Traveling with a family gets expensive fast! But with points and miles, it doesn’t have to! Points and miles are a fantastic way to save tons of money on family travel. But family travel with points and miles is a little different than the travel hacking for single, adults. But don’t worry- we’ve got all the tips and tricks to get you and your family travel hacking like a pro!
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What is Travel hacking?
Travel hacking, or traveling with points and miles can allow your family to travel for free, or at least to save significant money when traveling! My family has been able to get free flights and free hotels, even at highly sought after destinations using points and miles saving us tens of thousand of dollars on travel!
My favorite part- staying at high-end hotels with cash prices I’d never dream of paying. But instead, I pay nothing!
In this post, we are going to talk only about the specifics of travel hacking that apply to families. Want all the nitty gritty details on how to get into travel hacking? We’ve got you covered in our SUPER detailed travel hacking post here.
Here’s the main problem with travel hacking for families: most websites and experts are discussing some amazing redemptions that simply aren’t going to be available to families. Why? For the great flight in business class, the airline may only release ONE seat per flight. And for peak travel dates (which is often anytime the kids are out of school), they might not release any. For hotels, points redemptions may go WAY up during spring break for summer vacation. Or maybe the hotel’s standard room, and the only room bookable on points, is only for 2 people, so families will need to book multiple rooms, or may not even be able to stay at that hotel.
But that doesn’t mean that families can’t travel hack. You absolutely can! Traveling with a family is expensive and travel hacking is a great way to save some serious money and actually get to travel with your family. But, you’re going to have to take a different approach than some one who is traveling solo, and can take a vacation anytime. And we can help get you and your family out on amazing vacations for free with credit card points and miles!
So lets dig in! Here are our tips for family travel hacking like a pro!
Don’t Get FOMO
If you ‘follow’ travel hackers on social media, or regularly read posts from travel hacking experts, you are probably seeing them get upgraded to big suites (that usually only sleep two people) or booking business class flights. And it’s easy to get jealous. Those flights and hotels look amazing. But even for a family of 4, round trip business class tickets can easily be 500,000+ points. And that’s just your flight!
For most families, coming up with that many points is just not feasible. It just makes sense for families to get economy tickets, and stay in family-friendly (and often less expensive in cash and points) hotels. The truth is, you are still going to have a great vacation. And if you were able to book that vacation on points and miles, you are saving LOADS of money.
Need some more inspiration? We love Katie’s travel tricks for family travel, family friendly hotels, and economy flight redemptions.
We’ve used travel hacking to book flights to visit family for Christmas, or for a hotel staycation. Whatever helps us save money is a great way to spend our points.
With a little ingenuity, you’ll be able to take your kids on some memorable vacations on points and miles.
I love this fun example.
My sister came up with this great hack for a TON of little vacations with her family of 5 for nearly free. She lives driving distance from Salt Lake City. She found a Hyatt Category 1 Hyatt Place, which can sleep 5 and only charges 5,000 points/night (This hotel has now since increased to category 2 so it’ll be between 6,500 and 9,500/night). With one credit card sign on bonus, she can stay up to 20 nights!
Plus, she bought everyone season passes for the little theme park in Salt Lake for ~$160/person (daily rates for that park are ~$80/person so it pays for itself after only two days). Plus, she has a membership to her a museum in her town that is part of the ASTC passport program, and Salt Lake City has a number of museum that are also part of the program. So she can visit any museum that is part of the program for free.
So, maybe it’s not a super fancy vacation, but it gives her basically unlimited vacations for almost free! They were able to have a fun-filled summer.
Try positioning flights
Another option to find flights for fewer points is to look other airports near by. Nearby can mean an airport you can drive to, or even one that is just a short flight away.
For example, for a recent trip to Costa Rica, we could not find a good points booking from Seattle (our home airport) to San Jose, Costa Rica. But we were able able to find a good redemption from San Jose to Los Angeles. And we found a separate flight from Las Angeles to Seattle.
We paid less in points for the two separate bookings than we would have if we booked them together. And because we were traveling as a family of 4, the points savings was significant.
This can also work on your destination. For example, if you can’t find a good redemption to the Hawaiian island you are planning to visit, check the other islands. You can easily catch a cheap flight between the islands on Hawaiian airlines so it’s no big deal to fly to the wrong island. Or you could even turn your trip into an island hopping trip!
Of course you won’t always find deals like these, but it’s nice to have options. The more options you have, the more likely you are to find a points and miles deal for your family that will work.
However, there are a few cons: because the are separate bookings, you will have to collect our luggage and go back through the security checkpoint. You can avoid this by carrying-on and checking in online. Also, if the first flight had been delayed, this could have caused problems on the second flight since the reservations were not connected. This risk can be significant depending on the airline and the weather (or time of year) you are traveling.
With school schedules, sleep schedules, sports, activities, etc., flexibility seems impossible for families. And traveling with children can be tough so you may not want a tough flight schedule or a million layovers. But there are a few things you can do to stay flexible.
Try overnight layovers
Overnight layovers are a great option for my family since we are frequent travelers so we feel pretty comfortable sleeping in a hotel room. It is a great way to break up flying time for longer trips, and, at times, it helps us avoid late nights or overnight flights.
Plus, overnight layovers give you the option to book as a true layover- one booking with a long layover, or as two separate bookings – one to your overnight destination, and a second to your final destination. You just pick which ever gives you the best deal.
Did you know some airports have a transit hotels, or hotels directly attached to the airport? These are the absolute BEST airports to pick for your overnight because it’s so quick and easy to get to the hotel. Plus it makes the morning rush to the airport SOOOO much easier.
In the U.S., the airports with transit hotels include Dallas Fort Worth, Denver International, Detroit Metropolitan Airport, San Francisco International, George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston, JFK in New York City, Minneapolis St. Paul, Newark Liberty International Airport, Orlando International Airport, Pittsburg International, and the Tampa International Airport.
Plan a trip based on where you can find availability
Have you ever considered going on vacation where ever there are deals to be found? It sounds kind of crazy at first, but, of course you don’t have to go anywhere that doesn’t appeal to you. But if you have a long list of places you’d enjoy going, you can save some serious points this way. This can work well on international destinations, especially if you are willing to go during the off-season or shoulder season, when weather might not be PERFECT. We love shoulder season because it’s often less crowded and still nice good weather a lot of the time.
So how do you find these deals? I recently found this great tool – Seats.aero. You can put in your dates and see points availability from your home airport, or even just your home continent to anywhere in the world. Watch this helpful video to learn how it works. Then just click through to see if any of the destinations with availability are on your list of possible vacation.
Also, consider signing up for Thrifty Traveler’s flight deals so you can get a notification whenever there is a great deal to your home airport. When something on your list pops up, be ready to book!
Learn the Tricks
Let’s face it- it can take a LOT of points and miles to book a family vacation. So learn how to make those points streeeeeetch as far as possible by learning the tricks for great redemptions, and giving yourself plenty of booking options.
The truth is there is plenty to learn about travel hacking. You can spend years learning the ins and outs of traveling on points and miles. But what do you NEED to know to make traveling on points and miles work for your family? Here are our top 3 things:
1. Know that you can book airlines tickets from one airline through a partner airline award booking service. And not all airlines will charge the same number of miles for a flight.
A great example of this is Virgin’s partnership with Delta. There are deals to be found on Delta award bookings, but a lot of time, Delta charges a lot of points for an award booking.
Another example is booking United Flights through Turkish Miles and Smiles Program. The Turkish booking system is not great, and finding availability is not easy, but if you do, you can get flights anywhere in the US for only 15,000 points round trip.
It’s hard to remember all the award booking sweet spots. But if you have a destination in mind, I’d recommend doing a google search for how to book flights to (your destination) on points. There is tons of information out there on how to find a great deal.
I also love using point.me. It a paid service that allows you to search for availability of awards bookings across a ton of flight awards systems. It tells you which credit card points transfer to which airline, and it’ll give find you the best deals on awards bookings. It’s super helpful because gives you tons of booking options, and gives you clear direction on how to book.
2. Learn which airlines have great deals from your home airport
Not all airline programs are equal, and not all programs work well for every airport.
For many of you Southwest Airlines is going to be a great option!
Southwest airlines has some amazing points and miles deals out there. But it’s east to forget since it doesn’t come up on most flight search engines. You can transfer points from Chase, and gets flights for as low as 4,000 points round trip. Even better- if the award price goes down, you can easily cancel and rebook. Southwest also has their famous companion pass. After earning it, you can travel with a companion for free on every flight you fly until your companion pass expires. Read this article on how to earn it using only credit cards. Southwest is a great way for families to save some serious money on flights!
Unfortunately, Southwest doesn’t have many flights in and out of Seattle, my home airport. But Delta and Alaska often have some great deals on short flights out of Seattle.
3. Always check Hyatt
We love the World of Hyatt because there are so many great deals to be found on award bookings. Points bookings are typically between 5,000 and 30,000 points/night (compared to other hotel chains that charge 80,000-200,000 +/night). Plus Hyatt House and Hyatt Place offer free breakfast. We love the larger suites, found in many Hyatt House hotels for a totally reasonable price. Hyatt also has a offers a Family Plan Rate at some hotels- read more about it here.
Plan ahead- WAY ahead
Traveling on peak travel dates, like spring break, winter break, or summer vacation, means flights and hotels are going to book FAST, and points availability is going to disappear fast. Make sure you are ready right when the hotel and airline points bookings are released, typically about a year out.
For example, there are some great redemption on Hyatt hotels in Hawaii- we love the Hyatt Regency Maui and Grand Hyatt Kauai, both available for about 30,000 points per night. The cash price for these hotels is usually well over $500/night (and sometimes even over $1000/night), so it’s a great redemption. But points availability typically sells out just as soon as it’s released, 13 months out.
And if you want to make your booking a year out, that means you need to start accumulating points even farther out. For my family, we are starting to plan trips about 2 years, at least for big trips. And honestly, I don’t love it. It’s too far out to get excited or even know what your kids will be like when the time comes for a trip. But it does make it worth while when I’m finally able to take them for FREE on a dream vacation.
Two years not your style? You definitely don’t have it plan that far out! But you might have to be a little more flexible on locations or expect to pay a bit more in points, which is totally ok!
Be Responsible with Credit Cards
The most important thing about traveling with points is miles is making sure you are always responsible with credit cards. Travel hacking for a family might mean you end up with lots of credit cards. Make sure you are spending responsibly, keeping track of all credit cards, and paying them all off, in full, every month to avoid interest. Travel hacking just doesn’t work if you are accumulating debt and paying a ton in interest!