Booking Glacier: I Used Points for Free Flights and Hotel Nights – and Still Paid $1,000

Later this week, I’m heading to Kalispell, Montana, to hike in Glacier National Park with my friend Angie. I can’t wait – it’s been 10 years since I’ve been in Montana!

glacier national park

Me in Montana – 2007

Though I’m excited, I found it admittedly difficult to cobble this trip together with points and miles – rural places are not kind to our hobby. So I paid about $1,000 out-of-pocket because I really wanted to go.

Here’s how I minimized costs as much as possible.

Flights to Glacier National Park with US Bank Altitude Reserve points

I had ~55,000 US Bank Altitude Reserve points to burn after opening the card in early May.

a screenshot of a flight schedule

Cheapest I found

So I went to US Bank’s super clunky booking site to recreate the $573 fare I found on Delta via Google Flights.

I tried round-trip and multi-city searches: for the life of me, I couldn’t get the booking engine to find the flights.

However, it did find both flights as one-ways. I really didn’t want to book it that way because I’d have to pay 2 change fees if anything came up and I had to make a change. But, so be it. I booked two one-ways. I wasn’t thrilled, but the price did match what I found on Google Flights.

The first flight was 18,453 points.

a white background with black and white clouds

The flight there

While the second was 19,721 points.

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The flight back

Because the points are worth 1.5 cents each, the total 38,174 points got me flights worth $573. That was seriously the cheapest I could find. Some flights were nearly $900!

But I had the points to burn, so that saved me a nice sum to start off. (Of course there were no award seats open to Kalispell. I checked a zillion times.)

Something to note

Another funky thing I noticed with US Bank: you can’t use points for partial payment like you can with Chase and Citi. Meaning you have to have all the points needed for your flights in your account to book.

a close-up of a login screen

Ugh, THAT’S gonna be fun

I currently have 16,927 points left in my account. So unless I can find a flight that costs exactly $254, I can’t completely wipe out the balance with the rewards on this card. Which is annoying. Thought I’d let you guys know just in case.

Car rental via Kayak

My eyes popped out of my head when I ran a sample search on Costco for a car rental.

a screenshot of a travel website

Ummm… dang!

So I ran a quick search on Kayak, and found a muuuch cheaper rental through Priceline.

a screenshot of a car rental application

Like half the price

This is one of the very rare times Costco hasn’t had similar rates as other sites. Just a reminder to run at least 3 to 4 searches when you rent cars. I recommend:

  • Costco
  • Chase travel portal
  • Kayak
  • Your preferred car rental chain with any coupons or discount codes

And see who has the best price. In this example, I paid half of what Costco showed me. And of course, I instantly put the itinerary into Autoslash. So this was a sunk cost. But I feel like I got a *great* deal on a week driving around Glacier.

Bookend hotels

The first night, we’re getting our bearings in Whitefish before we head up the mountain. And the last night, we’re chilling in Kalispell to catch flights the next day.

Using points in both towns is an excellent deal in high season.

In Kalispell, I booked a room at the Holiday Inn Express for 35,000 IHG points.

a screenshot of a map

Incredible deal

Considering cash rates were~$283 for the room type booked (2 queen beds), I thought that was a good use of points.

a screenshot of a computer screen

The same room would’ve cost ~$283 in cash

And in Whitefish, my friend Angie got us a room at the Hampton Inn for 48,000 Hilton points (she liked that location the best).

a screenshot of a website

All the Hilton hotels in Kalispell were bookable with Hilton points

And, we saved even more on our room there.

a screenshot of a web page

This room would’ve cost ~$315 otherwise

Between the two of us, we were able to save even more money out-of-pocket with our hotel points.

Other accommodation$$$

So far, my only cost has been the car rental.

But this is part where the costs really began adding up: rooms within Glacier National Park. There’s nothing in there available on points. And each lodge is often booked up in advance. So you kinda have to… take what you can get. And pay it.

Our 3 nights at Granite Park Chalet cost ~$717.

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I’m so looking forward to this

My food was an extra ~$106. But for 3 days of full meals on a mountain, that’s not bad at all.

a green and black menu

My food selections lol

Then we got 2 nights at Many Glacier Hotel right inside the park!

a lake with a house and mountains in the background

Sooo excited – those views!

And we’re paying ~$292 per night. Like I said, take what you can get.

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Still think it’s worth it

Again, this was by far the most expensive part of the whole trip.

Putting it all together

I’m shocked how difficult it is to use points and miles to national parks. I feel like it would’ve been cheaper to spend a week in New York City, honestly.

In total, I’m paying:

  • $121 – my half of car rental
  • $359 – my half of Granite Park Chalet (3 nights)
  • $293 – my half of Many Glacier Hotel (2 nights)
  • $106 – food for GPC

$879 for a week in Glacier National Park – and that’s just so far. We’ll have to get supplies here and there, food while we’re in town, gas, etc. I expect the week to run about $1,000 once it’s said and done.

It’s crazy to think that would’ve been easily doubled had I paid for my flights and the other 2 hotel nights. So having a stash of points helped me take the cost down a lot. But not as much as I’m used to.

Bottom line

Sometimes you just have to pay the piper, even if you’re sitting on a pile of points and miles.

Suffice it to say this is a very special trip. But I can’t take trips like this all the time. Glacier has a special place in my heart and it’s been 10 years since I’ve been there – so I figured this time, the expense is OK. I just really want to be there again. And happy I’m going with someone who loves it as much as I do.

I can’t wait to report about this trip when I get back! But yeah… ouchies on the out-of-pocket cost. I don’t know what I could’ve done differently.

Have you had a similar experience booking trips to rural places? Any other tips or tricks to cut down on costs? Or is the price you see the one you pay? 

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About Harlan

Just a dude living in Memphis, traveling, and working toward financial independence.

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  1. Check Marriott for Kalispell. I booked 5 nights for my parents for 40,000 points, total. I forget the specific hotel, but it’s a cat 2 and 10k/night

  2. @Brenton – thanks for the tip on the Spinghill Suites at 10K. I’m going there early next month and had the HI Express booked at 35K points, but the Springhill Suites is a bargain, cash rate is $284!

    @Harlan – look forward to your review of Glacier and some hikes you recommend. I live in Calgary and will be spending a couple nights there in early August.

    • Absolutely. The Highline Trail is a classic. Def hit up the Many Glacier area on the east side of the park: Cracker Lake and Iceberg Lake are both magical, wonderful, gorgeous day hikes.

      Looking forward to exploring the park more next week.

      Thank you for reading and commenting – you will LOVE Glacier! (I love Calgary and that whole area, too!)

  3. I’ll go to Glacier this weekend, too (will first run the Missoula Marathon), and will camp in the park for $23/night. Perhaps an option for your next trip?

    • Absolutely, I love camping! I’m OK with how this one turned out… but yeah, can’t be this pricey all the time.

      Congrats and good luck on your marathon, that sounds awesome!

  4. I have a feeling this hotel will get moved up into the cat 6-8 range very soon. Or maybe it just added so much capacity that they can justify charging the market rate for cash but also having pretty great availability for award nights.

    My parents used 14,000 spg points to get the 40k needed for a 5 night booking, that would have cost nearly $1500 out of pocket. I can’t imagine there are many better uses of spg/marriott points on hotels.

    • This is definitely a gem. I almost feel like I got away this something lol.

      Thanks again for that awesome recommendation, I truly appreciate it.

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