Robin DeGracia’s kids have been traveling since they were in diapers. No, really. Her son was just 3 months old when she took him on his first flight.
She remembers because he was in a baby carrier and she spent a lot of time on the flight walking with him up and down the airplane. When she reached to tuck his legs in as she passed the rows of other passengers, she accidentally grabbed the arm of a woman sitting in an aisle seat instead. Needless to say, the woman was horrified.
It’s just one of a few mishaps that come with traveling with kids, but for DeGracia, it’s all worth it. Her son, now 11, and her daughter, 9, are seasoned travelers who have been all over the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Argentina, India and Indonesia — to name a few.
To make much of that travel possible, DeGracia relies on travel rewards to help offset some of the costs. “Travel rewards help us travel both for fun and to see family, and to not have to choose between the two,” she says. DeGracia’s brood makes an annual trip to see family in New Jersey, along with several vacations to other domestic or international destinations throughout the rest of the year.
In fact, many people face similar hurdles in trying to fund family trips. More than 80% of respondents to a 2019 Family Travel Association survey cited affordability as a main challenge in traveling with their children.
Travel rewards may be one solution, but sometimes it might seem like credit card perks and travel loyalty programs are designed primarily for solo travelers or couples. After all, families may be hard-pressed to save the hundreds of thousands of points needed to book round-trip airline tickets for four or extra hotel rooms to fit the whole crew — not to mention that award availability for large parties can be hard to find.
But as DeGracia says, “It’s not impossible.”
Here are some strategies for booking family travel with points and miles.
Tips for booking travel rewards as a family
1. Everyone can earn points and miles
Parents are going to do the bulk of earning points and miles. One way to speed up the process is by getting a travel, airline or hotel credit card that can help you earn points for everyday spending.
Putting large purchases, like your big grocery haul or day care expenses, on the card can help you rake in points more quickly.
If you have a two-parent household, each parent might consider applying for travel cards separately instead of adding an authorized user. This way, your family can benefit from multiple credit card sign-up bonuses.
Kids can pitch in, too. Sign your children up for a frequent flyer account with an airline so that they can accumulate miles for award flights simultaneously. “They earn more slowly than my husband and I, but it’s nice to be able to cash in for a free flight after a few years,” DeGracia says.
DeGracia plans to add her children as authorized users to her travel credit cards once they become teenagers. In this way, their spending can become travel rewards as well.
2. Pool your points
There is power in numbers when it comes to earning points, and some loyalty programs will let you create a points pool with family members and friends so that everyone has a bigger stash to draw from.
This can be a good method to appease the relatives who are always insisting you visit — add your grandparents to the pool, and your family will be able to redeem the collective points for a family trip.
In the U.S., JetBlue is one of the few airlines to allow pooling. When it comes to hotels, Hilton makes pooling the easiest with 1:1 transfer ratios between members. Hyatt and Marriott also allow pooling, but with the added steps of filling out a point transfer form or calling the hotel, respectively.
3. Get a companion pass
Points aren’t the only way to get free travel. Some airline credit cards offer a companion pass that allows you to book an additional seat on the same itinerary for only the cost of taxes and fees. It’s basically a buy one, get one deal.
Southwest’s Companion Pass goes a step further, extending its benefits for not just one flight, but for all flights taken the rest of the year and the entire next calendar year once you earn it. If your family doesn’t always fly as one unit, you can even change your designated companion on Southwest up to three times per year.
Companion passes are good because they mean one less airline ticket you’ll have to save up for.
4. Be loyal to a single airline
DeGracia’s family is a United Airlines family through and through because their home airport is a United hub. “Traveling from hub to hub is a lot cheaper,” she says. Not to mention, there are usually a lot more flight options.
Picking one airline and sticking to it works for families for a few other reasons, too. For one thing, parents have enough to keep track of in life without worrying which kid has how many miles in which airline. Secondly, parents can get an airline credit card that comes with a free checked bag. Some of these cards will also cover the first checked bag for people traveling on the same itinerary.
5. Split the family into different itineraries
Because award flights sometimes cost thousands of points one way, it might not be feasible to pay for the entire family’s trip on points. DeGracia’s solution is to book, say, her son and husband with points, and then pay for her daughter and herself to go on the same flight. It still saves her hundreds of dollars on flying.
6. Book hotel suites
Another challenge for families trying to travel on points is hotel rooms. It can be difficult to fit an entire family into one hotel room, but there are plenty of other options that you can book with points.
Consider getting a hotel credit card that offers automatic elite status, so you can get the upgrades to two-bedroom suites. If that’s not an option, do some research. Many of the big hotel chains offer some properties with bunk beds or timeshares with multiple rooms.
DeGracia booked a hotel room with bunk beds for her children. “The kids loved having their own space,” she says.
Using travel rewards for the family requires a mindset shift
It is possible to make family travel cheaper with travel rewards if you know how to maximize the earnings. Sometimes that might mean having to pay for flights and hotel rooms for every family member with a combination of points and cash. Still, points or miles can be an effective way for families to save money on travel.
DeGracia has one more tip if you’re still finding it difficult to travel on points and miles with the entire family: “You can use your miles to fly other family members to you.”
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Meghan Coyle writes for NerdWallet. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @inkwaves.
The article 6 Tips for Family Travel on Points and Miles originally appeared on NerdWallet.