Grand Canyon to Bavaria: Here are 7 fall trips to take on points and miles

Back-to-school shopping and pumpkin spice drinks at Starbucks mean one thing: Fall is officially around the corner. If you’ve been thinking about taking a trip this fall using your hard-earned points and miles, now’s the time to book. Cash prices are likely to rise and award availability is likely to diminish.

In this guide, we’ll take a look at some of the top destinations to visit this fall and how to book flights and hotels using points and miles. We’ll cover options close to home and some across the ocean, with a focus on more outdoors-oriented destinations.

Explore the Grand Canyon

If outdoors-focused travel is on your radar, consider a trip to the Grand Canyon.

Fall is an ideal time to visit this iconic national park because it’s less crowded and the weather isn’t as hot as during those brutal summer months. Although you usually don’t picture its trees, the Grand Canyon is full of them, and they’re bursting with color in the fall. Just keep in mind that while Grand Canyon West and the South Rim are open year-round, the North Rim is open seasonally from mid-May through mid-October.

The closest major international airport to the South Rim is Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport (PHX). It’s a hub for American Airlines and Southwest Airlines but is served by most major U.S. carriers, including Alaska, Delta, Frontier, JetBlue, Spirit, Sun Country and United, as well as the semiprivate jet airline JSX. Meanwhile, Harry Reid International Airport (LAS) is about 4 1/2 hours from the South Rim. Most awards are dynamically priced but it’s not uncommon to find shorter flights for as low as 3,041 points one-way on an airline like Southwest depending on your origin city.

When you visit the Grand Canyon, you have a choice of staying inside the park or in a neighboring community. None of the options inside the park belong to a major hotel program, so you’ll need to redeem your points through a portal like the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal if you want to stay there. Outside of the park, points options include:

Holiday Inn Express & Suites Williams: From 20,000 IHG One Rewards points per night.
Holiday Inn Express & Suites Grand Canyon: From 30,000 IHG One Rewards points per night.
Travelodge by Wyndham Williams Grand Canyon: 15,000 Wyndham Rewards points per night.
Best Western Plus Inn of Williams: From 24,000 Best Western Rewards points per night.
Best Western Premier Grand Canyon Squire Inn: From 28,000 Best Western Rewards points per night.
Courtyard by Marriott Page at Lake Powell: 30,000 to 40,000 Marriott Bonvoy points per night.

Head North to Montreal

Montreal is a lovely destination to see fall foliage. The trees usually start changing color in mid-September and reach their peak in early October. While you’ll need to pack a coat, the temperatures are relatively mild and the crowds of tourists have mostly cleared out. 

Montreal-Trudeau International Airport (YUL) is a major travel hub with nonstop flights from major cities across the U.S., such as Atlanta, Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Miami and Washington, D.C. Possibilities for booking these flights with points and miles are almost endless. Air Canada Aeroplan offers extra-low rates for short-haul routes under 500 miles, charging just 6,000 to 10,000 miles each way in economy or 15,000 to 25,000 miles in business class. Meanwhile, other domestic flights can range from 10,000 to 17,500 miles in economy or 20,000 to 60,000 miles in business class. You can also book Air Canada (or United) awards for cheap through Avianca LifeMiles. Saver economy awards cost 7,500 to 12,500 miles each way with American Airlines AAdvantage, but you may be able to score a better deal if you find discounted Web Special award space. Delta prices its awards dynamically but they typically start at 9,500 miles one-way.

Once there, you’ll have plenty of options for hotels. For example, if you want to stay downtown, book the W Montreal for 40,000 to 60,000 points per night. Or redeem an up-to-50,000-point free night award, an annual perk of the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card, on dates when it’s pricing at or under this threshold. For classic luxury, you could splurge on The Ritz-Carlton, Montreal for 50,000 to 70,000 points per night. IHG fields the InterContinental Montreal, where award nights can cost as little as 30,000 IHG points. Meanwhile, Hilton offers members numerous properties in and around the city. Some of Hilton’s top options include:

Vogue Hotel Montreal Downtown: 60,000 Hilton Honors points per night.
Homewood Suites by Hilton Montreal Downtown: 50,000 Hilton Honors points per night.
Hilton Garden Inn Montreal Centre-Ville: From 55,000 Hilton Honors points per night.

Explore the Texas Hill Country

Fall is the perfect time to visit the Texas Hill Country. After all, you can enjoy cooler evenings and more moderate days in Austin or San Antonio before venturing to smaller towns such as Fredericksburg, New Braunfels and San Marcos. When visiting the Texas Hill Country, it’s probably still warm enough to enjoy river tubing in San Marcos, wine tasting in Fredericksburg, leaf peeping in Lost Maples State Natural Area and even see a rodeo in a small town such as Bandera. Wimberley is another great Central Texas destination with cabins on the river, natural swimming holes and more. Keep in mind that the turning of the leaves comes later in the south, so time the trip accordingly if you’re after fall colors instead of late-season swimming.

You’ll probably want to fly into Austin or San Antonio and rent a car. Check out our guide to domestic sweet spots for ideas on how to best book your flights using points and miles. I also recommend checking out Southwest to see what types of fares it currently offers from your point of origin. You can also redeem points and miles for a car rental, but I recommend checking for low car rental rates through AutoSlash. Spend a few days in Austin at the start of your trip (check out our favorite Austin hotels) and then use Fredricksburg as a base for exploring the Hill Country. If you’re able to snag a reasonably priced one-way car rental, you could end your trip in San Antonio. Here are a few lodging options in Fredericksburg:

Fairfield Inn & Suites Fredericksburg: PointSavers pricing from 32,000 points per night.
Holiday Inn Express & Suites Fredericksburg: From 26,000 IHG One Rewards points per night.
Hampton Inn & Suites Fredericksburg: Most standard award nights cost between 33,000 and 50,000 Hilton Honors points.

Regardless of which of these hotels you choose, consider staying four or five nights if you’re eligible to get a free night when redeeming points. For more ideas on what to do in Texas, check out unique road trips you can take from Houston, road trips from Austin and road trips from San Antonio.

Drive the Blue Ridge Parkway

If you drive the Blue Ridge Parkway in the fall when the leaves change — usually late October to mid-November — you’ll have a beautiful drive and moderate temperatures. The Blue Ridge Parkway is one of TPG’s most epic road trips in America. The parkway runs for 469 miles, linking Shenandoah National Park to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. You can extend your journey slightly by also driving Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park. For your autumn Blue Ridge Parkway road trip, a one-way car rental will let you maximize your time. However, if you can’t find any inexpensive one-way rentals — or want to spend more time exploring the area — consider driving the Blue Ridge Parkway one-way and then returning to your origin via another route.

I recommend flying into Asheville, North Carolina. You could also fly into other cities on or near your route, including Roanoke and Harrisonburg in Virginia. There are many domestic points and miles sweet spots you can use to book your flight. For example, book through Turkish Miles&Smiles or Avianca LifeMiles to fly United domestically. Or book through British Airways for one-way, nonstop flights of less than 1,151 miles operated by American Airlines or Alaska Airlines. It’s also worth checking Delta and Southwest awards since these programs often offer good sales.

Finally, your lodging needs will ultimately depend on your routing. You could book a bunch of one-night hotel stays in different towns. You could also stay longer in several cities and then take day trips from your base. The options are far too broad for me to recommend specific options. However, although you should start your search with your hotel loyalty program of choice, you may also want to book some independent hotels through an online travel agency rewards program like Rewards. Additionally, programs like IHG One Rewards and Choice Privileges offer more options than other popular loyalty programs in smaller towns along the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Visit Bavaria in Germany

Oktoberfest is back for the first time since 2019, so this fall is a great time to visit the German state of Bavaria. Bavaria’s main cities are Munich, Nuremberg and Augsburg — but I recommend venturing to Garmisch-Partenkirchen and Fussen, located in the Alps along Germany’s border with Switzerland.

There are many ways to use points and miles to get to Europe. However, one top choice is to redeem ANA Mileage Club miles for Star Alliance flights. You’ll need to redeem 55,000 miles for a round-trip economy award or 88,000 miles for a round-trip business award. You can add a free stopover and use a mixture of Star Alliance carriers, but beware of high fuel surcharges with some carriers. Alternatively, you could book American Airlines-operated awards through Etihad Guest. These awards start at 20,000 Etihad miles one-way in economy and 50,000 miles one-way in business. American flies from Charlotte and Dallas to Munich. I recommend staying in Munich and then taking trains or buses to other destinations within Bavaria for day trips.

Here’s a list of hotels we’ve recommended for Oktoberfest in the past. To facilitate easy daytrips, though, I recommend redeeming points to stay at one of the following hotels:

Andaz Munich Schwabinger Tor: 17,000 to 23,000 World of Hyatt points per night.
Moxy Munich Ostbahnhof: 15,000 to 20,000 Marriott Bonvoy points per night.
Comfort Hotel Am Medienpark: Variable pricing of 10,000 to 16,000 points per night.

I’d likely pick the Moxy Munich Ostbahnhof for its location near the Ostbahnhof train station, relatively low pricing and fun vibe. I’d stay either five or even 10 nights to maximize Marriott’s fifth night free when using points.

Walk the Chicago lakefront

Chicago in the fall means moderate weather, outdoor dining and brisk walks along Lake Michigan. TPG points and miles editor Andrew Kunesh is a Chicagoland native and thinks it’s the best time of year to visit the city — you miss the extreme cold and heat, and can see all the sights in a sweater and jeans.

One of the best things to do in Chicago is walking along Lake Michigan and exploring the city’s vast selection of neighborhoods. The Lakefront Trail spans the length of the city and is lined with parks, cafes and museums. Autumn is the perfect time to walk or bike the trail and see all that Chicago offers. It’s easy to get to Chicago with points and miles too. Delta Air Lines frequently offers discounted SkyMiles award tickets from its hubs. Sometimes you can find tickets from Minneapolis for as little as 5,000 SkyMiles in basic economy. Alternatively, you can use Avianca LifeMiles to book United tickets and British Airways Avios to book American tickets. Both offer attractive pricing on short-haul flights and award space to O’Hare International Airport (ORD) is plentiful from most U.S. airports.

Chicago is home to a slew of great points hotels — here are a few good options downtown:

Chicago Athletic Association: 12,000 to 18,000 World of Hyatt points per night.
W Chicago – Lakeshore: 30,000 to 40,000 Marriott Bonvoy points per night.
Kimpton Gray Hotel: Most dates cost 45,000 IHG One Rewards points per night this fall.

Personally, I’d book the Chicago Athletic Association. It’s a bargain at as low as 15,000 World of Hyatt points per night and is right across from Millennium Park. It’s an easy walk to the lakefront too. Also, the hotel is ultra-hip and has three amazing on-site bars.

Hike the mountains in Salt Lake City

Utah‘s capital is growing fast, but the surrounding nature is just as beautiful as ever. You can walk along the famous Salt Lake, hike nearby mountains and have reasonable access to Zion, Arches and other major national parks with a rental car. Additionally, there’s no shortage of things to do right in the city. Foodies will love the Sugar House district, packed with restaurants, breweries and bakeries that are sure to sate any appetite. You’ll also find great places to eat and drink scattered throughout the large downtown area.

Delta has a hub at Salt Lake City International Airport (SLC), so you’ll want to look for reasonably priced SkyMiles award tickets first. I found basic economy awards from San Francisco to Salt Lake City starting at just 4,500 SkyMiles this fall, which is an excellent deal for this flight. Some of the best hotel options in downtown Salt Lake City include the following:

Hyatt Place Salt Lake City/Downtown/The Gateway: 6,500 to 9,500 World of Hyatt points per night.
AC Hotel by Marriott Salt Lake City Downtown: 20,000 to 30,000 Marriott Bonvoy points per night.
The Peery Salt Lake City Downtown, Tapestry Collection: Dynamic pricing with most dates costing 50,000 Hilton Honors points per night this fall.

We recommend staying at the Hyatt Place in downtown Salt Lake City. It’s in a stellar location with easy access to transit and local eateries. It’s also only 8,000 points per night on standard dates, so you can book a long stay for relatively few points. If you do make the trek out to Zion, we’re big fans of using Marriott points to stay at the SpringHill Suites Springdale Zion National Park.

Bottom line

From the Grand Canyon and the Texas Hill Country to Bavaria and beyond, there are lots of terrific options for places to visit in the fall. However, travel demand is high and we expect many popular attractions to sell out this fall. So if you find an award flight or hotel stay that strikes your interest, book now to avoid losing it to a fellow traveler.

About the Author

Benji Stawski

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