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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.
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?
Leana is the 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.