Travel Reward Points – All Shapes and Sizes

Disclaimer: Large Family…Will Travel is sharing its experience using travel reward points programs, but this post isn’t sponsored by any of the companies mentioned.

For a large family like ours, airfare is usually out of the question unless we have a good stash of reward points at our disposal. My wife and I travel for work a fair amount throughout the year, but not enough to cover all our offspring. That is where credit cards with travel reward points come in handy. However, there are at least three things to consider when choosing the right one for your travel plans:

Make sure your credit game is tight

There are a slew of credit card options that offer travel rewards points to attract new customers. These offers can help your family greatly in earning free airfare.

But priority #1 should always be protecting your credit score. I would break out in cold sweats every time I opened a new card. It’s no joke when you consider its impact on future spending power. However, Points With A Crew offers some sound advice on how to get those rewards while protecting the wallet:

  1. Pay your balances in full each month. Seems simple, but this basic rule prevents you from wiping away the savings you gain from rewards.
  2. Mind the minimum spend target. This can be tricky when you have multiple cards. Track spending closely to ensure you hit the minimum required amount to earn your sign on bonus points.
  3. Avoid signing up when making a major purchase on items such as a new home or car. Since your interest rate is impacted by your credit score, even a short term hit can mean thousands in fees over the long term.

Visit Points With A Crew’s Beginner’s Guide for more info on how to play the credit card game effectively.

Commit or date around

Most major airlines offer a credit card with travel reward points to lock you in as a long term customer. The offers can be quite attractive if you take advantage at the right time. For our 10 year wedding anniversary, we decided to ditch the kids and head to Hawaii. American Express released a promotion providing 70,000 miles to sign up for their American Advantage card. That alone was almost enough for two tickets right out the gate!

After the trip, it took years to reach the same level of points so we switched to Chase Sapphire Preferred after hearing rave reviews about their program. We took the 50,000 sign-on bonus and proceeded to direct most of our day-to-day spending onto this card earning more than 100,000 points a few months ahead of our family trip to Europe.

However, what I came to realize is how limited your airfare options can be on these reward programs. Although Chase Ultimate Rewards partners with 10 airline carriers, the only one that worked was United and our point total didn’t cover more than a couple people. So we had to combine points through other rewards programs on both Delta and American Airlines to cover everything. The Chase Rewards came in the most handy for booking excursions prior to and during our trip saving us more than $1,800!

Two key lessons learned from all this…

  • Not matter which one you choose, choose to commit for some time. Although 50 or 60 or 70,000 points is substantial, it won’t be enough to cover your entire family. Plan to commit to your credit card reward program for at least 6 months to a year and drive as much of your day-to-day spend onto that one card.
  • Be clear in the beginning what you need your travel reward points to do for you. Whether it’s free airfare or free tickets to attractions, understand the limitations each card includes in the fine print. You have more control over spending on events vs. airfare so choose a major airline branded credit card to maximize points impact.

To insure or not to insure

I’m a worry wort when it comes to traveling especially when spending large sums on family trips. This led me to purchase insurance for each plane ticket we booked under award travel. Those fees added up eating into the total savings, but we still came out ahead. Travel insurance is a very important factor to consider for venturing out with a large family, but do some investigation to ensure you’re choosing the right plan. Check the Point Guy’s post on Independent Travel Insurance for some solid guidance in this area.

Moral of the story is protect your credit, do your homework and have an awesome vacation!

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