My husband and I both loved traveling before we had children. We decided to keep exploring the world even as our family grew. It’s not as easy to get away from home on Instagram. We have to work to create these vacations and make sure they happen.
Credit cards are a big part of our budgeting now that we have four children to pay for. But not the way you think. Because we always pay off our monthly bills, we never accumulate debt. We rely on points and miles we earn from our credit cards. According to the Department of Transportation the average national domestic airfare was just under $400 during the fourth quarter of the last year.
Credit cards can help our family travel for less money.
Nearly free Flights
We can fly with our families almost for free thanks to the rewards that we receive from all of the credit cards we own. Certain cards earn frequent flyer points that can be redeemed for flights with that airline or its partners. Some credit cards offer rewards without being tied to a particular brand, and with more flexibility. Transferring rewards between partner airlines allows you to compare flights for your entire family. You can pay for the taxes and fees if you don’t have enough points to cover your flights. They begin at $5.60 per person, one-way in the U.S.
I often get sceptical stares when I explain to friends that my rewards can pay for my flights. Why do they charge such a high number of miles? Although the price of award flights can appear outrageous at times, you may still find value. Recently, we booked coast to coast flights for four members of our family for less than 10,000 mile per person. The average opening bonus is around 50,000 mile, but can be much higher. By opening one card, and paying an under $100 annual fee, I can fly my entire family from Baltimore to California.
A companion pass is another “free flight” trick I’ve got up my sleeve. Many popular airlines allow a guest to travel free of charge or for a discounted price if you hold their credit cards or earn enough points within a calendar year.
Southwest Airlines, our family’s favourite airline, offers the best companion passes around. Once you earn the pass, you can bring a companion along for free (you will only pay tax and fees), as often as you wish, throughout the remainder of the calendar year. (More details here. )
Flexible travel insurance and
You quickly discover that prices and availability can skyrocket during the spring or winter break, when everybody is on vacation. According to the Transportation Security Administration, checkpoint data, this year more than 141 millions people traveled by air in March andApril, as opposed to 118 million during January and February. It is important to book far enough in advance in order to secure your plans. You’ll often find lower rates and better availability when booking further in advance. When you use miles or points to pay, you have less money at risk: you aren’t paying a lot of cash for a vacation you will take in the future.
If your plans are to change, you can use rewards from your credit card. During the COVID-19 epidemic, airlines dropped the cancellation and change fees. There are some fees that are being reintroduced, but they are usually more generous for those who have booked using miles. My family can book vacations with confidence knowing that they have a reserve of points or miles from their credit cards.
You can still cancel your tickets if you paid cash, but there are more restrictions. You may have to pay more to be able to cancel or change your tickets. You’re more likely to receive a travel credit from the airline than your money. This means that you will have to use the money you receive from that airline if there is a cheaper deal with another airline or you want that cash for some other expense. These credits may also expire.
By booking with miles you can cancel your ticket, even at the last minute, and receive all of your reward money back.
Benefits to make your life easier
No one has ever said, “Wow! I am so eager to stand in line with kids who are grumpy!” Long lines can dampen travel excitement for both adults and children.
For my family, the benefits of premium credit cards far exceed the fees that we pay annually. We can save a lot of time by using services such as TSA Precheck and Global Entry. American Express’ Platinum Card (r) comes with an annual fee of $695, but offers credit that helps cover these costs. While we are waiting to board, you can enjoy complimentary drinks and snacks in an airport lounge. Conditions apply. The right credit card can also give us elite status. After a long trip, we can bypass the queue at the car rental counter to get straight into our vehicle. We can enjoy elite benefits like late check-out, room upgrades and daily credits to cover breakfast thanks to the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass (r) Card. Conditions apply.
“Free Money” helps stretch budgets further
Activating your credit card will give you special discounts from merchants. These are like coupons that you can easily add to your card. They can help you save real money on the purchases you already make.
These offers are “free money”, which I get back on my credit card. Because there is no fee if you don’t redeem them, I try to load up as many coupons as possible onto my credit cards. When I order pizza, send birthday flowers, or buy new luggage I check out my credit cards first to see if I can save money by shopping with featured retailers.
After I have made a purchase that qualifies, the money I’ve saved is credited to my credit card. This money is easy to track in a spreadsheet. I can see how it grows: $5 from this restaurant and $10 from the back-to school shopping trip. This money is then put into an extra trip fund that helps subsidize our additional travel costs.
I am able to afford more family travel by cutting costs wherever possible.