A recent email from a reader prompted me to think more about this subject: Is travel hacking just for solo travelers and couples? Realistically, how can families do it?
I understand where this question is coming from and why families would doubt that this travel hacking hobby is for them. Many miles and points travel bloggers and social media influencers showcase international first class and business class travel. But the vast majority of the time, it’s just one or maybe two people on these magnificent award redemptions. Even the bloggers who have families often travel solo on the fancier redemptions.
On top of that, some of the most popular influencers receive free flights in exchange for reviews. Or, their business revenue is so high that they can afford to pay cash for the flights/hotels.
Well, we at Miles for Family are not those people. We’re fairly normal, middle-class folks who love to travel (see our intro post here). Both Leana and I have spouses and kids who travel with us most of the time, and we make it work.
So, if you wondering how to make this travel hacking work for a family of 4+ people, here are some tips.
Two-Player Mode is Critical
The math doesn’t lie: A family of 4 or 5 people is going to need more miles and points than a solo traveler. So, playing in two-player mode is critical. This means that both you and your partner/spouse each need to sign up for credit cards separately so that you can both get the welcome bonus. If one spouse doesn’t have any income, that’s ok. You can input your family’s total combined income on your application as long as you have access to the funds.
Having a Small Business is Helpful
Since families need more miles and points than solo travelers, getting welcome bonuses from small business credit cards is very useful. Business cards add a third influx of award points you can add to your total stash. A small business doesn’t have to be complicated. Selling items on Etsy, garage sales or online can generate some income for a sole proprietorship. See this post for more details on what may qualify for a small business.
Southwest Companion Pass is a Boon for Families
The Southwest Companion Pass is a great tool for families. This pass allows you to bring one companion with you on your flight for free (well, you must pay taxes, which are usually $5.60 per domestic segment). This pass works whether you pay cash prices or use your Southwest Rapid Rewards points. My husband and I have each had a Southwest Companion Pass twice before. We flew with our family of five so many places with this pass including New York, Florida and Colorado multiple times. Now is a great time to earn this pass. See this post for more details.
Be Realistic and Flexible
Realistically, a middle-class family of four or five is not going to be able to fly international business class to Europe several times a year. It just takes too many miles and points. But once a year for a special trip? Absolutely. My family of five flew on business class to Europe twice over the past 2 years. But, it took a few years of applying for new credit cards to get to that point. Plus, it depleted my stash of miles and points, and I’ve been in rebuilding mode since then. I want to fly my family to Asia a few times in the next several years. But, I have no delusions that all of our trips will be in business class.
When you’re planning an award trip with multiple people, you also have to be flexible. This means being open to various dates, airplane cabins and destinations. It also could mean splitting up the family to fly on two different airlines to the same destination due to award availability and your miles stash. In a few months, my family is doing just that for our trip to Portugal. My husband and son will be flying on Iberia (only 2 business class award seats were available) while my daughter and I will be flying on TAP Air Portugal.
It Doesn’t Hurt to Ask
Especially when it comes to lodging on points, it never hurts to ask if hotels can accommodate larger families. For example, when my kids were younger, I phoned two Hyatt resorts to ask if we could sleep a 5th person in a regular room on an air mattress. Both times, the hotel said yes. Leana has also had luck booking a standard room on points and then calling the resort to see if she can pay cash to upgrade to a larger room. It sure beats booking two rooms!
Travel Hack for Part of the Trip
With family travel hacking, many times it’s helpful to focus on travel hacking part of the trip to save money and use cash on the parts you can’t realistically travel hack. For example, in 2022, six of us (my family plus our niece) traveled to France and Switzerland. I could not realistically get hotel rooms on points for all six of us (most European hotels have a maximum of 2 people allowed). But, I focused on getting our flights booked on miles and booked reasonable apartment rentals with cash for our lodging.
Where Should Families Start?
I always recommend starting with credit cards with high welcome bonuses that have flexible points. My two favorite banks are Chase and Capital One. Both have points that you can use in a travel portal or transfer to various hotels and airlines.
Chase: The Chase Sapphire Preferred (our affiliate link) is a great card for beginners. You can transfer points to Hyatt, Southwest, United and more. The current welcome bonus is 60,000 points after spending $4000 in the first 3 months. $95 annual fee. If you have a small business, I recommend the Chase Ink Business Cash or the Chase Ink Business Unlimited cards. Both have $0 annual fee and have a welcome bonus of 90,000 points after spending $6000 in the first 3 months.
Capital One: I recommend the Capital One Venture Rewards card. The current welcome bonus is 75,000 miles after spending $4000 in the first 3 months. $95 annual fee.
Travel hacking is certainly easier if you are booking awards for one or two people. But, it’s not impossible for families to get in on this lucrative hobby. I’ve made great memories with my family through travel hacking with miles and points credit cards, and so can you.
Nancy lives near Dallas, Texas, with her husband and three kids. Her favorite vacations include the beach, cruising and everything Disney.