.39 cents a pice, it could make sense to go that route. One huge advantage of Choice is that you can book a suite via points for the same rate as the basic room. This program often gets ignored in The Hobby, but it can be a good fit for family. Very often, if you want to go off-the-beaten path, Choice will be the only game in town. One major downside is that you can only book 30 days ahead domestically, 60 days if you can match to their elite status (IHG Platinum counts).
The other three options consist of hotels in Wyndham brand. I will say upfront that it’s probably not the best use of Wyndham points. You will be better off saving them for a fancier property, since those will also cost you 15,000 points per night. Still, it’s an option, and if you are on a budget, it could be worth considering. The easiest way to get Wyndham points is to sign up for Wyndham Signature Visa. You get 45,000 points after spending $1,000 in 3 months, annual fee of $69 is not waived. I actually got 60,000 points and have no idea why. Debating on whether to call Barclay’s (the issuing bank) or accept this generous gift. Any thoughts?
So, as you can see, it’s slim pickings near Glacier National park for hobbyists. But what about Yellowstone? Wow, what a difference!
As you can see, there are quite a few options. Clearly, Yellowstone is the more popular brother, probably due to its closer proximity to Eastern United States. Most major hotel brands are represented. Be aware, Awardmapper isn’t always 100% accurate, and at times, will display properties that have been closed or re-branded. Still, it’s a good starting point that will give you an idea on what’s available.
You might also check HotelHustle tool In many ways, it’s superior to AwardMapper. It shows your CPP (cents per point value), paid price and average reviews. However, it will only search within 50 mile radius, which should suffice for most people. I put in this weekend, and here are the results:
As you can see, the closest hotels to the park are from Wyndham chain. A nice thing about their program is that some properties will let you use 3,000 points per night in order to get a lower rate. Look at Super 8 Cooke City Yellowstone park area. You have a choice of paying $130 per night or $55+3,000 points. Obviously, the second option is preferable. Not all properties will have this rate available, but if you can utilize it, you’ll be able to stretch your bonus from Wyndham Signature Visa and get tremendous value out of it.
Many other brand properties near Yellowstone cost 20,000 points per night, which makes signing up for hotel co-branded cards a viable option. Of course, they are located a bit further from the park, so this could be a deal breaker. If you go for either Chase Marriott Premier Visa or Citi Hilton HHonors Signature Visa, you can get a 5-night stay from just one bonus, since every 5th night redemption is free in each program. Read more on these cards in this post
We are actually thinking about visiting both of those parks in 2017, probably by flying on Southwest and renting a van. In all likelihood, we won’t be staying in hotels, but rather going with vacation rentals. Since we need 3 rooms (my in-laws plan to come), the cost via points will be astronomical. That said, if you have a family of 4 (some room will fit 5), using hotel points is something worth considering. As always, it depends on your budget and many other factors.
While I haven’t found any amazing bargains, there are decent options near both of those parks. Of course, you can always choose to ignore this hobby and just pay good ole’ cash. Either way, I’m certain your kids will have a blast, and like my husband, will be talking about this trip 20 years later.
P.S. The winner of my contest (chosen by random number generator) was Erik. Congratulations! Thanks to all who commented and feel free to email me with post ideas.
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