Did you know that one of our most popular posts EVER was the interview with reader Hilary? Yes, I’m talking about a single mom who shared photos of a Holiday Inn Express. No overwater bungalows in Tahiti or Maldives, and not one picture of caviar or Dom Perignon.
In fact, even my beloved reader Ramsey decided to show up after a two-year absence. A miracle! To those who don’t know, Ramsey is a former “Miles for Family” fan club president, who once called me a sassy broad. Well, the dude ain’t wrong! He also has a weird affinity for photos of hotel toilets. To each his own, I guess. Anyway, here is his comment:
Ramsey has been around this hobby for a very long time. Enough said.
Anyway, the huge amount of traffic for this post made me wonder if perhaps this area isn’t very well covered in the miles and points hobby. And here I thought that every niche has been beaten down to death. So, I figured I would put together a post with some tips on how people in Hilary’s situation can get the most bang for their buck.
Single moms and dads, I hope you’ll find it beneficial. In no way do I presume to know your struggles (financial and emotional), but simply want to outline a good strategy on maximizing miles and points. I was able to enlist help from one of my readers (a single mom), and she will give some tips at the end of the post.
Without further ado:
1) Hotel points will probably be more valuable to single parents than to families with both spouses.
Many hotels provide complimentary breakfast and have restaurant on premises. This can greatly simplify things for single parents. Let’s face it, it’s a lot easier to stuff kids in a car when you have an extra pair of hands to help you. Condos and vacation rentals are great for families, but single parents need things to be as easy as possible.
I don’t like cooking on trips, and I would absolutely hate it if there was nobody to watch my kids while I was doing it. Some moms and dads may not feel comfortable having the kids in a separate bedroom. Also, if you are not traveling with a significant other, privacy isn’t that much of an issue.
Not too long ago, I wrote a post on determining speculative value of hotel points. I think for single parents, the numbers are probably a bit higher. I’m not saying you should go on a hotel points’ application spree without having some sort of a plan first. But there is no question that having hotel points on-hand can make it easier for single parents to plan spur-of-the-moment local getaways and even big trips.
2) Resorts with free babysitting are the “holy grail” for single parents.
This is especially true if you don’t have a lot of help in your everyday life. Contrary to popular belief, not every all-inclusive resort is exorbitantly expensive. The price varies, and if you are willing to go off-season, it can be quite reasonable. Nancy just wrote about her upcoming trip to Mexico, and one of the reasons they chose all-inclusive is to get a break from kids. Everyone wants a break from their children now and again, and for single parents it’s a MUST.
Follow sites like CheapCaribbean because very often, they will have decent prices on all-inclusive resorts. In all likelihood, your best bet will be Dominican Republic. My reader Audrey mentioned Skyauction.com as a good site for snagging a fantastic deal.
You can book some all-inclusive resorts on points and last year I wrote about our stay at Holiday Inn Sunspree resort in Jamaica.
While there were some serious issues, if you are low-key traveler, it may suit you just fine. Best of all, kids’ club is included, and if you are IHG Platinum member (comes with credit card), you’ll probably get an upgrade, plus free massage session. Holly from ClubThrifty blog vacationed there with her family twice and loved it, so it’s the case of “different strokes to different folks.” My daughter says it’s her favorite vacation ever, so there you go.
Drew from Travelisfree put together a post on all-inclusive options via hotel points a while back, though it may not be 100% accurate as of now. Those of you who like Hyatt, should look into staying at one of its AI properties. Shawn at MTM has written an overview of Hyatt Ziva Puerto Vallarta all-inclusive resort. He has visited it with his wife and new baby. Apparently, free certificates you get with Chase Hyatt Visa Signature will cover two adults and a child under 4. So, if you have two kids (one of them very young), this could work.
3) Go on a cruise!!!
Seriously, just do it if you can swing it financially. Kids love cruises, and you’ll get to relax because kids’ club is included. A huge advantage is that you can fly to Miami, Fort Lauderdale or even Orlando if you plan on going to Caribbean or Bahamas. Considering the fact that you won’t have to pay exorbitant award ticket taxes, cruise may end up being much cheaper compared to the most humble resort in Dominican Republic.
Plus, the food will most likely be better on a ship, at least this has been my experience. Obviously, it will depend on what you prefer, but definitely look into a cruise option. Your kids will have a blast, and you probably will too. See my four-part trip report on a Western Caribbean Carnival cruise. Several credit cards offer travel rebate bonus which will help offset the cost of your trip.
4) Prioritize flexible points and currency like Southwest Rapid Rewards (and go big)
Since you are going to be the only one collecting the points, you need to make sure that you go after the biggest, baddest, most flexible type of bonus out there. In this hobby size matters. You should be picky because rules may change and your ability to get new credit cards may be affected as well.
So, no throwing in a few extra cards from the same bank in order to combine inquiries. You need to be selective and focus on offers like Chase Sapphire Reserve. If you are over 5/24, go to Chase branch and see if you can get approved there. Think about it. You can sign up for 4 cards where each offers inferior 25,000 miles or points, or you can get one bonus with super duper valuable Ultimate Rewards and come out way ahead.
5) Try to possibly get help from ex/family/friends, or offer help instead.
I used the word “possibly” because this won’t work for everyone. But let’s say you would like to have help during vacations. See if you can invite a friend or parent/brother/aunt to come with you. You might even offer to cover their tickets and lodging if they are on a tight budget. If hotel is fairly cheap on points, it may be worth it to get two rooms, especially if it’s on IHG PointBreaks list. See it as an investment in your sanity.
If a friend or relative is decent at managing finances, you may suggest they open a credit card or two as long as the offer has low spending requirements. A good one to consider is Chase IHG MasterCard. Decent bonus, perks and no need to cancel it, ever.
If you are on good terms with your ex, see if he/she is willing to sign up for a card and let you use the bonus. Some selfish exes might be reluctant to contribute actual $, but they may be willing to let you use the points from credit cards. Most folks don’t understand this hobby, and to them, miles are worth exactly zero. No need to convince them otherwise. It would be a win-win for both of you. Of course, you should expect actual money as well. Sorry, friend, you can’t use miles to pay alimony.
Tips from Tania(who is NOT running for president)
Living in New York City I have plenty of airport options, but sometimes due to lack of vacation time I’d rather take a trip near home.
Last summer we went to Sesame Place by train and Uber. I signed up for BofA Travel Rewards $200 offer. I was able to wipe off the charges from Uber and NJ Transit train ticket. We stayed at Holiday Inn Express in Langhorne for only 15k points per night. During the summer, weekend rates can be as high as $200 due proximity to the park and free transportation to Sesame Place.
Breakfast was free and they had a pancake machine (a huge hit with my son). I got tickets through AAA website. Although I don’t own a car and AAA membership is not very useful to me, my friend gave me AAA code to buy cheaper tickets.
Airline loyalty is overrated
I am originally from Brazil and try to visit my family once a year. After American Airlines devaluation, flying to Brazil costs more miles (60K instead of 40K), so I decided to look at Delta. I got 2 Amex Delta cards (personal and business), so my trip to Brazil next year is secure. I know the points and miles folks hate Skypesos but I am glad I’m diversifying my nest egg.
I also have a good travel agent to look out for great deals on tickets. This past summer I scored roundtrip tickets to Sao Paulo right before the Olympics for $450 each.
Change hotels (when you can save cash or points)
I went to Rio de Janeiro in July with my son, my brother and my mother. I used Chase Hyatt Visa certificates and Amex SPG points to score 2 rooms in 2 different properties (3 nights total). It was a little bit of a hassle to change hotels, but Uber is really inexpensive in Rio. Sheraton Rio de Janeiro is near the main attractions as opposed to Grand Hyatt. Grand Hyatt is brand new and located in a more suburban beach area so it was a nice change of scenery.
I got upgraded in both hotels because of elite status (obtained via credit cards), so we had oceanfront rooms for 3 days. My son loved the kids’ clubs but he speaks Portuguese, so language barrier was not a problem. I found that sometimes the kids’ club employees in foreign countries speak limited English.
On importance of “wasting” miles to visit dad
On top of not having a partner to apply for credit cards, I need to save miles so my son can visit his father in Florida. I know I might sound bitter and I know how important it is for my son to spend time with his dad. But I can really use Avios points for a trip to Cancun instead 🙂
As much as I hate those, I had to buy one. I don’t have a lot of good pictures because if you ask stranger to take a photo the results 99% of the time are horrible.
Talk to hotel management
When we were in Rio I wanted to have dinner at the hotel but the options were a fancy sushi restaurant or a trendy hotel bar. In the afternoon I spoke with the concierge and she was able to call the restaurant in advance to accommodate my son’s dietary needs – chicken and rice.
At the end of the meal the manager came to compliment my son on his behavior and gave him free ice cream and Japanese coin bank as a gift!
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.