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Often referred to as America’s greatest city, San Diego is a fantastic domestic destination for travelers looking for natural beauty, warm weather, and diverse culture without needing to leave the continental US. And with a phenomenal food and brewery scene, endless conference agenda, and world-class beaches and hiking, you might soon find San Diego on your bucket list.
I’m a San Diego local. And yes, I believe I have the privilege of living in America’s finest city. But whether you agree with me or not, you likely can’t resist a perfect-weather beach destination that’s closer, cheaper, and more accessible than ever.
I’ll give you a few tips on how to get to San Diego with miles and points earned with some of the best travel credit cards.
And if you’ll be in the area, give me a shout – I reserve the best fish taco recommendations for face-to-face friends!
How to Get to San Diego With Miles and Points
Flying to San Diego
San Diego is an air travel “sweet spot” in that it’s not one of the US’s premier cities. In fact, San Diego is the largest metropolitan city in the US that doesn’t serve as an airline’s primary or secondary hub. And unlike New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Chicago, San Diego’s primary airport (SAN) doesn’t command the premium business traffic that drives airfare prices through the roof.
But never fear – San Diego’s international airport still has numerous daily flights across the country (and internationally!) that make reaching this paradise quite easy. And with plenty of daily flights, a trip to the southwestern US can be fairly simple! Below, you’ll find my preferred travel methods based on availability, cost, and where you’re traveling from.
1. Alaska Airlines (or Partners)
If your travels to San Diego originate on the West Coast or other airports where Alaska Airlines flies, you’re in luck! Alaska offers reasonably priced fares, great on-board service, and award flights can cost surprisingly few miles, depending on the length of your trip.
And maybe the best news of all – Alaska Airlines consistently has award flights available across multiple dates! For example, a traveler originating in the Pacific Northwest booking just 30 days in advance can still find multiple flights requiring only 7,500 Alaska miles per person, each way in coach.
Or if your travels originate even further away, you can still find lots of award seats from New York and Chicago, even with just a month before travel! Award flights from the East Coast to San Diego start at just 12,500 Alaska Airlines miles each way in coach, or 25,000 Alaska Airlines miles each way in First Class. And since Alaska acquired Virgin America, you have many more flights to choose from.
Alaska Airlines does not partner with any of the major transferable points currencies except for Marriott, so you can transfer points earned from cards like the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card or Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card to Alaska. Or, earn Alaska miles directly from the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® credit card or Alaska Airlines Visa® Business credit card.
Alternately, if you find a cheap paid flight, you might be better off booking those same flights through the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal with points earned from cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, Ink Business Preferred Credit Card, or Chase Sapphire Reserve (or even paying cash). Alaska Airlines consistently offers fare sales, making short flights like these very reasonably priced.
Keep in mind that Alaska Airlines offers different fare levels, and their “Saver” fares (the lowest priced) come with restrictions on selecting seats and access to overhead bin space. That said, Alaska’s friendly flight attendants, valuable frequent flyer miles, and consistency in operations (with regularly on time flights!) make traveling with Alaska Airlines a great option.
Southwest offers the most daily non-stop flights to and from San Diego airport (more than triple the number of flights of any other airline). And whether you love or hate their boarding strategy and lack of assigned seats, none can argue with Southwest’s no-frills simplicity.
On every Southwest flight, you’ll get 2 free checked bags, free (non-alcoholic) drinks, no change or cancellation fees, and consistently chipper and courteous flight attendants. For families looking to travel to sunny San Diego, the ability to board early (between boarding groups A and B), check multiple suitcases worth of adventure gear and swimsuits, and likely arrive on time and in a good mood makes Southwest an excellent pick.
Another benefit of flying with Southwest is that if there’s a seat for sale on the plane, you can book it with Southwest points. This means there are truly no blackout dates when redeeming points for flights on Southwest. This is a huge benefit for travelers with families or those with less flexibility, as it means you can fly where you want, when you want, regardless of peak season travel!
The price of an award flight on Southwest depends on the cash price of the ticket. Typically, Southwest points are worth ~1.5 cents each when redeeming them for award flights. This means that a round-trip flight that is priced at $300 would typically require ~20,000 Southwest points. Or if you catch a great sale, you might even find one-way flights for as little as 2,500 points!
Note: If you have the Southwest Companion Pass (the best deal in travel!), the decision to fly with Southwest to San Diego becomes even more of a no-brainer. With the Companion Pass, a friend or family member can fly with you for nearly free (pay just taxes and fees, ~$6 on domestic flights) on paid and award tickets an unlimited number of times while your pass is valid.
You can earn Southwest points directly from the following cards:
- Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card
- Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card
- Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card
- Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Business Credit Card
And if you’re low on Southwest points, you can always transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points to top up your account for a specific redemption if you have the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, Ink Business Preferred Credit Card, or Chase Sapphire Reserve.
3. American Airlines, Delta, or United Airlines
Although my favorite options are Southwest or Alaska Airlines, the 3 legacy carriers – American Airlines, Delta, and United Airlines – all offer numerous daily flights to San Diego from their respective hub cities. This means that if you happen to live in Chicago, Denver, Houston, Dallas, Miami, Minneapolis, Salt Lake City, Phoenix, or any other airline hub city, you’ll likely find regular non-stop flights from your home to San Diego.
In these cases, it might make the most sense to check on non-stop flights early and often. And if you happen to have a preferred travel time, you can hope that your airline of choice makes the flight available as a “low level” award flight.
For each of these legacy airlines, award flights can cost as little as 12,500 miles one-way in coach. But they can also cost much more, which is why I recommend you start your award planning as early as possible, and do what you can to book when there’s a sale or award flight prices are reduced.
If you want specific flights or if you’re willing to pay a premium for non-stop award flights on your preferred airline, check out our post on the best airline credit cards for strategies to earn more miles.
Regardless of your travel strategy, I can’t recommend highly enough that you add San Diego to your upcoming list of travel plans. Especially for families, foodies, or those who love the outdoors, you can’t beat the overall package offered by sunny San Diego.
You’ve got a number of options to get to San Diego with miles and points earned from some of the best travel credit cards. My favorites are Alaska Airlines and Southwest because you can often find cheap award flights, especially if there’s a fare sale.
Have you been to San Diego? Share your experiences in the comments!
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