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Five Miles and Points Strategies for Single Parents on a Tight Budget

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:

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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)

Do staycations 

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.

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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.

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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 🙂

Selfie stick

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!

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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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19 thoughts on “Five Miles and Points Strategies for Single Parents on a Tight Budget

  1. Thanks for the mention! Yes, we’re going back to the Holiday Inn Montego Bay for our third Spring Break in a row next year. We love that place, but we have very low expectations!

    • @Holly Wow, a third time!!! Both of my kids really want to go back, so at some point we may give it another shot. I’m hoping they do a serious remodel, though. I’m mostly a low-key traveler too and only require cleanliness and hot water.
      Honestly, my biggest pet peeve is Montego Bay airport. It was quite a nightmare the last time we went.

  2. I feel for you Tania with the AA devaluation as I am from Uruguay. It’s good to keep reading the news in this hobby as it seems that there are always alternatives to get there. As with everything, it must be very hard to travel and to find the means to travel as a single mom so kuddos for you!

      • Hi Leticia,
        I keep trying to find new ways to travel so SA for free ar almost free. I am looking at Lan Pass credit card but 15k bonus is not a great deal. I am almost ditching AA because the availability lately is horrible. Delta is a little bit better. Being a single mother is hard sometimes but I am a very positive person so I don’t focus on the bad side. I am only bitter regarding not having a extra person to apply for credit cards 🙂

  3. I think your fight with AMEX was way more popular but glad you are now taking on the single’s cause as well 🙂
    I agree with all of these points but passports are a requirement! I still have to get one for my daughter and it is definitely putting a crimp in my plans.
    Love Tania’s trick of using BofA rewards for Uber – it’s a great use for any type of trip.

    • @Hilary You know, it’s very hard to predict traffic. I was pretty sure readers would like your interview, but I was blown away by how many hits the post got. It’s true, single parents have different needs compared to families with both parents. It’s important to address those needs.
      And yes, the Amex post was huge in terms of traffic. There was silver lining to the fiasco! I’m still trying to sort it all out, so there will be a follow-up post.

      P.S. If you do a closed-loop cruise (like leaving from and coming back to Miami), you don’t need passports, birth certificates will do. Of course, if there is a medical emergency, it could be an issue. But Bahamas cruise should be OK because they would probably fly folks back to Miami.

    • Hilary,
      I loved your guest post and I am always looking for cash bonus so I can use towards travel and sometimes toward regular purchases. I know sometimes the value is not excellent but for me cash is king.
      I booked Disney Cruise for next January 4 months ago. I have a travel agent and she got the best rate possible. The trick is to book as soon Disney release the dates. I am trying to justify the expense because I’ve been once a log time ago and I know my son is going to love. The cruise is more expensive than other cruise lines. I made 1/3 down payment. Today I am applying for the Barclay Arrival to try to offset some of the cost and finish to pay with the card instead of cash. I got hotel and flights with points and miles so it is more affordable.

    • @ Hilary No worries! I do recommend you always double check because rules may change. But I strongly recommend you consider a short Bahamas cruise. Those tend to be fairly reasonable (unless it’s Disney) during off-season.

  4. Bravo for addressing issues like the struggles of single parents. Although I’m not a single parent, my mom was before she married my dad. I get way more use out of articles like this than yet ANOTHER trip report on the Maldives.

    • @Lindy Thanks for stopping by! I feel like I’m unqualified to write on this subject, which is why I enlisted help from Tania. Interacting with Hilary also gives me a glimpse of what it’s like to be a single parent trying to maximize points in the most efficient way possible. It’s definitely not easy when you have just one person collecting the miles.

  5. Leana, I bet you know what I’m going to say! Yep, Skyauction for the all-inclusive (we’ve paid $100/night for two adults, two kids) and at least consider Spirit airlines (best if your flying needs are flexible). I’m not single but have travelled all around the world with just my two sons, now 9 and 11. Mostly we look for edible/affordable pizza but hey, I’m sure some culture is soaking in there somewhere,,,

  6. @Audrey Good point on Skyauction! I’ll add it to the post. I actually didn’t know you can book all-inclusive through that site, Thanks! You know, I thought about mentioning Spirit because I do think it’s a terrific deal, especially redeeming miles for off peak awards. But I opted for safer route and went with Southwest. Less uncertainty and hassle, which is a good thing for single parents. I am yet to make my first Spirit redemption, though I’m keeping my eye on new Orlando- Newark route.

  7. Oh they are the BEST for all-inclusives, especially if you’re not too fussy!:) Do a search for all-inclusive and you’ll see what I mean. I only go for kids free which greatly reduces the results though. I’ll make a believer of you yet!
    And yes, I too am happy Spirit is starting to fly from Newark again as I live in New Jersey. They actually used to, years ago.

    • @Audrey That’s cool! We have only done one all-inclusive, so I’m no expert, for sure. I saw some amazing deals on cheapcaribbean.com, but didn’t know Skyauction offers them too. Nice!

  8. You mentioned getting help from an ex. My ex husband just agreed to let me apply for CSP in his name which I did and he got. With his permission I am authorised user. I will spend. I will pay bill. And he will give me the points to use in my son’s benefit. 🙂

  9. Pingback: Cruise with a Toddler on Disney Magic: the Good, the Bad and the Magical - Miles For Family

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