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On The Hobby Strategies for a Big Family, and Ironic Timing

When I say “big,” I’m talking more than 2 kids. Seriously, I don’t know how you guys do it?! I can barely handle my duo. But more and more, I get emails from readers who have 3 or 4 kids. There isn’t a whole lot of information on that segment of The Hobby. And for a good reason, it’s very difficult to efficiently  utilize miles and points for that many people.

The good news is, it’s not impossible. This was the second request on my post asking for some topic suggestions from readers (today is a  deadline to enter). Without further ado, here are some strategies you may want to focus on:

 Go for cash back bonuses or those that offer rebate towards travel

This is self-explanatory. You don’t have to worry about availability, capacity controls and all that other mambo jumbo. When you sign up for $400 cash back, you will get $400 once you meet the minimum spending. It’s that simple.

The cards to consider: Barclaycard Arrival Plus, Capital One Venture Rewards (points can be redeemed for gift cards), Wells Fargo Propel (now requires a checking account or in-branch application). You can read more on these cards (and all of the other mentioned offers) in my page “Best credit card deals for family.” Feel free to comment or email if you have further questions.

Barclaycard Arrival Plus has just been added back to affiliate channels and once again pays me commission. Wow, talk about ironic timing! Bloggers are not notified ahead of time on when the offers will cease to be “deadbeats.”

Consider bonuses that offer flexible points

When you sign up for these type of cards, you avoid putting all of your eggs in one basket. Flexible points can be redeemed for cash back (though some offer reduced ratio), gift cards, as well as transfer to various loyalty schemes. I do want to point out that redeeming these for cash back should probably be your last resort. In most cases, you will get better value by transferring to miles and points.

Still, it’s nice to have that option available. You never know if you may lose your job, which would probably bring any travel plans to a screeching halt. No one wants to think of this possibility, but it’s the reality of life as we know it.

Also, when you have a large family, it’s much harder to find award availability, especially if you fly during peak times. If you can’t find use for your points and renewal fee is looming on the horizon, it could make sense to just cash them out either on statement credit or gift cards. I have just applied for Citi Prestige in my husband’s name. The app was approved. My plan is to use the bonus on either airline tickets or transfer to miles. That said, if things don’t go as planned, we can always redeem 50,000 points for  $500 in Walmart gift cards. Flexibility is extremely important for a family on a tight budget.

The cards to consider: Amex Starwood Preferred Guest, Chase Sapphire Preferred, Amex Premier Rewards Gold (if you can get 50K targeted offer to show up), Citi Thank You Premier Visa, Citi Prestige.

Focus on revenue-based programs

With revenue-based programs, you know upfront that you will be able to use the points. You may not get an exceptional value depending on the times you fly, but at least you’ll get something  in exchange for your credit pull. That’s the biggest advantage as well as disadvantage of these type of programs. It’s generally difficult to get an outsized value (no 10 CPM redemption here, amigos). But most families in US just want to visit grandma during holidays. And that’s exactly who these programs cater to.

Of course, the biggest player in the market is Southwest. I loooove Southwest! It is a perfect fit for a middle-class family in America, but only if you live near an airport served by that airline. Another program to consider is Jet Blue. While it’s not as well known as Southwest, for some who live near their main hubs, it could be a terrific option. Jet Blue program is a Membership Rewards partner. While the transfer ratio isn’t great at 250:200, occasionally, Amex runs transfer bonuses (see all MR transfer partners here) One big advantage of Jet Blue program is that it lets you pull points for family members when you make redemptions. Unfortunately, at this time, Southwest doesn’t offer this option.

The cards to consider: Chase Southwest Premier Visa, Chase Sapphire Preferred (points transfer to Southwest 1:1) and Amex Premier Rewards Gold (points transfer to Jet Blue).

Consider traditional airline programs that have cheap fixed redemption  options

Obviously, when you are looking to redeem miles for a family of 5 (or more), you need to find a way to stretch your stash. The biggest player in this niche market is Avios (British Airways) program. Some of their redemptions are downright horrible, and come  with huge fuel surcharges. There are a few exceptions, though.

For a big family living near American, US Airways or Alaska Airlines hubs, this program can offer some terrific bargains starting at only 4,500 miles one-way. I’ve mentioned them on a quite a few occasions, see my post here  Avios lets you pull miles for family members in one household account, which can come in handy when you are short a few thousand miles.

Another program you may want to consider is Free Spirit, run by Spirit Airlines. While not for everyone, it can offer tremendous value for some, especially if you live near one of their hubs (see their route network here) I’ve written a post on this program and why their credit card can be a good long-term choice for some families. The main issue is trying to leverage their off-peak prices, which are valid for times when children are in school. If you are willing to take the kids out of classes for a day or two, it could give you a chance  to fly to see grandma for a weekend. And at 2,500 miles one-way, why not? Of course, you can also use miles for grandma to come to you.

Let me give you some examples. My sister-in-law has family in Pennsylvania. She doesn’t have a lot of money, and tickets to Philadelphia can cost $200 roundtrip or more. I offered to redeem my Spirit miles for Tampa-Atlantic City (nonstop route served by Spirit). During off-peak dates, she can fly for 5,000 miles roundtrip. Sure, Atlantic City is 40 minutes further than Philadelphia to where her parents live. But, all things considered, it’s still a huge bargain. If someone makes six figures, they may not have to make choices such as this one. But for a person on a budget, Spirit can be a gold mine.

You can even fly to Caribbean in peak season for only 5,000 miles roundtrip. I checked Martin Luther King Jr. weekend in January, and there were 6 available tickets from Fort Lauderdale to St. Thomas. The flights were non-stop, and left  at a  decent hour. By comparison, if you were to fly from Miami using AAdvantage miles, it would cost you 35,000 miles roundtrip per person.

The cards to get: Chase British Airways Visa, Chase Sapphire Preferred (Avios partner), Amex Premier Rewards Gold (Avios partner), Bank of America Spirit World MasterCard.

Go for hotel cards that let you stretch your sign-up bonus

The biggest issue for large families is that they usually need at least 2 hotel rooms. That cuts value proposition significantly when it comes to hotel cards’  bonuses. Still, there are some good deals to be had. I will say upfront that hotel cards should probably be your last pick, waaaay after cash back and flexible points bonuses. But, depending on where you are going, they are worth considering.

My top pick in hotel cards is and always has been Chase IHG MasterCard. Right now, the bonus is down to 60,000 points, so you may want to hold off applying. It’s worth trying to make a dummy booking to see if you can get a targeted offer of 80,000 points. The reason this card is tremendously valuable for a family is due to their PointBreaks program. The cost is only 5,000 points per night for specific properties (the list rotates every 2 or 3 months).

You may also want to look at the lowest Category redemptions and programs that offer a “5th night free” benefit. Both Marriott and Hilton have this perk. Right now, the sign-up bonuses for both Chase Marriott Premier Visa and Citi Hilton Signature Visa are increased. You can read more on all hotel cards  here 

If you were to sign up for Marriott card, you would have over 80,000 points. While Marriott doesn’t  have a huge number of Category 1 properties, Category 2 (10,000 points per night) has quite a  few. No, none of them are in New York city or another popular tourist location. Still, it could be a chance to go off-the-beaten path. If you redeem points for 2 rooms, you can get a 5-night getaway for an entire family from juts one bonus.

Hilton portfolio also has quite a few Category 2 properties (10,000 points), plus the card doesn’t come with an annual fee. So, when you factor in the minimum spending, you can also get a 5-night getaway if you redeem points for 2 rooms.

You may also want to read my posts on hotel points here and here

Bottom line

While this hobby can be challenging for large families, it can be tremendously lucrative if you play your cards right. No, you will not be flying 5 of you to Maldives in first class or even economy, for that matter. But you can use miles and points to offset a good portion of your out-of-pocket expenses. In all likelihood, you’ll be taking simple trips within US, but you’ll be spending time with your loved ones. And isn’t that what The Hobby is all about?

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Author: Leana

Leana is the owner and founder of Miles For Family. She enjoys beach vacations and visiting her family in Europe. Originally from Belarus, Leana resides in central Florida with her husband and two children.

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10 thoughts on “On The Hobby Strategies for a Big Family, and Ironic Timing

  1. Thanks I was one of the posters who requested this type of information. Nicely done. Thank you. There were a few cards I had no considered yet!

      • @Michelle I’m so glad you found the post beneficial! There wasn’t any groundbreaking information here, but I wanted to compile it in one spot. Please, don’t hesitate to email me if you have further questions.

  2. I find this fascinating. I have the prototypical family of 4. I can typically find 4 tickets together. But beyond that, It’s gotta be hard. I’m guessing people have to decide on two overall strategies that define how they handle cards:

    1. We must always be on the same flight sitting together. That means you gotta go straight cashback, homie.
    2. We will fly there for free, no matter how the flights work. Ok, so you’re super mature 7 year old can handle Southwest on his own? Then you can probably do points. Then you can split the family up across flights that get you where you want aroundish when you want.

    • @Cheapblackdad That pretty much sums it up! If you have a large family and zero flexibility, then traditional miles are probably not the best bet. As far as my family goes, we insist on flying together. But we usually have some flexibility, so it works for now. My kids are little at the moment, so taking them out of school for a few days is doable. But I think that will change as they grow older.
      Also, planning far ahead helps. I literally stalk the calendar, and book the tickets as soon as awards are released. When you need 4 or more seats, you almost have to, especially when flying on weekends. We visit Europe in the summer, when everyone else does. That means loads of competition, so I try to be the “early bird who gets the worm.”

    • We are a family of 5 and we managed to travel to Hawaii and back with all 5 of us on the same flights! It required me getting up at 3 a.m. on several days to check AA award availability on the exact days they hit the calendar. Not sure I’ll be that lucky in the future. 🙂 I’m ok with splitting us up as groups of 3 and 2.

    • @Shoesinks Waking up at 3 AM definitely makes you “an early bird who gets the worm.” Honestly, it’s incredible that you got 5 award tickets to Hawaii, and just goes to show that it’s doable with some effort. I do think it’s possible for you to get all 5 of you to Europe, maybe even on the same flight. If you can split up, it’s totally doable. There are no guarantees with miles and points, of course. Still, it’s hard to find a hobby that can pay for 5 tickets to Hawaii in exchange for a little bit of effort. I’m so happy you pulled it off!

  3. Another angle, for those that are very organized, disciplined, and have a decent amount of free cash flow, is taking advantage of checking account signup bonuses which can be cash or rewards. has some of the best coverage of current offers. I would also check out timeshare offers, since many companies will let you upgrade the preview package to a 2BDR unit (usually sleeps 8) for a little bit more. Just don’t buy the timeshare no matter what they say.

    • @ Erik Definitely some good suggestions here! Yeah, Will has done a good job at covering bank bonuses. I actually used to do those all the time, but switching direct deposit info is tedious. I know there are workarounds, but it’s more than my ADHD mind can handle at the moment.
      As far as timeshare thing goes, it can be insanely lucrative. That said, my husband refuses to do it. I suspect there are many spouses who feel the same way. But I probably should mention it more. Thanks!

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