We devote thousands of hours of research to help you get Big Travel with Small Money. You support us by signing-up for credit cards through partner links which earn us a commission. Here’s our full Advertising Policy.
Update: One or more card offers in this post are no longer available. Check our Hot Deals for the latest offers.
Lyn writes about Southwest for her GotoTravelGal.com blog and recently took a couples’ getaway with her husband to San Francisco and California Wine Country. I’ve asked her to share how you can do the same using Southwest points or American miles to get Big Travel with Small Money.
Lyn: My husband and I don’t do many trips without our kids, but we try to get a couples’ vacation in at least once a year. This year, we headed to the northern California coast starting at Carmel and then driving to San Francisco and Napa Valley.
I’m going to share how we flew there entirely on miles. And show you how to have fun without breaking the bank, as well as a few ways to splurge, since you already saved so much on airfare. 😉
Save Money on a Romantic Getaway to San Francisco and California Wine Country
1. Flights to San Francisco with American Airlines Miles
While I am a huge fan of Southwest, for this trip we used American miles I had saved after applying for the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard® and earning 50,000 American Airlines miles after meeting the minimum spend (Currently offering 60,000 American Airlines miles after spending $3,000 in the first three months).
To stretch our miles as far as possible, we took advantage of American Airlines’ reduced mileage awards program that allows holders of some American Airlines credit cards to fly for fewer miles to select destinations, which change monthly. We chose Monterey, California, about 2 hours south of San Francisco and next door to Carmel.
Our card allowed us to save 7,500 miles round-trip for flights between destinations that are at least 500 miles apart or more on American’s current list of available Reduced Mileage destinations. Every month, American Airlines releases a new list of destinations for which the discount applies, and currently, you can book trips to destinations through September 2017.
With the discount for both of us, it came to 17,500 miles or a total of 35,000 miles for both. Plus, as a holder of the Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard, I get 10% of redeemed miles back, which would save me another 3,500 miles. You can read the complete details of how to book Reduced Mileage Awards.
2. Flights to San Francisco With Southwest Points
Holding a Southwest Companion Pass, which allows 1 person to fly nearly free with you anywhere you fly on Southwest for up to 2 years, is the best way to save on Southwest Airlines. With the Companion Pass, you are literally cutting the Southwest points needed to book a flight in HALF.
You can download my free ebook that walks you step-by-step through how to earn the pass, which is currently easier than ever with 3 Southwest credit cards offering a bonus of 60,000 points.
I’d also suggest booking during 1 of Southwest’s sales when points – and prices – will be lower. You can fly into several airports on Southwest in the San Francisco area, including San Francisco International, Oakland, or San Jose.
3. Getting Around San Francisco
Getting around San Francisco by car can be challenging. But if you want to drive up the coast like we did, a rental car is handy. We used Audi On Demand, a luxury rental car service in San Francisco that lets you drive nearly any Audi model for as long as you need.
Starting at $120 a day, driving an Audi can be a fun way to upgrade your vacation. Couples may want to consider an Audi SUV Q7, which comes with optional free accessories, like bike or ski racks.
It’s also easy to navigate San Francisco’s public transit system. The street cars are hooked to electricity lines that run above the city, and San Francisco runs many historic street cars from around the world, which themselves are worth a look. You can also take the classic San Francisco cable car, which runs on a few routes across the city. These cars are actually pulled up the hills by cables.
You can buy a cable car single fare online or via the MUNI mobile app for $7 per person. You can also buy a Visitor Pass from 1 to 7 days that gets you unlimited transport on Muni buses, street cars, and cable cars.
Save on Activities in San Francisco and Napa
By taking advantage of free things to do, as well as multi-attraction passes, you can save money on most activities and splurge on a select few.
Note: Some activities and accommodations were provided to Go to Travel Gal at no charge in exchange for a fair and honest review.
1. San Francisco Activities
Hands down, one of the best activities in San Francisco is simply to stroll around – just be prepared for the hills! We enjoyed walking along and through the Ferry Building Marketplace, which houses numerous local shops and eateries; through Chinatown; throughout Haight-Ashbury where the hippie movement took root and where we literally rubbed shoulders with Steve Carell in town filming a movie; and mixing with the upscale crowd in Nob Hill.
A climb up Coit Tower provides one of the best views of the city. You can take a city bus right to the base of the tower, as it sits on a large hill that requires numerous steps you’ll need to climb otherwise. Once you make it there, it costs $9 to take the elevator up to the top for views of the city, the bay, and the Golden Gate Bridge.
We always enjoy taking a Big Bus hop-on, hop-off tour in major cities the day after we arrive to help orient ourselves and determine where we’d like to spend more time. A big perk of Big Bus San Francisco is that it takes you over the Golden Gate Bridge, which is quite full of traffic – and very cold and windy – if you’re trying to do it on your own or by bike.
If you’d like to see museums in the area, the Go San Francisco Card or the San Francisco CityPASS are great choices to save on multiple tickets versus buying them individually. Plus, these allow you to skip the long ticket lines and go directly into the attraction. These passes include attractions like the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, bike rentals, bay cruises, and the U.S.S. Hornet Museum. Plus, the CityPASS gives you free transportation on MUNI buses, street cars, and cable cars through the duration of the pass.
If you’d like to splurge a bit on your romantic San Francisco getaway, I’d recommend a Hornblower dinner cruise through the bay. You just can’t beat sailing underneath the Golden Gate Bridge. It was a highlight of our trip.
2. Napa Valley Activities
In Napa, of course you’re going to want to taste wine! But unless you’re a real wine connoisseur, probably 1 or 2 tastings will work fine. Booking in advance is a good idea to be sure you have a spot.
I’d recommend both Chimney Rock, with its lovely Cape Dutch architecture, and Rutherford Hill, complete with a wine cave you can tour, and which are not far from one another. Tastings range from $25 to $50 per person, but may be comped if you purchase a couple bottles of wine. I love the VinniBag for flying with wine if you end up bringing some home!
For a romantic splurge, take a hot air balloon tour of the area, which on a clear day allows you to see all the way to San Francisco! Napa Valley Balloons offers early morning trips daily for ~$240 per person with a post-flight breakfast complete with mimosas.
To see Napa on the cheap, rent some bikes and explore the area’s plentiful vineyards and rolling hills.
Where to Stay in San Francisco
One of the most gorgeous places to stay in San Francisco is The Palace Hotel, built in 1909. Located in the Financial District of San Francisco, it could not possibly be any more romantic. Don’t miss breakfast or tea in their grand atrium with Austrian crystal chandeliers. The Palace is part of Starwood and you can be book it for 20,000 Starwood points per night or using a mix of cash and points.
In Napa, we enjoyed the Andaz Napa, located in the heart of downtown Napa, and walkable to the town’s shops and many restaurants. This hip, funky Hyatt hotel offers free in-room amenities like snacks and drinks, an in-room bathtub, full shower, and fun decor. It’s a Category 5 Hyatt hotel. And you can book it for 20,000 Hyatt points per night.
It’s always a great time to escape to San Francisco and the gorgeous northern California coast.
It’s easy to get there using Southwest points or American Airlines miles, and you can save by enjoying free activities and multi-day passes. Now, go have some of the city’s famous sourdough!