How to use card rewards, points, miles to make traveling with kids easier
From family boarding to free dinners and point pooling, these perks will help your travel with your family stress-free
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Traveling with children in tow isn’t always a picnic.
The good news is that whether you’re flying with children or taking a road trip, rewards credit cards and travel loyalty programs can pack family-friendly benefits for your next trip.
The key is knowing how to find and take advantage of them.
“It can be tough to find airline and hotel loyalty programs that favor families,” says Barry Kirk, vice president of loyalty at Maritz Motivation Solutions, a designer of loyalty, incentive and engagement solutions for businesses.
Kirk says travel loyalty programs tend to cater to business travelers who make dozens of trips per year. “By comparison, families might travel once or twice a year, making them a far less attractive target.”
To make planning your next trip easier, here’s a rundown of the best travel rewards credit card and loyalty program perks to look for when traveling with your brood.
Traveling with kids: A 9-set rewards guide
- Start with your flight: Use frequent flyer programs to reap perks.
- Enroll your children in frequent flyer programs, too.
- Take advantage of family boarding.
- Pool, share points with your family.
- Get priority access through airport security.
- Check in to family benefits at your hotel.
- Consider a hotel card to earn free nights.
- Don't forget about rental car rewards.
- Stack card and loyalty program rewards.
1. Start with your flight
Your airline’s frequent flyer program might be the ticket to a free seat.
“The big thing to look for in airline programs is the companion pass,” says Kirk. “Southwest Airlines has probably the best offer, with companion passes available after you earn 110,000 points within one year. That can save you a lot if you and your spouse are both members and both achieve the benefit, since you can get two children on board for free.”
Not all airlines, however, offer companion passes, he says. In some cases, this perk is only available when you sign up for a co-branded credit card.
The Delta Reserve Card from American Express, for example, offers one free companion ticket annually. This card has a $450 annual fee, so you’d have to think carefully about whether it’s worth it to get a free fare.
You don’t necessarily need to have a co-branded credit card to earn a companion pass with Southwest, but it could put you on the fast track to snagging one.
- All three Chase Southwest cards – Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card, Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card and Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card – earn 2 miles per dollar on Southwest purchases and 1 mile per dollar spent on everything else.
- Plus, all three offer generous sign-up bonuses.
2. Enroll your children in frequent flyer programs, too
Kirk says if you’re enrolling in an airline’s loyalty program to remember to sign your children up as well, so they earn points or miles on their tickets.
“Most programs require that a passenger be enrolled before points can be earned for their ticket,” he says.
3. Take advantage of family boarding
Family boarding is another must-have benefit when traveling with children.
“Southwest allows family boarding if you have a child aged 6 or under to allow you to easily sit together,” says Dan Miller, founder of travel blog Points With a Crew.
Frontier Airlines has a similar policy. Families board directly after Zone 1/priority passengers. Frontier also offers other family-oriented benefits, such as flexible booking, pre-assigned seating and a special membership program that offers discounts on tickets.
- If you sign up for the Frontier Airlines World Mastercard, you can earn 5 miles per dollar on purchases at flyfrontier.com, plus get a $100 flight voucher annually when you charge $2,500 or more to your card.
- Those miles can help you earn free travel for future family trips.
4. Pool, share family points
While not necessarily kid-specific, point or mile pooling is another frequent flyer program benefit that could come in handy for family travel.
Other U.S. airlines that let you pool miles include Hawaiian Airlines and Sun Country Airlines.
5. Get priority access through airport security
Streamlined screening can help you get through airport checkpoints in less time.
“One of the best ways to breeze through the airport and start that hard-earned family vacation faster is by enrolling in TSA Precheck or Global Entry,” says a Capital One representative. “And it’s never been easier to get reimbursed by your credit card company for these benefits.”
- Children under 12 traveling with you can use the designated TSA Pre lanes if you have TSA Precheck.
- If your children are 12 years old or older, consider enrolling them in TSA Precheck, too.
- The number of credit cards offering TSA Precheck or Global Entry credits continues to grow.
- These days, not only premium cards such as Chase Sapphire Reserve, include them.
Capital One Venture Rewards Card members ($95 annual fee, waived the first year) can now get up to $100 back when they pay application fees for either program with their card. This is issued as a one-time statement credit and members are eligible for this benefit every five years.
The United Explorer Card from Chase ($95 annual fee, waived the first year) also recently began offering TSA Precheck/Global Entry credits, too.
6. Check in to family benefits at your hotel
Your choice of hotel matters in setting the tone for a family trip.
Miller prefers hotel chains that offer suites, which more easily accommodate his family of eight.
He regularly books with Residence Inn, Homewood Suites and Staybridge Suites to get a larger room. These chains come with the added bonus of free dinner, which also helps cut down on costs.
- When looking for a hotel loyalty program, look for perks that will make traveling with children a more pleasant experience.
- These may include: online check-in, free breakfast and points pooling.
- Checking in online via the hotel loyalty program’s app lets you skip the front desk and take children straight to your room on arrival.
- Hotel programs that offer online check-in include Hilton Honors and Marriott Rewards.
- Free breakfast at the hotel saves you the time and expense of shuffling children to a restaurant first thing in the morning.
- It’s a perk that’s included for Diamond Status Hilton Honors members, Gold and Platinum Elite Marriott Rewards members, and Radisson Rewards members.
7. Consider a hotel card to earn free nights
Points pooling can make it easier to book free nights if extended family is coming along for the trip. In addition to Hilton Honors and Marriott Rewards, World of Hyatt, Ritz-Carlton Rewards and IHG Rewards allow points pooling.
- Each of these programs also offers a co-branded credit card, allowing you to stack rewards by earning them with your card and through the loyalty program.
- The IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card offers 10 points per dollar spent at IHG hotels.
- The Hilton Honors American Express Ascend Card is even more generous, offering 12 points per dollar spent at eligible Hilton resorts and hotels.
Miller says families shouldn’t overlook the value of earning free stays with their credit card. He recommends Citi Prestige, which gives you the fourth night free on most hotel stays when you book through the ThankYou Travel Center.
Both the Marriott Rewards Premier Plus Credit Card and IHG Rewards Club Premier also give you a fourth or fifth night free.
Co-branded hotel cards can also help you earn free nights on family travel if they offer a large introductory bonus.
Sign-up bonuses are going to be where you’ll get your biggest bang for your buck, says Miller. “I always recommend to people to first figure out where they want to go and only then sign up for the cards that can help them get there.”
8. Don’t forget about rental car rewards
Loyalty rewards don’t stop at airlines or hotels. Several rental car companies also offer loyalty programs you can take advantage of when you’re hitting the road with the family.
- Hertz Gold Plus Rewards, Avis Preferred, Enterprise Plus and National Emerald Club are just some of the programs you can join, depending on your preferred rental car provider.
- These programs let you earn points toward free car rentals when you book a rental and, in the case of Hertz, when you buy gas or use the company’s NeverLost GPS service.
See related: How to save on your next car rental
Even if you don’t join one of these programs, you can still earn travel rewards through your frequent flyer program. Southwest, Delta and American Airlines, for instance, allow you to earn points and miles respectively when you book a rental car with a partner agency using the card.
9. Stack card, loyalty program rewards
Finally, take advantage of rewards stacking on family road trips.
You can double dip on rewards by booking through the loyalty program using a travel credit card that offers points or miles on car rentals, such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card.
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