7 U.S. Marathons Worth The Trip - And How To Get There For (Almost) Free - Running with Miles
Destinations Hotels Marathons Travel News

7 U.S. Marathons Worth The Trip – And How To Get There For (Almost) Free

Chicago Marathon
Written by Charlie

Here are 7 U.S. Marathons Worth the Trip as selected by CNN. Find out which ones they are – and how you can get there for almost nothing!

Advertiser Disclosure

I love it when publications come out with their list of top races or destinations. It helps me to see what other people are thinking and to show me races outside of my personal experience. Another great reason is that it helps to compare and see which races end up on which lists – if a race keeps popping up, it means that it must be something extra special.

From a blog perspective, my favorite reason to see lists like this is to be able to help show other runners how insanely easy and cheap it is to get to these highly-rated races. In fact, in most cases, it is cheaper to get the miles and points to travel and stay at these races than the race fee itself! That is what I like to see! So, here is CNN’s list of 7 U.S. Marathons Worth The Trip – and how to make that trip for almost free.

CNN’S 7 U.S. Marathons Worth The Trip – And How To Get There For Almost Free

Required Reading: CNN’s List

Chicago Marathon

Chicago Marathon | Max Herman via Shutterstock

For this post, I will give each of CNN’s picks as well as include the information about the race itself and then break down the best way to get to each location and my pick for hotels. To get the full sense of why they picked these destinations, make sure you read their article.

Note: I selected most of these hotels based on points and availability as well as some other points. If I left the best option off of the list it is because it showed no availability at all for this year’s race. The exception is Big Sur as it is booked for this year already so I gave options for next time.

Honolulu Marathon

  • Date: December 13, 2015
  • Location: Honolulu, HI
  • Race Fee: $205 (domestic runners) / $250 (international runners)
  • Website: Link

Getting There

Obviously, you would most likely be flying into Honolulu airport (HNL). The major US airlines all service Honolulu (with the exception of Southwest). Here are there mileage requirements for travel (the lowest amounts shown – all amounts are roundtrip):

  • Alaska Airlines – 40,000 miles
  • American Airlines – 35,000 miles (this is off-peak which ends 12/15 – after that, it is 22,500 miles each way)
  • Delta Airlines – 45,000 miles
  • United Airlines – 36,000 miles (this is a promotional price which must be booked by 12/5 – after that, it is 45,000 miles)

As you can see, they are all about the same price when there is not promotional/off-peak pricing in play. If you can arrange your trip within the next couple/few weeks, then either AA or United would most likely be the best deal for you.

Of course, if you live on the West Coast, you could also use British Airways Avios to fly on American Airlines or Alaska Airlines to get to Honolulu. From LA or Phoenix, it is only 12,500 Avios one way which is a fantastic deal! Definitely consider that an option if you are on the West Coast.

Staying There

All the major hotel chains have a presence in Honolulu and some may be more convenient than others. Here are some my picks based on award pricing and availability.

Hilton 

  • Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach – 50,000 points

Hyatt

  • Hyatt Regency Waikiki Beach – 20,000 points / 10,000 points + $125
  • Hyatt Place Waikiki Beach – 12,000 points / 6,000 points + $75

IHG

  • Holiday Inn Resort Waikiki Beachcomber – 35,000 points

Marriott

  • Courtyard Waikiki Beach – 35,000 points
  • Waikiki Beach Marriott Resort – 40,000 points

SPG

  • The Royal Hawaiian – 20,000 points / 10,000 + $180
  • Moana Surfrider – 20,000 points / 10,000 + $180

26.2 With Donna – National Marathon To Finish Breast Cancer

  • Date: February 14, 2016
  • Location: Jacksonville, FL
  • Race Fee: $95 (until 10/31
  • Website: Link

Getting There

Since this is a mainland marathon, most of the options are going to be pretty much the same (with the exception of JetBlue and Southwest which are based on cost of ticket).

  • American Airlines – 25,000 miles
  • Delta Airlines – 25,000 miles
  • JetBlue – varies based on the cash cost of the ticket
  • Southwest – varies based on the cash cost of the ticket 
  • United Airlines – 25,000 miles (this is only 20,000 miles if you are 700 miles away from Jacksonville)

As you can see, they are all the same except for JetBlue and Southwest. For now, I would look at Southwest as those points are easy to get and the rates can be quite good. Failing that, look at the other airlines based on the mileage you have.

Staying There

Since the start is near the coast, not all the hotels are going to be right near the start. Some of these hotels may be in downtown Jacksonville and may be farther than you would want so make sure you check the distance and location.

Hilton

  • Hilton Garden Inn Jacksonville/Ponte Verda – 30,000 points

Hyatt

  • Hyatt Regency Jacksonville Riverfront – 8,000 points / 4,000 points + $55

IHG

  • Holiday Inn Jacksonville Beach – 25,000 points

Marriott

  • Fairfield Inn & Suites Jacksonville Beach – 25,000 points

SPG

  • Sheraton Jacksonville Hotel – 7,000 points / 3,500 points + $55

Big Sur International Marathon

Note: This is one of those marathons that continues to pop up on many lists and should be on yours! It is based on a lottery for the marathon and that is close for this next marathon so check their website for when the next lottery will open.

  • Date: April 24, 2016
  • Location: Monterey, CA
  • Race Fee: $160 (closed for this next marathon)
  • Website: Link

Getting There

The best airport to fly into is the Monterey airport but that is not served by all airlines. Also, the schedules and availability may not be what would work for you. If that is the case, check out San Jose which is about 70 miles away or San Francisco which is about 110 miles away.

  • Alaska Airlines – 25,000 miles
  • American Airlines – 25,000 miles
  • Delta Airlines – 25,000 miles
  • United Airlines – 25,000 miles (this is only 20,000 miles if you are 700 miles away from Monterey)

Staying There

There are not a lot of chain hotels in the area and availability will be limited on race weekend. I am including hotels here even if they do not show availability next year as it may be open for the following years. Just get your reservation in early!

Hilton

  • Hilton Garden Inn Monterey – 40,000 points
  • Embassy Suites by Hilton Monterey Bay – 40,000 points

Hyatt

  • Hyatt Carmel Highlands – 25,000 points / 12,500 points + $150
  • Hyatt Regency Monterey – 15,000 points / 7,500 points + $100

IHG

  • Intercontinental: The Clement Monterey – 50,000 points

St. Jude Rock ‘n Roll Nashville Marathon

  • Date: April 30, 2016
  • Location: Nashville, TN
  • Race Fee: $80
  • Website: Link

Getting There

Nashville is served by all of the major airlines and has a big enough presence that it should not be difficult to find a flight that works with your schedule and your miles. Keep in mind that you may want to look for cash tickets here as well as Nashville can be on the cheap side depending on where you are coming from. If you do that, you could use a card like the Citi Premier or Barclaycard Arrival Plus to still wipe out your ticket cost (see the links on this page to apply for one of these cards).

  • Alaska Airlines – 25,000 miles
  • American Airlines – 25,000 miles
  • Delta Airlines – 25,000 miles
  • JetBlue – varies depending on the cost of the ticket
  • Southwest – varies depending on the cost of the ticket
  • United Airlines – 25,000 miles (this is only 20,000 miles if you are 700 miles away from Nashville)

Since Nashville is so cheap to get to, I would avoid using miles for a ticket if you are closer to the eastern US. Some exceptions would be if you are in Charlotte, Chicago, Dallas, Philadelphia, or Washington DC as you can use British Airways Avios for those non stop flights on American Airlines and save quite a bit over what American Airlines would charge you in miles. For more information, check out this post.

Staying There

All of the major chains have a good presence in this city so you can really pick whichever hotel chain you want and have options. Below are some of the ones that I have picked out to include here.

Hilton

  • Hilton Garden Inn Nashville Airport – 30,000 points
  • Hampton Inn & Suites Opryland – 40,000 points

Hyatt

  • Hyatt Place Nashville Airport – 8,000 points / 4,000 points + $55
  • Hyatt Place Nashville Opryland – 8,000 points / 4,000 points + $55
  • Hyatt Place Nashville Downtown – 12,000 points / 6,000 points + $75

IHG

  • Holiday Inn Nashville Airport – 25,000 points

Marriott

  • Union Station Hotel – 40,000 points
  • Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center – 35,000 points
  • The Inn At Opryland – 30,000 points

SPG

  • Aloft Nashville West End – 10,000 points / 5,000 points + $75
  • Sheraton Music City Hotel – 7,000 points / 3,500 points + $55

Anchorage Mayor’s Marathon and Half Marathon

  • Date: June 18, 2016
  • Location: Anchorage, AK
  • Race Fee: $70
  • Website: Link

Getting There

Even though Alaska is so far away (it is almost as far from NYC as London is from NYC), it is still the standard 25,000 miles for a roundtrip ticket – for most airlines. The holdout with this is United which charges an extra 10K for the roundtrip

  • Alaska Airlines – 25,000 miles
  • American Airlines – 25,000 miles
  • Delta Airlines – 25,000 miles
  • JetBlue – varies depending on the cost of the ticket
  • United Airlines – 35,000 miles

Staying There

There are a few chain options but be ready to book quickly as hotels will be more full around this time of year anyway.

Hilton

  • Hilton Anchorage – 50,000 points
  • Hampton Inn Anchorage – 50,000 points

IHG

  • Crowne Plaza – Anchorage Midtown – 35,000 points

Marriott

  • Anchorage Marriott Downtown – 35,000 points
  • Fairfield Inn & Suites Anchorage Downtown – 35,000 points

SPG

  • Sheraton Anchorage Hotel & Spa – 10,000 points / 5,000 points + $75

Bank of America Chicago Marathon

This year’s Chicago Marathon has just ended so the registration period has not opened yet. It is a lottery system so look for the opening to submit your registration. It is set to open on March 19.

  • Date: October, 2016
  • Location: Chicago, IL
  • Race Fee: $185 (that was the 2015 price)
  • Website: Link

Getting There

Chicago is actually a fun city to get to since there are so many ways! It is a hub for American, Southwest, and United so that means a ton of flights and good award availability. Since it is a Southwest hub (located at Midway, not O’Hare), you can expect to get a lot of cheap flights there (which means cheaper point options as well). Also, since so many flight head here on American, you can really put your British Airways Avios to use (see this post for more and how easy it is to get them) as you fly American for way less than what American charges in miles!

  • Alaska Airlines – 25,000 miles
  • American Airlines – 25,000 miles
  • Delta Airlines – 25,000 miles
  • JetBlue – varies depending on the cost of the ticket
  • Southwest – varies depending on the cost of the ticket
  • United Airlines – 25,000 miles (this is only 20,000 miles if you are 700 miles away from Chicago)

Staying There

Again, this is a fun city for travel since there are just so many different options! All the major chains have a significant presence here, especially with this being Hyatt’s hometown. Basically, just pick your program and you will find a hotel!

Club Carlson

  • Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel – 70,000 points

Hilton

  • The Drake Hotel – 50,000 points
  • Waldorf Astoria Chicago – 80,000 points
  • Hilton Chicago – 50,000 points
  • Palmer House – 50,000 points
  • Doubletree by Hilton Mag. Mile – 40,000 points

Hyatt

  • Park Hyatt Chicago – 25,000 points / 12,500 points + $150
  • Hyatt Regency Chicago – 15,000 points / 7,500 points + $100
  • Hyatt Regency McCormick Place – 12,000 points / 6,000 points + $75
  • Hyatt Place Chicago River/North – 15,000 points / 7,500 points + $100
  • Hyatt Place Chicago South – 8,000 points / 4,000 points + $55

IHG

  • Intercontinental: Chicago Magnificent Mile – 50,000 points
  • Holiday Inn Express Magnificent Mile – 35,000 points
  • Crowne Plaza Chicago Metro – 35,000 points
  • Hotel Indigo Chicago – 35,000 points

Marriott

  • Chicago Renaissance Hotel – 40,000 points
  • Hotel Chicago Downtown – 40,000 points
  • Ritz-Carlton Chicago – 50,000 points
  • Courtyard Chicago Magnificent Mile – 35,000 points

SPG

  • W Chicago – City Center – 12,000 points / 6,000 points + $110
  • The Gwen – 12,000 points / 6,000 points + $180
  • W Chicago – Lakeshore – 12,000 points / 6,000 points + $110
  • Westin Michigan Avenue – 16,000 points / 6,000 points + $110
  • Aloft Chicago City Center – 10,000 points / 5,000 points + $75

St. George Marathon

St. George Marathon

The beautiful country of St. George that the marathon runs through

This is another marathon that appears on many lists and one that I have done. I can confirm that it is one that everyone should enjoy sometime! Absolutely beautiful! It does use a lottery system however it did not fill this year so you may get in next year easily!

  • Date: October, 2016
  • Location: St. George, UT
  • Race Fee: $95 (that was the 2015 price)
  • Website: Link

Getting There

There are not a lot of options for flying into St. George. Delta and United are going to be your airlines, but if you do not mind driving a couple of hours (and it is a beautiful drive!), consider flying into Las Vegas. That opens up a lot of options and great airline availability.

  • Delta Airlines – 25,000 miles
  • United Airlines – 25,000 miles (this is only 20,000 miles if you are 700 miles away from St. George)

Staying There

There are not that many chain options in St. George at all and they fill fast! The best hotel to choose would be the Hilton Garden Inn as it is right next to the expo site.

Hyatt

  • Hampton Inn St. George – 30,000 points
  • Hilton Garden Inn – 30,000 points

Marriott

  • Fairfield Inn St. George – 25,000 points

Summary

That is a pretty great list and I agree with it from what I have heard and experienced from the places on that list. The best part is that even though some of them are somewhat hard to get to when it comes to cost – Big Sur, St. George, Honolulu, Anchorage – the cost is made of non-effect when you use miles and points to travel and stay!

For some of the locations, you may be better off purchasing your ticket than using the miles because the cost of the tickets may be less than $300 (a good threshold for considering domestic redemptions). If that is the case, consider using the Barclaycard Arrival Plus or the Citi Premier card, both of which come with at least $400 in redemption value, and you can wipe those costs out. Both of those cards and all the airline cards you could use can be found in the links on this page here.

As for the options mentioning British Airways Avios, make sure you read this post to see what that all means and how to get these incredibly easy-to-collect points.

If you have run any of these, feel free to leave your comments on your pick and what you have to say about the race.

Editorial Note - Opinions expressed here are author's alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, hotel, airline, or other entity. This content has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of the entities included within the post.

Some of the links on this site are affiliate links that will support this site. Thank you for your support.

About the author

Charlie

Charlie has been an avid traveler and runner for many years. He has run in marathons around the world for less than it would cost to travel to the next town - all as a result of collecting and using miles and points. Over the years, he has flown hundreds of thousands of miles and collected millions of miles and points.
Now he uses this experience and knowledge to help others through Running with Miles.

Leave a Comment

Enter your e-mail address to receive blog updates!

You have Successfully Subscribed!

%d bloggers like this: