If you’ve been around here for a while, you know that I love sharing tips and tricks that help make family travel more accessible. Traveling to new places allows us to experience new cultures, landscapes, lifestyles, and food, but obviously traveling with a large family isn’t cheap. Luckily, there are some strategies that we use to cut down on our travel costs. One of our favorite ways to save money on travel is using credit card points and miles.
I’ll be sharing the basics of travel on points and miles, as well as the ways our family uses credit card points and miles to help book our family trips on a budget. If you’re new to the idea of rewards travel, I hope this Rewards Travel 101 post will help you get started on the points and miles journey for your fam!
What is Rewards Travel?
Rewards travel refers to earning and then redeeming credit card points and miles for free or nearly free hotels and flights. When signing up for a credit card, there are often bonuses you can receive, also known as, welcome offers. This sign up bonus is typically something like “earn 60,000 points after spending $3,000 in 3 months.” That $3,000 you need to spend is called the minimum spending requirement.
The best way to meet the minimum spending requirement is by using your new credit card for all of your daily expenses (gas, groceries, kid music lessons, kid sports, etc.). Anything that would typically go on our debit card, now goes on your new credit card. The biggest thing to remember is to PAY OFF your card at the end of each month so you don’t carry over a balance – you never want to risk accruing credit card debt and especially interest fees by holding a balance.
If you earn the 60,000 points from the example, they’re often worth at least $600 and most times, they are worth even more when transferred to a hotel or airline partner. So the basic idea of rewards travel is to:
- sign up for a new credit card,
- complete the minimum spending requirement,
- earn & collect the points and miles through the big sign up bonus,
- redeem the points and miles for flights or hotels.
After following these steps one time through, then you rinse and repeat with another card!
How to Become a Beginner Rewards Traveler
Being a rewards traveler travel with a large family will obviously require more points than someone who is earning points for solo travel. Still, even as a family of 8, we find plenty of ways to earn and redeem our points. Rewards travel does require some effort and organization, but the rewards can be significant.
Here are my best tips on how to get started with travel with points and miles:
Set Your Travel Goals
Define your family’s travel goals, like picking your top destinations, when you are available to travel, and the type of experiences you want to have. Having clear goals will help you plan more effectively on what types of points will most benefit you and how many of those points you should work towards earning.
Build Your Credit
Rewards travel strategies rely on opening new credit cards and earning their sign up bonuses. Pay off any existing debts and ensure that your credit is in good shape (a score of 680 or better), as this will help you qualify for the best credit card offers.
Research and Choose the Right Credit Cards
Look for credit cards that offer good sign-up bonuses and travel benefits. Consider cards with no foreign transaction fees and ones that offer TSA Precheck/Global Entry credits or even travel insurance. I include a few examples of good credit cards for family travel below.
Meet Minimum Spending Requirements
Most travel credit cards require you to spend a certain amount within the first few months (usually 3) to earn the sign-up bonus. Ditch the debit card. Plan your everyday expenses and, if possible, larger purchases strategically to meet these requirements.
Learn About Loyalty Programs and Airline Alliances
Familiarize yourself with different loyalty programs and their points or miles currencies. Airlines and hotel chains have partnerships with other airlines or hotels, allowing you to earn and redeem rewards across a broader group of options for flights and/or hotel stays. For example, Hyatt is a popular choice for utilizing Chase Ultimate Rewards. For airlines, you can often book the same flight, for less points through a partner airline.
Flexibility in your travel plans can help you take advantage of more flight and hotel options for award bookings. This can be difficult when dealing with children’s school schedules. We like to add some extra time onto the school breaks that are already in our schedule. If traveling for an extended time, we often request an independent study from our school.
Monitor Your Credit and Stay Secure
Monitor your credit card accounts, points balances, and statement due dates. Missing a payment or losing track of points could be costly. And be cautious when sharing personal and financial information online. Only use reputable websites and apps for booking and managing your travel. I like to keep my credit frozen on each of the 3 credit bureaus. It’s easy and free to do so on their websites: Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax.
Chase’s 5/24 Rule
The Chase 5/24 rule states that if you open five or more new credit card accounts (from any bank, not just Chase) in a period of 24 months, Chase will automatically deny your application for their credit cards. This rule applies to both personal and business credit cards issued by Chase.
My best tips in order to avoid hitting 5/24 too early:
Prioritize Chase Cards First
Since Chase offers some of the most valuable travel rewards cards, it’s a good idea to focus on Chase cards early in your credit card journey before you exceed the 5/24 limit.
Spread Out Card Applications
Be mindful of your credit card application history. Try to space out card applications, giving at least 30-60 days between applications, to avoid hitting the 5/24 limit too quickly.
Best Travel Credit Cards for Families
When it comes to finding the best travel credit cards for families, there are several things to consider, including rewards, perks, fees, transfer partners, and which airline/hotel chains you prefer. Here are some travel credit cards for families who love to travel:
- This card offers a generous sign-up bonus and earns valuable Chase Ultimate Rewards points.
- Points can be transferred to various airline and hotel partners, making it a flexible choice. Hyatt is a popular transfer partner of these points.
- It includes trip cancellation/interruption insurance and no foreign transaction fees.
- This card allows you to redeem miles as a statement credit to erase travel expenses, making it easy to cover family travel costs that aren’t typically covered by other points/miles.
- It offers a Global Entry/TSA PreCheck fee credit and does not charge foreign transaction fees.
- This card is great for families, as it offers 4x Membership Rewards points at U.S. restaurants and up to $25,000 per year at U.S. supermarkets. Might as well earn some points for buying groceries!
- This card earns ThankYou Points, which can be transferred to various airline partners for family travel.
- It offers a good bonus on travel and dining purchases and provides trip cancellation/interruption insurance.
- If your family prefers staying at Marriott hotels, this card offers a free night award each year, elite status, and the ability to earn Marriott Bonvoy points on your everyday purchases.
- For families that prefer Hilton hotels, this card offers Hilton Honors points, complimentary Gold status, and priority pass access.
Ultimately, the best card for your family will depend on your travel goals and priorities.
Our Favorite Credit Card Perks for Family Travel
Free TSA PreCheck, Global Entry, or NEXUS
Many credit cards offer a credit towards signing up for TSA PreCheck, Global Entry, or NEXUS. You can use these credits for anyone. They do not have to be used by the credit card holder. These benefits allow you to move quicker through TSA or Customs at US airports. NEXUS works for both the U.S. Canadian border and both U.S. and Canadian airports.
Children under 18 can go through TSA PreCheck with their parents traveling on the same itinerary, however, every person, no matter their age, will have to get their own Global Entry or NEXUS. NEXUS is especially wonderful if you live near the Canadian border AND it’s only $50/adult and free for kids age 16 and under.
Utilizing Family Members’ Accounts
You can pool miles and points from household family members’ accounts. Many loyalty programs like Chase Ultimate Rewards, Capital One Venture Miles, and Flying Blue Family allow for this, enabling you to accumulate rewards faster.
Travel insurance coverage is another great benefit of some of these credit cards. The Chase Sapphire Preferred is often recommended as the best beginner travel card and it offers great lost/delayed luggage insurance, as well as, trip primary auto collision damage coverage. Being able to decline the car rental agency insurance on your car rental can add up!
Airline and Hotel Loyalty Status
Airlines and hotel chains offer ways to earn loyalty points, which in turn, can earn you status. Airline and hotel status typically come with perks like free checked bags, priority boarding, room upgrades, free dining, and lounge access. These all can make family travel more comfortable and cost-effective.
Family Trips We Have Traveled with Points and Miles
Since we have a large family with 8 people, it’s rare that we manage to do all flights/hotels for free. But we CAN remove a big chunk of our costs – which is a great reminder that rewards travel doesn’t have to be all or nothing!
Here are some trip expenses we’ve been able to cover:
- Flights for the whole family from California to Washington DC
- Hotels in Jordan
- Flights from London to Croatia
- Flights from California to Belize
- Flights from Washington DC to Australia & New Zealand
- And lots more!
I hope these tips for rewards travel help you get started on your points and miles travel journey and, ultimately, make family travel more accessible for you.
IF YOU LIKED THIS POST ABOUT REWARDS TRAVEL 101, YOU MIGHT LIKE THESE POSTS TOO:
- 30+ Ways to Save Money to Travel with Kids (Without Being Rich)
- 10 Tips for Family Travel On A Budget
- How to Save Money on a Road Trip: Planning a Family Road Trip on a Budget