How To Fund a Trip to the Grand Canyon With Credit Card Points

Use credit card rewards to cover flight, hotel, and even rental car costs

The Grand Canyon is a beautiful travel destination.

The Balance

There are few places in the United States, let alone the world, as awe-inspiring as the Grand Canyon. If you're looking to connect with the land and add a premier tourist destination to your travel list, the Grand Canyon is a great place to go. The canyon’s jagged journey through Arizona’s arid highlands attracts about 5.5 million visitors per year.

You won't have as many brand-name hotel and airline options to book with your credit card points as you would with an urban destination like New York, but it's still possible to cover most of your vacation costs with credit card points. We'll show you how. 

Key Takeaways

  • You have many flight options at two main nearby airports: McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, or Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix. 
  • The Grand Canyon doesn't offer many hotels with loyalty points programs. 
  • You'll get more use out of flexible travel rewards cards at the Grand Canyon to pay for lodging, rental cars, tours, and more. 
  • Consider booking a campervan or RV so you can combine your lodging and transportation into one package.
  • The Grand Canyon offers plenty of opportunities for scenic views, adventures, and learning about cultural and natural history. 

How To Fly to the Grand Canyon on Rewards Points or Miles

If you're traveling by air, most people get to the Grand Canyon by flying to McCarran International Airport (LAS) in Las Vegas or Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX). 

It takes about 4.5 hours to drive from Las Vegas and 3.5 hours from Phoenix. Both airports are served by major airlines including: 

  • Alaska Airlines
  • American Airlines
  • Delta Air Lines
  • Frontier Airlines
  • JetBlue Airways
  • Southwest Airlines
  • Spirit Airlines
  • United Airlines

Phoenix also serves as a hub for American Airlines. Las Vegas, on the other hand, offers more low-cost-carrier options, including many flights from Allegiant Air. 

How Much Do Award Flights to the Grand Canyon Cost?

Flights are one of the easiest ways to get a big part of your Grand Canyon vacation cost covered since there are so many options at nearby airports. 

The exact rewards point cost will vary depending on where you're coming from, which airline you choose, which seats you select, and your arrival airport. It'll also vary depending on the time of year. The busy season for the Grand Canyon generally runs from mid-spring to mid-fall, and costs are usually higher during this time. 

However, to give you some idea of what it might cost, we've gathered some prices in both points and dollars for common flights into Las Vegas and Phoenix. We collected these costs for a round-trip flight for one person, booked eight weeks out, for a trip in July. 

Airline Departure City & Airport Arrival City & Airport Mileage Cost Round-Trip Cash Cost Round-Trip Value of 1 Mile Used for This Flight (Cents)
Southwest Airlines Minneapolis/St. Paul (MSP) Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX) 93,159  $1,257 1.35
Southwest Airlines Seattle (SEA) McCarran International Airport (LAS) 60,314 $810 1.34
American Airlines New York (JFK) PHX 72,500  $787 1.09
JetBlue Boston (BOS) LAS 60,300  $732 1.21
Frontier Airlines Atlanta (ATL) LAS 40,000  $464 1.16
Delta Air Lines Denver (DEN) PHX 27,000 $416 1.54
Spirit Airlines Detroit (DTW) LAS 40,500 $411 1.01
United Airlines San Francisco (SFO) PHX 30,000  $157 0.52

With two options for arrival airports, knowing the per-point value you get from your reward booking will help you know which airports and airlines give you the best deal. The goal is to redeem your points for a value of at least 1 cent per point. Delta and Southwest offer the best value per point for the flights we checked, while United, Spirit, and American offered the least value. 

Overall Point Valuations Can Help You Plan

The eight flights we analyzed give you a snapshot of costs and value—they don’t offer a complete picture of point values from every airport in the country. As such, it helps to know an airline’s average point or mile value for all its flights. According to research done by The Balance, legacy carriers like American and Delta offer the most bang for your buck on international flights, but budget carriers like Southwest offer better value for domestic economy flights.

Credit Cards That Can Help You Earn Miles

It's possible to cover your entire flight cost with credit card points. The best way to do this is to figure out which airline you want to use and then sign up for an associated rewards card that features a welcome offer. Remember to sign up for the card well in advance of your trip so you have enough time to earn the welcome offer and have enough lead time to book your flight: Six months is a good rule of thumb. 

Here are some cards that let you do just that:

  • Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard: If you spend at least $2,500 within the first three months of getting this card, you'll earn 50,000 AAdvantage miles (worth an average of $645 for a domestic economy-class flight). It also offers 2 miles per dollar spent with restaurants, gas stations, and on American Airlines; and 1 point per dollar spent on everything else. Annual fee: $0 the first year, $99 after.
  • Delta SkyMiles Gold American Express Card: This card offers a 70,000-mile welcome offer (worth an average of $1,120 for a domestic economy-class flight) if you spend at least $2,000 within the first three months. Plus get a $200 statement credit for making a Delta purchase within the same period. You'll also earn a $100 Delta flight credit each year after you spend $10,000. On purchases, you’ll get 2 miles per dollar spent at restaurants, supermarkets, and on Delta purchases; and 1 point per dollar spent on all else. Annual fee: $0 the first year, $99 after.
  • JetBlue Plus Card: You'll earn 70,000 bonus points (worth an average of $994 for a domestic economy-class flight) if you spend at least $1,000 on purchases and paying the annual fee in full, both within the first 90 days. As far as regular rewards go, you'll also earn 6 points per dollar spent with JetBlue, 2 points per dollar spent at grocery stores and restaurants, and 1 point per dollar spent on everything else. Annual fee: $99. 
  • Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus: This card offers a 65,000-point welcome offer (worth an average of $975 for a domestic economy-class flight) if you spend $2,000 or more within the first three months, valid through July 14, 2021. It also offers 3,500 bonus points on your cardholder anniversary each year, plus 2 points per dollar spent with Southwest Airlines, and 1 point per dollar on all else. Annual fee: $69. 

You can also opt for flexible travel rewards cards. These generally give you three ways that you can book flights. You can book them right through your card issuer's portal, charge the ticket using any booking site you like and then “erasing” the purchase through a statement credit, or you can transfer those points to a frequent flyer program and book them through the airline. It's best to calculate the points cost of each option to find out which is the cheaper way to save: 

  • Chase Sapphire Preferred: An 60,000-point bonus (worth $750 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®) is available if you spend at least $4,000 within the first three months. You'll also earn 2 points per dollar spent on travel and dining, and 1 point per dollar spent on everything else. 
  • American Express Green Card: Offers 45,000 points (worth $499.50 toward travel booked through Amex) for spending at least $2,000 within the first three months, plus 3 points per dollar on travel, dining, and public transit; and 1 point per dollar on everything else. Annual fee: $150. 
  • American Express Gold Card: You'll earn 4 points for every dollar you spend on restaurants and groceries, 3 points for every dollar spent on certain flight purchases, and 1 point per dollar spent on everything else. Plus, you'll earn 60,000 points (worth $666 toward travel booked through Amex) if you spend at least $4,000 within the first three months. Annual fee: $250.
  • Capital One Venture Rewards: If you can spend at least $20,000 the first year, you could earn 100,000 bonus miles (worth $1,020, on average, for travel booked through Capital One), or 50,000 bonus miles (worth $510 toward travel, on average) for spending $3,000 or more in the first three months. For everyday spending, you’ll earn 2 miles per dollar. Annual fee: $95.
  • U.S. Bank Altitude Reserve Visa Infinite Card: This card offers 50,000 bonus points (valued at $750 toward travel) if you spend at least $4,500 within the first 90 days. Its regular earning rate is 5 points per dollar spent on certain prepaid hotels and rental cars, 3 points per dollar spent on restaurants, travel, and mobile wallet purchases, and 1 point per dollar on everything else. Plus, you’ll get a $325 annual travel credit. Annual fee: $400. 

How To Pay for a Hotel in the Grand Canyon With Points

Finding lodging that you can book with credit card points is going to be tricky at the Grand Canyon. There are only two chain hotels nearby that allow you to book with loyalty program points, and they’re both located about 15 minutes outside the park in the town of Tusayan:

Holiday Inn Express & Suites Grand Canyon

You can book here with points through the IHG rewards program. At the time of our research, points bookings were not available in July. However, reward bookings were available starting at 150,000 points for a five-night stay in September and ranging up to 310,000 points for a five-night stay in November. Alternatively, both trips had a cash cost of $1,497, taxes included. 

How many points you have to use will largely depend on the time of year and the demand for the nights you want to book. In some cases, you may only be able to book a room with cash, so try to reserve your room as early as possible.

The Holiday Inn Express & Suites Grand Canyon offers complimentary breakfast for guests. Take advantage of this perk to save money on food costs.

Best Western Premier Grand Canyon Squire Inn

This Best Western property charged 180,000 points (cash was $1,591) for a five-night stay in September and 160,000 points (cash was $883) for a five-night stay in November. Availability here was more generous than the Holiday Inn; the property had available rooms in July, whereas the Holiday Inn did not. Your stay includes complimentary breakfast.

In-Park Lodging

There are six other hotels or lodges within the park but they aren't part of any rewards program that lets you book with points. Prices per room range from $129 to more than $250, depending on the time of year and availability. Also, keep in mind that these lodging options can fill up months in advance, especially during peak travel times during spring break, summer, and fall. 

Credit Cards That Can Help You Earn Points for Hotel Stays

Most hotel and flexible travel rewards cards offer a welcome bonus, and this can be a great way to earn enough points for your trip in a hurry. Though the choices for hotels with reward credit cards are few, they’re worth considering because their sign-up bonuses can help significantly reduce the cost of your booking: 

  • Best Western Rewards Premium Mastercard: You can earn 80,000 points (worth $536, on average, for low- or mid-tier rooms) by spending $3,000 in the first three billing cycles, and an additional 40,000 points (worth an additional $268) when you spend $5,000 every 12 months. You can earn a total of 30 points per dollar when you make Best Western purchases (20 for being a cardholder and 10 for being a Best Western Rewards member), and 2 points per dollar on all other purchases. Annual fee: $89.
  • IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card: Offers 150,000 bonus points (worth $1,110 on average toward low- or mid-tier rooms) and a free reward night if you can spend at least $3,000 in the first three months you own the card. You'll also earn 15 points per dollar spent on IHG purchases (in addition to 10 points you get as an IHG rewards member); 2 points per dollar spent on grocery, gas, and restaurant purchases; and 1 point per dollar spent on everything else. Annual fee: $0 for first year of card membership, then $89.

Normally we recommend using points earned from a hotel credit card to book lodging, as they tend to offer the most value. But because there are only two options for that type of strategy at the Grand Canyon, we recommend using flexible travel rewards cards.

We mentioned before that some flex cards let you transfer to hotel and airline loyalty programs; that won’t be much help in this situation. Instead, you’ll want to use one of the two other types:

These cards have an advantage that you can really capitalize on at places like the Grand Canyon: ultimate flexibility in choosing where you want to stay. Just about all options are on the table for you: Airbnbs, park lodging, campgrounds, and even fun experiences like RV or camper van rentals.

What About Rental Cars?

You won't have a lack of options for car rentals. Both McCarran International and Phoenix Sky Harbor airports offer the same major car rental companies, including popular ones like:

  • Alamo
  • Budget
  • Dollar
  • Enterprise
  • Hertz
  • National
  • Thrifty

With so many car rentals to choose from, your challenge instead will be narrowing it down to one option that you can book with points. The good news is you can book a rental car with most credit cards, although your choices for rental cars may vary. 

Many hotel and airline programs only allow you to use your points to book with one car rental agency. For example, the World of Hyatt program only lets you book Avis car rentals with points, and the United MileagePlus program only lets you book car rentals through Hertz, Dollar, or Thrifty.

Here again, flexible travel rewards cards have an advantage: You can use your points to book with the rental company of your choosing. And since the Grand Canyon is perfectly suited for a road trip, an even better idea is to channel your inner nomad and book an RV or camper van to stay in one of the more than 400 campsites available along both rims. That way, you'll combine your transportation and your lodging all in one.

Escape Campervans, located next to Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, offered campervan rentals for a five-day July rental for $820 or $1,100 before taxes and fees. The available vans could accommodate two to five people, or more than five people. 

If you do opt for the flexible travel rewards route, here's a sample of costs that you might expect to pay using the Chase Ultimate Rewards to book a car rental. These costs are for the same hypothetical July trip, booked eight weeks in advance. Again, your actual costs will vary:

Car type Cost in Points Cash Cost
Compact (PHX Budget) 36,759 $551
Compact (LAS Thrifty) 34,860 $523
Mid-size (PHX Dollar) 43,438 $652
Mid-size (LAS Thrifty) 35,550 $533

While You’re in the Grand Canyon

Paying for tours and activities in the park is yet another reason why flexible travel rewards cards reign supreme at the Grand Canyon. You can use these cards to book many types of things to do at the Grand Canyon, either through the card’s travel portal or by getting a statement credit for the tours and other expenses you charge to the card. There are even many free activities. 

There are two main parts to the park: the seasonally open and less-traveled North Rim, and the more popular and always-open South Rim. You'll probably want to choose one side or the other since it's a 220-mile trip by car or a 21-mile hike by foot to get to the other side.

Admission to the park itself costs $35 per car, and it's good for seven days at both rims of the canyon. 

Here's a small sample of things you can do at the park:

Explore the Scenery

A big draw of the Grand Canyon is the scenery. There are many ways to take it in, too, whether by driving along the canyon rim on Desert View Drive, park visitor centers, or even the famous Grand Canyon SkyWalk ($45 admission per person). Make sure to attend a free Park Ranger Program offered daily on topics like canyon geology, wildlife, and more.

Go on an Adventure

An even better way to experience the scenery is by going on an adventure, and there are opportunities for all abilities. You can hike in the Grand Canyon, too (make sure to pay attention to safety recommendations, as people are rescued in the canyon every year). 

If you're not able to do that, you can also rent a mule for around $156 per person, but mule bookings fill up as early as a year or more in advance, according to the park. There are also guided trips on bicycles and jeeps, white-water rafting and river trips, fishing, bird-watching, and more.

The Bottom Line

We recommend a two-pronged approach to getting to the Grand Canyon with credit card points: opening a co-branded airline rewards card to get your flight covered, and then using a flexible travel rewards card for everything else. If you enjoy camping, renting a camper van or RV can be a great way to go to combine two big expenses into one. 

Remember to bring along a card that allows you to earn more points for travel purchases. That way, you can start earning more points toward your next trip, whether it's at home or abroad.