Living with credit, Rewards, Travel

How to see the solar eclipse on your card rewards

Jeff Herman

Viewing the solar eclipse from a prime location will be the trip of a lifetime for some and an epic experience for others. For Ivonne MacMillan and her husband, who used their credit card rewards to get to their solar-eclipse viewing party, it’s going to be a family reunion to remember.

MacMillan’s father-in-law, a space buff, organized the family reunion and picked Princeton, Kentucky, because it is along a stretch of the 14-state solar eclipse path that is billed as ground zero for watchers on Aug. 21. “Everyone else is going along for the ride,” MacMillan said.

A total of 10 family members will fly in from all over the country. Souvenir reunion T-shirts are already ordered and special eclipse-viewing glasses will be waiting for the arrival of the attendees.

What will the MacMillans and the rest of the family see on Aug. 21? Vox’s interactive shows what you’ll witness based on your ZIP code. To see what’s in store for the family reunion eclipse-viewing party, type in 42445, Princeton’s ZIP code.

MacMillan and her husband, who live in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, are flying to Nashville before heading to Princeton. They used Chase Sapphire Reserve Ultimate Rewards points for their Nashville hotel and rental car.

If you want to see the solar eclipse on points, there’s still time to book your flights and hotels, though rooms and food supplies may be hard to come by in small towns like Princeton (more on that later). Parking spaces and bathrooms, too, may be in short supply if you’re viewing the eclipse in the middle of nowhere.

Nico Atienza, Travel Hacking Cartel trip planning concierge, suggests flexibility in planning your epic eclipse-watching trip.

“The eclipse is happening on a Monday, so expect to fly in or get to the viewing site over the weekend,” he says. “Flights on Friday are going to be jam-packed with Saturday and Sunday having a little more availability.”

He suggests these five steps to score flights to see this once-in-a-lifetime event for free or next to free using your card rewards:

1. Map: Start with a map of the eclipse path to locate some prime viewing spots. Identify two or three viewing locations that are within 100-125 miles of a major airport.

2. Itineraries: Use Flight Connections to spec out some possible itineraries and airlines.

3. Rewards: Check your reward account balances for points and miles.

“If you found some United flights, do you have any United miles at your disposal?” Atienza says. “Don’t forget to look for flights through transfer partners, if your cards let you do this.” For example, American Express Membership Rewards points transfer to Delta Air Lines at a one-to-one ratio.

4. Scout award seats: Look at award inventory, seats you can book with points or miles, for different dates before and after the eclipse.

“This can be an arduous task, which can be outsourced to a third-party booking site, like we offer, to save you a lot of time and headache,” he says. “These services run anywhere from $100 to $200 per booking, but could be well worth it if it saves you a lot of time and you get an amazing deal with an award ticket.”

5. Portals and statement credits: If you or a third-party agent are unable to find award seats with an airline, look to purchase an airline ticket at the current market rate using bank rewards points. This step is only possible if you have rewards cards with this feature.

Cards such as the Chase Sapphire Reserve or Platinum card from American Express offer travel portals (similar to Orbitz or Priceline) where you can search for flights and pay for it in whole, or part, with points and cash.

Other cards, including the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard or Capital One Venture Rewards, will offer statement credits toward flight costs, “netting you a big discount or a free flight,” he says.

If you can’t book a flight to view the solar eclipse on the ground, you may be able to see the moon completely cover the sun from 30,000 feet aboard special flights, including Southwest (flying from Denver and Nashville) and Alaska Airlines (the Alaska Airlines flight is by special invitation only).

Once you have your flights booked, you may be able to book your hotel or rental car with points, as the MacMillans did. Time is of the essence, though. Lodging in some of the smaller towns along the eclipse path – and rental cars at smaller airports – may be extremely scarce now.

At 2 minutes and 40.2 seconds, Kentucky has the longest eclipse duration, making it even more attractive as a viewing destination, the Ohio County Monitor reports.

Keith Todd of the Kentucky Cabinet told WPSD, “We’re asking people to treat this very much the way they would in a large snow event.” The eclipse is expected to bring anywhere from 100,000 visitors to a half-million or more starting about three days before the celestial event.

All those visitors are expected to bring heavy traffic, clogging highways and small-town streets, Kentucky officials warn. Residents in the path of the eclipse are being urged to stock up on groceries and to fill their gas tanks.

MacMillan, who works in public relations, says she and her husband will be loading the rental car with some supplies for the viewing party because Princeton store shelves may be bare. “Apparently, they’re telling locals to buy food for a week out,” she says.

The MacMillans won’t need to pack much food and beverages, though. The family reunion’s organizer booked the home where they’re all staying on Airbnb “and the homeowner has already said the fridge and pantry will be stocked for the viewing party and family reunion,” she said.

See related: What counts as travel on a travel rewards cardVideo: Couples score free honeymoons with rewards points, 5 dream vacations funded with rewards, 4 ways to stack your card rewards

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