My most recent trip was a road trip around the New England region of the US. It is one of the most beautiful places to witness the changing seasons. The best way to experience the area is by road, which allows you to explore the region away from where the usual tours will take you and gives you the freedom to travel as you please. When planning the trip, the most shocking part was how expensive flights could be and how hotels around the Boston area can be very costly. Nevertheless, we persisted, and we found ways through using a combination of points and comparison engines to plan the whole trip and save hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars in costs. Here are our tips on using points for a New England autumn road trip.
Where should you visit in New England?
New England is the region in the Northeast US comprising Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont. While there are always things to do, one of the area’s main attractions is the stunning autumn colours you can see in its National Parks and Forests. The best time to visit is mid-October, though it varies by year, so make sure you check online to stay current. The area is vast, and it’s impossible to see everything in one trip, but here are some of my highlights from the trip:
A peaceful island off the coast of Cape Cod, this is a haven for some celebrities, and it’s easy to see why. It feels like another world despite being only a short ferry ride from the mainland. There’s a lot to explore, and it’s a great place to spend a day for those who love nature, small towns and lovely food.
Peaks Island – Portland, Maine
Another hidden gem is Peaks Island, off the coast of Portland, Maine. It’s only about 30 minutes from the central city but a small, easily walkable island with plenty of stunning coastline to witness. This is an easy half-day trip, and while we visited during the off-season, it was still a lovely walk, with plenty of places to sit and take in the view.
White Mountains National Forest
A highlight of the trip, and one reason most people visit New England, is the White Mountains National Forest. During autumn, it features stunning foliage and hikes of all difficulty levels. The more we drove through, the more beautiful the views became. One of the most stunning trails (and relatively easy if you own some hiking boots) was the Mt Willard trail – pictured above.
Whale watching in Provincetown
This wasn’t initially part of the plan, but our drive to the end of Cape Cod brought us to Provincetown. At the close of the whale watching season, we were surprised by whales and other wildlife, almost within touching distance of the boat—one of the genuinely breathtaking sights I’ve seen.
Save money using points for flights to the US
While there are many potential routes to reach New England, Boston is the largest airport by far. Try to find reward flights into Boston, as this is where most major airlines fly into. Most of these flights will be through Los Angeles with Qantas/American Airlines or San Francisco with United Airlines. A cash return ticket from Sydney to Boston would cost you $2,200. Using points, you would need to pay 132,000 Krisflyer miles and $165 in taxes or 110,000 Qantas points and $500 in taxes. While using Qantas points costs more money, as is often the case, both options offer significant savings and well above 1c per point in value.
What if you don’t have points?
If you don’t have points, you still have a few options to save money.
- Buying points. I’m a huge advocate for using this technique where available. Multiple airlines fly between Australia and the US, giving you plenty of options to buy points with. Qatar Airways and British Airways frequently have offers allowing you to get bonus points when you purchase Avios through them. Unlike hotel points, it’s better if you already have some points available because the cost per point can be relatively high. Luckily, you can now earn Avios in Australia through American Express.
- Use Google Flights to compare flight prices, as their price graph feature allows you to see if prices are lower on dates surrounding the one you’re searching for. This can save you a couple of hundred dollars if you have some flexibility around dates. A bonus is Google Flights will suggest alternate airports if a nearby airport offers cheaper flights. Note that while I use Google Flights to search for flights, I would always book directly with the airline to avoid hassles in the event of delays or cancellations.
Save money on accommodation in the Boston area
Accommodation in and around Boston can be costly. But using my tips, you can still save money. One of the biggest money savers in situations like this is to use hotel loyalty programs and take advantage of them as much as possible. Not only do the points allow you to redeem free nights, but often, you get discounts on the standard room rate of around 10% just by joining.
I used a combination of points and cash to book various hotels throughout the trip. On average, the cash price of the booked rooms varied between US$150-200 per night, not including taxes. While the Boston area hotels were the priciest, given travel during this period is one of the most expensive times to visit New England, rooms throughout the area, including near national parks, were priced at at least $150 per night, even for 2- or 3-star hotels. This is where keeping a healthy points balance in hotel loyalty programs can help.
Hilton has a large footprint in the US, with hotels in most budget ranges. While rooms are dynamically priced based on demand, a standard reward room can be had for as little as 40,000 points per night, depending on the time of year. In this case, looking for a hotel in the White Mountains area, three nights in a room in the middle of October would set you back US$1,200. Using Hilton points would set you back 60,000 points per night or 180,000 points in total. If you have all the required points, you can save a significant amount just by using them. Don’t worry if you don’t, because Hilton lets you buy points, and often, buying points will save you money over paying cash. Wait for a bonus offer (usually giving you double the number of points you purchase), and you can buy 180,000 points for only $900. This will save you $300 for only a little extra work.
While previously Airbnb could be used to save some money, my experience with this is inconsistent. The quality of properties tends to be highly variable, with various additional fees added on and much less flexibility than hotel bookings. The only times I have been able to save money using Airbnb is when travelling with larger groups of people, where I could rent a single apartment instead of paying for multiple hotel rooms. If you are travelling solo, as a couple, or as a small family, hotels almost always come out ahead.
Save money on car hire
Car hire can be another significant cost during your holiday. Rewards programs and using points are less prevalent and valuable than they are for flights and hotels. This isn’t to say you can’t save money on car hire. Here are my tips to lower the cost of your car rental.
- Sign up for car rental company loyalty programs. Some of these companies give you a discount purely for signing up. For example, Europcar’s privilege club gives all members a 10% discount. If you have airline status or certain credit cards, you can often match your status to a rental rewards program, allowing you to access regular discounts and free upgrades at no cost.
- If travelling overseas, use a car rental comparison engine to find the cheapest deal. Often, this will come up with companies that might not exist in Australia but have an extensive local network. You will often find availability that you might not find directly through the car rental provider (I’ve often found this in the US). Note that if you book through a third party, you won’t get the discounts you would get with rental rewards status and won’t receive points. Be aware of this when booking.
Other money-saving tips for travelling
- When travelling to the US, you will need US dollars to pay for anything while you’re there. Unfortunately, this often comes with a currency conversion fee of up to 3% when paying with your local credit card. If you choose to pay with cash, you might need to pay almost 10% in fees to convert your Australian Dollars to US Dollars. While there are a few ways to get around this, I usually use a Wise travel money card which eliminates this conversion fee and allows you to withdraw some money without any currency conversion fee.
- If you are looking for travel insurance, you can find policies that cover things like rental car excess, which means that you could save money on paying for excess reduction with your car rental company (this can easily add hundreds of dollars to the cost of your rental). Credit cards can often provide this insurance for free if you meet specific criteria, such as purchasing your flights through them. World Nomads offers a policy that covers car rental excess, sports including skiing, health insurance and trip cancellation insurance. Read their policy and get a quote to see if this works well for you.