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When Europe began opening up to U.S. travelers earlier this spring and summer, I started thinking about a trip for my birthday in August. Multiple countries were in the running with Greece being in the lead, but award availability was scarce and the dates didn’t quite work, so I eventually settled on a vacation to New England instead.

My husband and I have friends in Vermont and in New Hampshire, and I had always wanted to visit Maine, so we combined all three states into one 10-day trip.

Highlights included seeing a Hall and Oates concert on Lake Winnipesaukee in Gilford, New Hampshire, witnessing a sunrise in Acadia National Park and joining a lobstering tour in Portland, Maine.

A lobstering tour in Portland, Maine, was one of the highlights of our trip to New England. | Photo courtesy of Anya Kartashova

Although we had free places to stay in both Vermont and New Hampshire, we had to take care of lodging in Maine. Cash rates were pricey without points and miles, but we were able to cover most of our hotel nights in Maine with rewards. Here’s how my husband and I pieced together a trip to New England.

Points and Miles Breakdown

Salt Lake City – Boston flight$178.40 – $200 Delta credit = -$21.60
AC Hotel Portland Downtown/Waterfront — two nightsOne Marriott 40,000-point free night certificate + 40,000 Bonvoy points
Parking: $32 per night
Quimby House Inn & Spa in Bar Harbor – one night$196.20
Hyatt Place Portland-Old Port – one nightHyatt Category 4 award night (valued at up to 15,000 World of Hyatt points)
Parking: $25 per night
Manchester — Chicago — Salt Lake City flight$284.98
Hertz car rental for a week$179.73

Booking the Flights

Although we had many options for airports to fly into, most of them are small regional air fields and flight prices weren’t as great as I would have liked. We ultimately chose to fly from Salt Lake City (SLC) to Boston (BOS) and back from Manchester, New Hampshire (MHT).

Our nonstop flight to Boston was on Delta Air Lines, and I had just applied for the Delta SkyMiles® Gold Business American Express Card

I paid for the flight with The Platinum Card® from American Express and earned 5X Membership Rewards points per dollar spent. However, I used the co-branded Delta card to buy a couple of in-flight beverages, got a 20% discount and a $200 statement credit back to my account.

Our flight home via Chicago (MDW) was on Southwest Airlines. I could’ve transferred some Chase Ultimate Rewards to my Rapid Rewards account to keep the cost down, but I chose to pay cash for these flights as well using the Amex Platinum Card.

After it was all said and done, our round-trip flights to New England cost $726.76 for two people after the $200 Delta credit statement posted.

Booking the Hotels

Of the nine nights my husband and I were gone, we spent three nights with friends in Vermont and two with friends in New Hampshire. We don’t know anyone in Maine, so we booked four nights at hotels.

We spent two nights in Portland, where we chose to stay at the AC Hotel Portland Downtown/Waterfront.

AC Hotel Portland Downtown/Waterfront | Photo by Anya Kartashova

It’s a Category 5 Marriott property, but free nights for our August dates were listed at peak redemption rates of 40,000 points per night. Unfortunately, this meant I couldn’t redeem two free night certificates that came with my co-branded Marriott credit cards because they’re capped at 35,000 points.

Instead, I used one Marriott free night certificate (up to 40,000 points) that I earned once I became a Titanium Elite member and 40,000 Bonvoy points to book the second night. The room was going for $418 per night plus taxes, but our final bill only listed valet parking charges of $32 per night.

After Portland, my husband and I continued our trip north and drove to Bar Harbor, Maine, the gateway to Acadia National Park. Bar Harbor is a small town on Mount Desert Island and doesn’t have a lot of chain hotels, besides the Holiday Inn Resort Bar Harbor – Acadia National Park, an IHG hotel. I don’t have a lot of IHG Rewards Club points, and in the end, we went with Quimby House Inn & Spa, a charming inn on Cottage Street.

Although one night in Bar Harbor doesn’t seem like a lot, we still managed to go on a few hikes at Acadia, see the sunrise from the top of Cadillac Mountain and eat a lot of yummy food.

Park visitors view the sunrise from the top of Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park. | Photo by Anya Kartashova

From Bar Harbor, we drove to Bangor, Maine, to visit Stephen King’s house and drove back to Portland for one more night. There, I redeemed a Hyatt free night certificate at the Hyatt Place Portland-Old Port, a Category 4 hotel, which requires 15,000 World of Hyatt points per night.

Hyatt Place Portland-Old Port | Photo by Anya Kartashova

For some insane reason, a night at this hotel was going for $732, which added quite a bit of value to the certificate. To be clear, I would have never paid that much money for a hotel room and would have chosen to stay elsewhere. The certificate put us in the heart of the Old Port area, within walking distance of a boat tour we were taking the next day.

There’s no parking at the hotel itself, but the building reserves spaces at the Fore Street Garage in the back for $25 per night, and that’s all we paid to stay at the Hyatt Place Portland-Old Port.

Booking the Rental Car

Boats are docked in Portland’s Old Port. | Photo by Anya Kartashova

We didn’t need a car at the beginning of the trip because we took a Dartmouth Coach bus from Boston to Lebanon, New Hampshire, and spent the first few days riding with our friends. However, we needed a way to get from Manchester to Portland, up to Acadia and back to Vermont, so we began looking for a vehicle.

The 10xTravel Insiders group on Facebook is full of horror stories about rental cars in popular destinations costing an arm, a leg and a kidney. To no one’s surprise, we faced the same issue looking for rental cars out of Boston, Manchester and Lebanon.

Unfortunately, we couldn’t find anything lower than $800 per week, so we had to think outside the box. We checked a few off-airport rental locations and eventually found a cargo van at a Hertz in Manchester with a weekly rate of about $180. We cracked a few jokes about how we’d ask a valet to park our not-at-all-creepy white van at a posh Portland hotel but stuck with it for the price.

When we called Hertz to confirm our reservation, they asked if we really needed the cargo van. It turned out that the rental company was running low on those vehicles and was happy to give us an economy car instead. We ended up with a Nissan Sentra, which saved us money on gas and spared us the headache of trying to figure out how to park the van in Acadia.

We paid for the rental using my husband’s Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card to save on the auto collision damage insurance.

Final Thoughts

Jordan Pond in Acadia National Park | Photo by Anya Kartashova

Although my husband and I didn’t redeem points for every single aspect of our trip, we were able to eliminate most of the lodging costs, thanks to our friends and free night certificates. It helped us stretch our budget to enjoy activities and food, which is amazing in New England, by the way.

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