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Ski and snowboard trips make for great family vacations, but lodging costs can be tremendous during the peak season. Thankfully, this is when hotel loyalty points are the most valuable. I love using my points for ski trips, and have written a few posts about my experiences, but now that ski season is again quickly approaching I am updating a post originally written by Jason Steele (featured in this Little C’s Traveling Friends post), to share some of his experience using points to book convenient ski lodging in the Western US. I have updated all the points prices from when the piece originally ran last year, so hopefully it can get you ready for ski season 2014- 2015! Since he is a Colorado local, he was able to add in a few extra tips as well!
I looked for properties affiliated with the major hotel chains that are at or very near the major western ski resorts, and here is what I found:
- Most of the ski areas with lodging that are part of a major hotel program are in Colorado and Utah, and to a lesser extent, Lake Tahoe (on the California-Nevada border). Despite some great skiing in Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, and New Mexico, the major hotel chains have little or no presence close to the ski areas in those states.
- Starwood appears to have the best points for ski trips. Those visiting Vail, Snowmass, and Beaver Creek can redeem points for accommodations at the lifts for as little as 12,000 – 16,000 point a night, and even less when you factor in the fifth night free offer. Most other properties are 30,000 points a night and up.
- Hyatt offers some great deals, especially for families. If you can find availability at one of the Hyatt Residence clubs, that could be a steal. Otherwise, Hyatt Escala Lodge is a solid value on points and Park Hyatt Beaver Creek has an exceptional location.
Tips for skiing Colorado
As Denver local, allow me to offer a few pieces of advice based on my experience:
- Avoid driving from Denver to the mountains on I-70 Saturday and Sunday mornings or to Denver from the mountains on Saturday and Sunday afternoons. These are the peak travel times for locals and tourists alike, and traffic can easily double or triple the time of the two hour trip from Summit County to the airport. Take it from me, it is extremely frustrating to be stuck in mountain traffic for several hours. Also be aware that snow and weather can make this drive much slower, so plan accordingly.
- Eagle-Vail (EGE) is a great airport to fly into for trips to Vail and Beaver Creek, and to a lesser extent, Copper. For the other areas in Summit County, Breckenridge, Keystone, Arapahoe Basin, and Loveland, the Eagle-Vail airport’s short distance advantage over Denver is largely outweighed by the greater chance of weather delays. For those going to Aspen-Snowmass, but are unable to get a reasonably priced flight into the Aspen airport, flying into Eagle-Vail will save at least two hours of driving. Delta, American, United, and Air Canada all offer winter service to Eagle-Vail. Airline miles can be very useful when prices to these smaller airports are high.
- Never, ever pay full window price for a lift ticket any more than you would pay the sticker price for a new car. You can find discounts at the supermarket, coupons in the Entertainment book, and purchase season and day passes at sporting goods stores in Denver in September and October. If you will be passing through Denver in the next two months, be sure to visit an REI, Sports Authority, or Colorado Ski and Golf store to buy some tickets at less than half price. You also find tickets for sale on Denver Craigslist as well.
- Save money by driving to some of the lesser known ski areas that don’t have extensive accommodations. They have even formed their own ‘alliance’ called Colorado Gems, and they sell a discount card for $20. Personally, I am big fan of Loveland and Arapahoe Basin as they offer great skiing, are near Denver, and sell 4-packs of tickets in the fall (in Denver) for about $30 a ticket.
- Consider purchasing a 4-Pak to Loveland Ski Area now for only $129. This is a local favorite with great conditions and free parking, but no hotels at the base. These tickets are only on sale until late November, but are frequently sold on Craigslist during the ski season. Expect to pay much more during the season. Not only is Southwest my favorite airline for family travel, they are great for ski travel as well. They have a huge hub in Denver and offer two free checked bags which is great for ski gear. Also, consider them for ski trips to Salt Lake, Albuquerque, and Reno/Lake Tahoe as well.
- Be aware that rental car agencies at the Denver airport are notorious for their up-sell techniques. Expect to hear stern warnings about how the car you reserved can’t possibly drive up a mountain or in snow and how you really need to pay an extra fee to upgrade to a larger vehicle. This is nonsense and you can expect to hear it right after they ask you if you are visiting the mountains. All cars built in the last few years have traction control and anti-lock brakes, and any car sold in the United States can drive up I-70 (I frequently see manufactures testing new models there). I’ve driven to the mountains countless times: Unless you have a vehicle four wheel drive, which is expensive and isn’t usually necessary, the type of car you rent will not matter much. Besides, after declining the paid upgrade, you will probably be given a larger car anyways at no additional cost.
The major hotel chains with properties at ski areas:
Holiday Inn Summit County-Frisco – 25,000 points. Located just off the highway, this hotel is a 10-20 minute drive from Summit County ski areas. One king or two double beds.
Holiday Inn Vail. – 35,000 points. I have stayed at this property, which is across I-70 from Vail Village, and offers a free shuttle to the ski area. One king or two queens.
Holiday Inn Express South Lake Tahoe – 30,000 points. Located a quarter mile away from Heavenly Ski Resort in South Lake Tahoe. They offer rooms with one king, two doubles, or two queen size beds.
Holiday Inn Express & Suites Park City – 20,000 points. Located within 10 miles of the three major ski areas in Park City, this hotel’s standard room has a king bed and a sofabed.
Earn IHG points in a hurry with the IHG MasterCard.
Valdoro Mountain Lodge by Hilton Grand Vacations Suites – “Distinctive Rewards” Category, points worth about .25 cents each. This property at the Peak 9 base offers bedroom studios and suites with kitchens. Unfortunately, the points required depends directly on the cash price, with each point being worth little more than a quarter of a cent.
DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Breckenridge – Category 8, varied from 64,120 – 70,000 points during ski season. Across the street from Peak 9 at Breckenridge ski area in Summit County Colorado, the standard room has one king bed and a sofabed.
Hampton Inn & Suites Steamboat Springs Category 5, 40,000 points during ski season. This property is only a mile from the ski area and offers standard rooms with one king or two queens. Some even have fireplaces!
Sunrise Lodge, a Hilton Grand Vacations Club “Distinctive Rewards” Category, points worth about .25 cents each. This property is in the village of the Canyons resort in Park City and features studios and suites.
Waldorf Astoria Park City – Category 9, 80,000 points during ski season. At the base of Park City, the property offers rooms with king beds and a sofabed.
Hampton Inn & Suites Park City – Category 5 , 40,000 points during ski season. This property is just off of I-80 in Park City, and is just a short drive to Park City, Deer Valley, and The Canyons. Standard rooms include a king bed or two queens.
Homewood Suites by Hilton Jackson – Category 8, 40,000 points during ski season. This property is in the center of the town of Jackson, which is not far from the Jackson Hole ski area. The standard room is a two room suite great for families with its king bed, sofabed, fridge, and microwave.
Hampton Inn Jackson Hole – Category 7, 30,000 – 60,000 points (but was currently showing just 30k during ski season!). Between the town of Jackson and the airport, this hotel offers rooms with one king or two queen beds.
Earn award Hilton nights or points: in a hurry with the Citi® Hilton HHonors™ Reserve Card or Hilton HHonors Surpass Card from American Express.
Park Hyatt Beaver Creek Resort and Spa – Category 7, 30,000 points. This hotel is fresh off a renovation and is located right at the base of Beaver Creek and about 100 yards from ski school. Standard rooms have a king bed or two doubles.
Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe Resort, Spa and Casino – Category 5, 20,000 points. This hotel is located at Incline Village in North Lake Tahoe. This is near the smaller Diamond Peak ski area, but still within a day trip of Heavenly Valley. Standard rooms have a king bed or two queens.
Hyatt Place Salt Lake City/Cottonwood – Category 2, 8,000 points. While a search of the entire Salt Lake City area is beyond the scope of this article, this little gem caught my eye. Located at the base of both the Little and Big Cottonwood Canyons, skiers can reach Snowbird, Alta, Brighton, and Solitude in just a few minutes, all while staying within 20 highway miles of Salt Lake City International Airport. Standard rooms include a king and sofa, or two queen beds. Just 12,000 points are enough for a one bedroom suite with a kitchen.
Hyatt Escala Lodge at Park City – Category 4, 15,000 points. This is a ski-in/out mountain resort located within the mountainside village of the Canyons Resort. I think it is one of the very best points values for a ski property.
Hyatt Residence Clubs
These properties are outside the regular point categories, but still offer amazing deals. Unlike regular hotels, there is limited availability of award bookings. The prices are: studio: 12,000, one bedroom: 15,000, two bedroom: 23,000, and three bedroom: 30,000. The limited availability will mean that some properties are pretty much never available on points during ski season (like Residences at Park Hyatt Beaver Creek) while others will have some availability, but it can be quite scarce. Calling Hyatt Gold Passport is the only way to check for availability on points at these properties.
Hyatt High Sierra Lodge at Incline Village (Lake Tahoe)
Earn award Hyatt nights or points that can be transferred 1:1 to Hyatt with the Hyatt Visa Signature , Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, or Ink Plus® Business Card
Vail Marriott Mountain Resort – Category 9, 45,000 points. Located in Vail Village and offers one king or double beds as a standard room, with larger rooms having a king and a sofabed.
The Ritz-Carlton, Bachelor Gulch –Tier 5, 70,000 points. This hotel is at a prime location at Beaver Creek and offers a choice of one king or two double beds.
Marriott’s Mountain Valley Lodge at Breckenridge – Category 8, 40,000 points. Located at the base of the ski area, the rooms feature a king or queen bed and a sofabed.
Fairfield Inn & Suites Steamboat Springs – Category 5, 25,000 points. This hotel is in the town, a few miles from the ski area. It offers rooms with one king or two queen size beds.
Grand Residences by Marriott, Lake Tahoe – Category 8, 40,000 points. One and two bedroom properties at the base of the Heavenly Valley gondola, just a block from the casinos across the Nevada state line.
Marriott’s Timber Lodge – Category 8, 40,000 points. Also at the gondola base, these rooms feature a king bed and a sofabed.
Ritz Carlton Lake Tahoe – Tier 4, 60,000 points. The hotel has a mid-mountain location and offers ski-in / ski-out access to Northstar. Standard rooms have one King or two Queens.
Earn Marriott points and a Category 1-4 cert in a hurry with the Marriott Rewards® Premier Credit Card.
Colorado resort properties:
Sheraton Mountain Vista Villas, Avon / Vail Valley – Category 5, 12,000 – 16,000 points. Located in Vail Village, at the base of Vail mountain, this property has rooms starting at 12,000 points a night. For that rate, you get a one bedroom villa, kitchenette, and a separate living room with sofa bed. This is one of the best value for couples and families at a Starwood property in Colorado.
The Westin Riverfront Resort & Spa at Beaver Creek Mountain – Category 5, 12,000 – 16,000 points. This property is actually in the town of Avon, about a mile from the base lodge. Nevertheless, there is a gondola to get you to the mountain, though not the part with ski school. The standard traditional room has two queen beds.
Westin Riverfront Mountain Villas – Category 5, 12,000 – 16,000 points. These villas belong to the ‘time share’ portion of the property and as a result have a small dining table, kitchen, and washer/dryer. They are adjacent to the Resort and in my view not at all worth the higher category distinction over the resort.
The Westin Snowmass Resort – Category 5, 12,000 – 16,000 points. This property is at the base of Snowmass ski area, which is near the town of Aspen. This property is the best SPG property in the Aspen area if you have young kids. The standard room has two queen beds.
Wildwood Snowmass – Category 4, 10,000 points. This property is also at the base of Snowmass, near Aspen. The standard room has two double beds and rollaways are available.
The St. Regis Aspen Resort – Category 7, 30,000 -35,000 points– Also at the base of Aspen mountain, with rooms starting at 30,000 points a night. I have stayed at this resort and was very impressed, but if you aren’t going to ski on Aspen Mountain then another SPG property may be a better value. The standard rooms have two double beds.
St. Regis Residence Club, Aspen – Category 7, 30,000 -35,000 points. This property is at the base of Aspen mountain and as a residence club, has limited participation in the SPG program. Therefore, free nights must be booked by phone and availability during the peak season is not guaranteed. The standard rooms have two bedrooms.
Sheraton Steamboat Resort Villas – Category 7, 30,000 -35,000 points. Located at the base of Steamboat ski resort. The standard room has two queen beds.
Sheraton Steamboat Resort – Category 5, 12,000 – 16,000 points. Located at the base of Mount Werner and the Steamboat Ski Area. The standard room has one king or two queen beds.
Westin Monache Resort, Mammoth – Category 5, 12,000 – 16,000 points. Located in the resort village at Mammoth Mountain and steps from the Village Gondola.
The St. Regis Deer Valley – Category 7 , 30,000 -35,000 points. This hotel is at the Deer Valley ski area in the town of Park City and its standard rooms have two queen beds.
Earn SPG points with the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express
Super 8 Dillon/Breckenridge Area – 15,000 points- This hotel is right off of I-70, but guests will have to drive 10-20 minutes to resorts like Breckenridge, Keystone, Arapahoe Basin, and Loveland.
Days Inn Silverthorne – 15,000 points. This hotel is also just off of I-70, so guests will have to drive 10-20 minutes to the nearest ski areas.
Ramada Limited Frisco – 15,000 points. Frisco is another town off of I-70, so you will have to drive 10-20 minutes to resorts like Breckenridge, Keystone, Arapahoe Basin, and Loveland.
Howard Johnson Express Inn South Lake Tahoe – 14,000 points. This property and the ones below are in the city of South Lake Tahoe, very close to Heavenly Valley Ski Area.
Days Inn South Lake Tahoe – 14,000 points
Super 8 Lake Tahoe South – 10,000 points
You can earn Wyndham Reward points quickly with the Wyndham Rewards Visa, but be sure you have a near-term redemption strategy before applying as their award chart has changed in the past without notice.
I was unable to locate any Club Carlson properties close to major western ski resorts.
Another thing to consider in order to save money on lift tickets if you will be visiting multiple mountains this ski season is the Mountain Collective pass for $389. It gives you 18 days at participating mountains for that price (two at each mountain) and then 50% off additional days. Participating mountains include:
- 2 days at AltaSnowbird
- 2 days at Aspen Snowmass
- 2 days at Jackson Hole
- 2 days at Mammoth
- 2 days at Ski Banff-Lake Louise-Sunshine
- 2 days at Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadows
- 2 days at Sun Valley
- 2 days at Thredbo
- 2 days at Whistler Blackcomb
- 2 days at both Valle Nevado in Chile and Hakuba Valley in Japan*
What are your favorite properties for redeeming hotel points during ski season?
Editorial Note: The opinions expressed here are mine and not provided, reviewed, by any bank, card issuer, or other company unless otherwise stated.